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ESPN projects Heat to finish 7th in East

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ESPN’s real plus-minus formula says that Miami’s 3-point shooting will regress.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN hasn’t given the Miami Heat much love in their 2017-18 projections.

After giving the Heat a “D” for their offseason of re-signing James Johnson and Dion Waiters, ESPN released its projections using real plus-minus. And the Heat are expected to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference, with a projected 42.3 wins.

ESPN’s formula predicts that the Heat won’t replicate their 30-11 finish to the season. Miami shot 39 percent from 3-point range over the last 42 games last season, and ESPN predicts that will drop to 34.4 percent. The Heat’s opponents also shot just 32.9 percent of 3s over the last 22 games, and ESPN predicts that increasing next year.

The formula’s conclusions make intuitive sense. Goran Dragic, for example, dramatically improved his 3-point shooting last year. After shooting 31.2 percent on 3s in 2015-16, Dragic shot 40.5 percent last year (while taking an average of 1.2 more 3s per game). Dion Waiters also improved his 3-point shooting last year, albeit with a less dramatic jump — 35.8 percent to 39.5 percent.

Part of the Heat’s improved 3-point shooting also benefitted from the fact that Wayne Ellington was making 3s that Justise Winslow bricked earlier in the season. If Winslow comes into the season with a respectable jump-shot — while also offering his superior defensive and ball-handling skills — that would rejigger ESPN’s projections.

Will Miami’s 3-point defense continue to keep opponents at bay? Will Dragic and Waiters have another strong year of shooting? Will Winslow have some semblance of a shot? If the Heat want to play better than .500 ball, that might need to happen.