The tough break the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins are getting. And UM, others becoming nervous

Barry Jackson
Miami Herald

First of an occasional series with notes and nuggets on the restart of sports in South Florida:

▪ Not only is re-starting sports in a pandemic daunting, but South Florida’s pro teams might have the most daunting slate of games of any market in the country.

Per a formula devised by former Memphis Grizzlies executive and ex-ESPN analytics guru John Hollinger, who now writes for The Athletic, the Heat has the most difficult schedule of eight seeding games of the 22 teams invited to participate in the Orlando-area NBA re-start.

Miami will face seven teams that have clinched playoff berths (Denver, Milwaukee, Boston, Indiana twice, Oklahoma City and Toronto), plus Phoenix, which is a playoff longshot.

This is especially irksome for Heat fans because Miami had arguably the NBA’s easiest remaining schedule wiped out because of the pandemic, with eight games against the Hornets, Bulls, Knicks and Pistons.

Meanwhile, fangraphs.com - using their MLB formula - said the Marlins have the second-most difficult schedule in baseball this season, behind only the Baltimore Orioles.

The Marlins will play all of their games against the National League East, which is loaded with pricey players, and the American League East, where the Yankees won 103 games last season, Tampa Bay 96 and Boston 84.

And the Dolphins schedule is third-toughest in football this season, behind the Patriots and Jets, based on 2019 winning percentage.

Miami gets the difficult double West whammy draw (AFC West and NFC West), faces an improved Cincinnati team and must play perhaps its worst opponent (Jacksonville) on the road, on a short week (Thursday road games historically give Miami trouble).

All AFC East teams play the AFC West and NFC West in a schedule rotation formulation that was set years ago.

So we’re fortunate to have sports back. But South Florida teams weren’t remotely fortunate with their schedule draws.

▪ A word from oddsmakers: Betonline.com is listing the Heat’s odds of winning a championship at 40 to 1, tied with Dallas and Utah and behind the Lakers, Bucks, Clippers, Rockets, Celtics, 76ers, Raptors, Nuggets… Fangraphs predicts the Marlins will finish 24-36 and last in the National League East...VegasInsider.com lists the Dolphins’ over/under for wins at 6; only Carolina, Cincinnati, Washington and Jacksonville have lower odds.

▪ NBA teams on Wednesday are required to submit their lists of their 37-person traveling party to the Orlando restart, and teams face tough decisions.

For the Heat, the most difficult might be the senior executive to send; each team is required to send one.

Heat president Pat Riley would be natural, under normal circumstances, but his age (75) puts him in a demographic group particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.

If Riley doesn’t go, that would leave Miami likely choosing among CEO Nick Arison, general manager Andy Elisburg, vice president/basketball operations and assistant general manager Adam Simon (who has been busy preparing for the Oct. 16 draft), vice president/basketball development and analytics Shane Battier and vice president/player programs Alonzo Mourning.

The experience would be beneficial for Battier if Miami wants to keep expanding his responsibilities. Nobody would be surprised if he assumes more authority - alongside Arison, Elisburg, Spoelstra and Simon - when Riley eventually retires. The Heat gave Battier strong incentive to remain when the Pistons reached out to him for a role for their front-office; Battier opted to stay with Miami. Simon previously has declined overtures to interview elsewhere; the Heat values him.

The Heat on Tuesday wasn’t ready to reveal whether Riley would go to Orlando or who would replace him if he doesn’t.

▪ Quick Heat stuff: The Heat resumed workouts at AA Arena this week after the facility was shut down for workouts the last four days of last week; only testing was done there last Thursday through Sunday…

I would be concerned with Philadelphia jumping from sixth to fourth (the Heat’s spot) or Indiana (the fifth spot) in seeding games. The 76ers have only three games against teams definitely headed to postseason (Indiana, Toronto, Houston) and five games against teams that are competing to get in (San Antonio, Washington, Orlando, Portland and Phoenix). Indiana remains the better matchup for Miami, as an NBA scout explained here.

The Pacers’ seeding schedule also is easier than Miami’s - featuring five sure-fire playoff teams (the Heat twice, Houston, Lakers, and Philadelphia) plus three trying to make the postseason (Orlando, Washington, Phoenix).

▪ Quick Marlins stuff: While the most prominent name left off the Marlins’ 60-man available 2020 player pool list was outfielder Victor Victor Mesa (a disappointment last season and not close to big-league ready), the most questionable exclusion from the 60 that immediately came to mind was outfielder Peyton Burdick, as @CraigMish noted.

A case could be made that Burdick was the Marlins’ most impressive minor league hitter last season, batting .308 with 11 homers, 65 RBI, 20 doubles and 7 for 7 in steals in 69 games in two levels of lower A ball. A 2019 third-round pick out of Wright State, he’s 23, mature and a polished hitter….

It’s not a surprise that pitchers Alex Vesia and Nick Neidert and outfielder Monte Harrison were invited to the Marlins Park workouts, since all three have a chance to stick on the opening day roster.

But shortstop Jazz Chisholm’s inclusion in that Marlins Park camp - as opposed to the alternate Jupiter camp where JJ Bleday, Jesus Sanchez, Sixto Sanchez and other top prospects will be training - was eyebrow-raising because he’s not considered quite big-league ready. Ideally, the Marlins wouldn’t start the big-league service-time clock on Chisholm or Bleday this year; both Jesus and Sixto Sanchez are considered closer and could be needed at some point this season.

▪ UM athletic director Blake James said on the Packer & Durham Show on the ACC Network that he remains cautiously optimistic there will be college football this fall.

“If we want to have college football this fall, which my plan is that we will and I believe that the other leaders in the league believe that is the case as we sit here today, but I think everyone is getting more nervous and we will have continued conversations,” James said Tuesday. “If we all do our part the odds of us having a fall sports season are a lot higher than if that wasn’t the case, if we don’t do what we need to do....

“I think the key is the next five or six weeks. It is important for all of us to continue to follow the guidelines that our leaders are putting in place. Reminding everyone we need to wear the masks to make sure we have a fall sports season. That is something where we all have a responsibility individually and as leaders to communicate that out.”

According to sources with direct knowledge, two UM players were told no football player has tested positive for COVID and that the school has been vigilant about protection mechanisms.

Here’s my Tuesday Marlins 6-pack.

Here’s my Tuesday offering of Dolphins nuggets.

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