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April 16, 2014

Wed pm 4-16: Heat isn't as good as past two years. True or False? Poll. Vote now!; plus Heat-Charlotte in 1R, scary saga of Puig, local $$$ list & more

1) It is WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16. Panthers win lottery for No. 1 overall pick in June NHL draft. Here's betting GM Dale "Trader" Tallon swaps it. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Why No. 2 seed is better for Heat, Philbin on candid camera, Nirvana, NHL playoffs, Bubba, Pacquiao & more. 3) Follow on Twitter @gregcote.

Heat open playoffs vs. Charlotte here Sunday: It's Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats in first-round Game 1 here Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on ABC-TV. No need for instant over-analysis; Miami should sweep. Be interesting though to watch Udonis Haslem's defense against Al Jefferson. Miami rest LeBron James and Chris Bosh in tonight's meaningless regular-season finale vs. Philadelphia, a loss. Recently sidelined Dwyane Wade saw limited action and looked sharp, and Greg Oden returned from injury.

DIFFERENT CHALLENGE AND DOUBT CHASING HEAT INTO PLAYOFFS: The Heat love a challenge. Love to be doubted. LeBron James says that all the time. OK, so here's the challenge and the doubt, Heat, and it's 1aa1abig3heatdifferent than in the past: Are they good enough? Simply that. Because the presumption is that this Miami team seeking a three-peat just isn't as good as the teams that won back-to-back championships. A worse regular-season record is the backbone of the presumption but there's more. Of the two big new additions, Greg Oden hasn't played much and might not at all in the postseason, and Michael Beasley has faded out of the rotation. Departed Mike Miller is sorely missed, still. Ray Allen and Shane Battier just seem older. Depth appears to be thinner. Chemistry doesn't feel as rock-solid. Then there's Dwyane Wade's fragile health of course. These things -- not to mention how great San Antonio is -- cast Miami as a somewhat vulnerable defending champ as the playoffs begin this weekend against Charlotte or Washington. Do you buy the basic premise that this Heat team is not as good as the ones that won consecutive titles? Take a dip in our poll and say why.

THE BIZARRE, SCARY ODYSSEY OF YASIEL PUIG: The L.A. Times' Los Angeles Magazine, in its May issue, has a lengthy and fascinating piece on Dodgers star Yasiel Puig written by Jesse Katz. Get it 1aa1apuigyHERE. It reads like a screenplay. It probably will turn into one. It is the tale of Puig's path from Cuba to the major leagues via Mexico, and it is fraught with shady characters, skullduggery and ominous overtones. Read it, understand Puig a little more, and suddenly you'll be less focused on his speeding tickets or his showing up late for a game. The story gives a new understanding and appreciation for his situation. The young man has a lot on his mind. Reportedly his path out of Cuba was underwritten by a Miamian, Raul Pacheco, and involved smugglers -- human traffickers working for a major and murderous Mexican drug cartel. There are allegations that Puig promised 20 percent of his future earnings and that some exceptionally unsavory people may still be looking for their money. If I were the Dodgers and MLB I'd not only take this seriously, I'd enlist the FBI and anybody else who might help. What a scary tale. Forget protecting your investment, Dodgers. Protect Yasiel Puig.

Sad coincidence for baseball: This week marked the 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier, and this week there are exactly -- and only -- 67 active African-American players on MLB rosters. 

"MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY ... MON-EY!" (PINK FLOYD, 1973): ESPN has a list of the world's 1aa1amoneytop-paying sports teams, and Manchester United of soccer's English Premier League is on top with an average salary of $8.11 million per player, edging the Yankees' $8.03 million. The Heat check in 16th at $5.57 million, led by LeBron James and Chris Bosh at $19.1 million apiece. Interestingly, among Greater Miami's other three pro teams, the Panthers are next at $1.85 million per, edging the Dolphins ($1.77M) and Marlins ($1.55M).

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