The Heat wants to believe its a legitimate contender, a team that can contend with Cleveland and LeBron James for the Eastern Conference crown.
But even after a 16-10 start, the experts still don't believe Miami or anyone else in the Eastern Conference can really beat Cleveland when it matters.
"Playoff team, yes. Contending team, no," ESPN analyst Jalen Rose responded when I asked him during a teleconference Tuesday afternoon if he thought the Heat could contend with Cleveland if the roster stays as is.
"They're not better than the Cleveland Cavaliers," Rose continued. "They will not beat the Cleveland Cavaliers four times in 10 days. They, however, are amongst a few teams in the Eastern Conference that have an opportunity to fight for second in that Eastern Conference with Atlanta. [We still don't know] what's going to happen with Indiana, Toronto, Washington. [That] remains to be seen. Those squads have been up and down. But the Cleveland Cavaliers are clear cut the best team in the Eastern Conference."
Rose said he sees the Heat as a team that "just wants to wake up and be in the playoffs healthy, with Dwyane Wade playing the way he's playing." Rose said Wade looks rejuvinated and that he's playing really well.
"He's attacking the basket, making his open shots," Rose said. "And Chris Bosh has shown flashes also. [Hassan] Whiteside continues to improve. He can contain his emotions, continue to compete on each play, contest shots, grab boards, finish around the basket. Goran Dragic is going to be a key. Can he be as effective and efficient as they need him to be?
"They're a definitely, legitimate playoff team that's worthy of advancing. But beating the Cleveland Cavaliers? I don't see it."
Neither does former Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo.
"Cleveland, what they've done without Kyrie, they've clearly reestablished themselves as the best team and that's without Kyrie," Carlesimo said. "You would have to think [with Irving back] they're going to get better.
"I love Miami. I don't think they get the credit for how good they are defensively. They're quietly one of the best three defensive teams in the league and very seldom do you hear people talking about that. I love their experience. I love all the things they bring to the table that's going to make them dangerous. But you can't put anybody [above Cleveland]. There's Cleveland and then you put the next gap. Miami is right there. I don't think realistically anybody [in the East] can think 'We're ready to go at Cleveland. Nobody has shown they are that good yet."
Would making a trade for a three-point shooter take the Heat to another level?
"How about adding LeBron James?" Rose responded.
"Those two guys from Oklahoma would help them," Carlesimo said. "I don't want to say it's hopeless. Obviously they have more reason to be confident than probably anybody because of their experience and the coaching and the whole deal. I just think Cleveland is not coming back. Cleveland, if anything, is going the other direction. That's the biggest problem the teams in the East have. So many teams in the East are better, even significantly better. The problem is those guys in Ohio are better and getting better."
Still, Rose and Carlesimo both said coach Erik Spoelstra deserves a lot of credit for how well the Heat has bounced back after missing the playoffs last season.
"Spoelstra doesn't get enough credit by the media," Rose said. "Because everything that happens positive in Miami, we give the credit to Pat Riley. And rightfully so, he's one of the all-time greatest puppet masters in the league. But seeing how Spo helped develop Whiteside into a player that's going to be looking for a major deal when his contract up, how they're bringing along Winslow in their lineup, I just really applaud the job he's done in Miami as a head coach."
Said Carlesimo: "I'll piggy-back that. I had radio last year for Miami-Cleveland on Christmas. I remember vividly practice on the 24th, Spo said to me and this was kind of before Hassan [blew up], he said 'He's going to be a player for us. He's going to be an impact player. We like what he's shown in practice on a regular basis. He's going to surprise people.' That was really before he kind of burst on the scene and done the things he's done. Spo deserves tremendous credit."