Will defending champs make trip to playoffs or lottery?

Updated: November 21, 2006, 1:42 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN Insider
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.

Alonzo Mourning #33 and Shaquille O'Neal #32
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty ImagesShaq in street clothes is not a pretty sight for the Heat.

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.