Will defending champs make trip to playoffs or lottery?

Yes, Miami is in trouble.

That in itself doesn't really qualify as news. With Shaquille O'Neal out several weeks and the Heat off to a 4-5 start, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the first half of the season could be bumpy.

What might be newsworthy, however, is the extent of the trouble. I get the impression most view the Heat's troubles as a temporary thing -- they'll have a rocky first half, get better in the second half and still easily win the SouthLeast Division. To these folks, the trouble is that Miami might get a poor playoff seed that will prove costly in the postseason.

But the trouble is much more severe than that. Although Miami's 4-5 record appears quasi-respectable, it disguises a much uglier reality.