Well for my inaugural post in Presto in the Paint, I decided to talk about none other than the hottest team in all of basketball, no pun intended, the Miami Heat. The Heat, led by the best player in the world, LeBron James, are making it clear they are the crème of the crop of the league. That leaves analysts contemplating on what teams can actually compete with the Heatles.
In this article, I will explore the biggest threats for every round of the playoffs for the Heat in this upcoming post-season. There is still a month and a half of the season left, but every team’s identity is pretty much known by now.
Eastern Conference Quarter Finals
I think the obvious answer for this round would be the Boston Celtics. Let’s not forget, the Celtics were one win away from reaching the NBA finals and eliminating the Heat from the playoffs. If it had not been from the near-perfection performances by LeBron James, we could possibly talking about the defending NBA champions Boston Celtics.
Anyway, last season was last season. This season the Celtics even with the loss of their star point guard, Rajon Rondo, continue to prove that they will not bow down to any of the elite competition. In fact, the first game following their loss of Rondo, the Celtics knocked-out the heavily favorited Heat squad that were heavily favorited at the start of the game.
Kevin Garnett can hold Chris Bosh to minimal damage, leaving the two-headed dragon of Wade and James to contend with. It’s hard enough to guard just one of the game’s best, but when there is two of the best on the court for close to 40 minutes a game—well, wear a hardhat for self-protection.
The Beantown faithful have full confidence that Avery Bradley will be the deciding factor in a potential collision course against the Heat. Bradley is easily the best wing-defender the Celtics have and he has full potential to hold Dwyane Wade to less than stellar games.
However, the big question in the room is how is anyone going to stop LeBron James. The only way to do so is to outscore him. You can pencil him in for 25+ points every game, but the Celtics have one of the best scorers in the league in Paul Pierce. Pierce can not afford to have games where he is held under 28 points a game. He needs to match the production of LeBron James offensively.
In all cases, the Miami Heat are the better team but the Celtics are the lowest seed that can possibly give the Heat some struggles throughout a four, five, or even a six-game series.
Eastern Conference Semi Finals
The Chicago Bulls are the NBA’s most forgotten team in my opinion. This is a team, even with the absence of their MVP, that has two all-stars.
Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have really helped the Bulls maintain their surprisingly good record. The infamous Carlos Boozer is also playing close to his hefty contract.
However, the one big question mark for the team is the health of their leader, Derrick Rose. Rose is a top-10 player in the league without a doubt, and has an incredibly high ceiling as being potentially the best point guard in the league.
Rose is close to returning back to play for his team after a devastating knee injury in the playoffs last year. If that is the case, this might be the toughest matchup for the Miami Heat, if they do meet up.
The Heat are 1-1 against the current Bulls’ squad, but with the addition of twenty-plus points, eight-plus assists, and a little better defense, the Heat could be in trouble.
Joakim Noah is a pest down-low and is really going to be bothersome for Chris Bosh down-low. Noah is also an effective shot-blocker, proven by the 11-block performance against the Sixers. It will be harder for LeBron and Wade to get shots up in the paint.
Boozer is a bulkier version of Chris Bosh, who has a similar effective mid-range jump shot. He can help stretch out the floor and leave openings up the middle against Chris Bosh, Chris Anderson, and company.
Deng is an effective defensive player and could give LeBron trouble along the three-point line and the post. Deng leads the league in minutes per game, so he will be in the game a lot and will be the ultimate test defensively against James.
Wade will have a field day against the Bulls with their lack of a great defender at the shooting guard position, so look for him to have many 30+ point games.
Jimmy Butler could see time guarding Wade, however, and Butler is proving himself to be an elite lockdown defender. That added depth could be a difference maker if Chicago were to upset the Heat in this series. Between Deng and Butler, the Bulls have two perimeter defenders to match up with LBJ and Wade. That has to worry Erik Spoelstra.
Still, the wildcard is whether or not Rose plays—and if he does—will it be at a high level?
All indications are that severe knee surgeries can really damage a player’s explosiveness and playing ability. However, that theory has been dispelled with the historic performance of Adrian Peterson in the NFL. As a basketball fan, I don’t expect Rose to have a similar impact like Peterson, but if anyone can come off such a huge injury and succeed at the NBA level, it would have to be Rose. Derrick Rose is virtually unguardable, and his dynamic speed and vertical can really give the Heat trouble especially in Bulls’ transition offense.
Rose needs to come back healthy if the the Bulls want to spoil the Heat’s chances for a repeat.
Eastern Conference Finals
The Indiana Pacers are another team that gave the Heat trouble in the postseason. The Pacers are one of the hottest teams in the league and they have showed the Heat—they are not to be messed with or at least taken lightly. The Pacers have beaten Miami twice this season by double digits.
With that argument, many Knick fans will come at me saying they have beaten the Heat by much larger deficits. Any sane basketball fan can tell from the eyeball test, that the Knicks have no shot in competing with the Heat if they continue to play .500 basketball.
The Pacers this year have been a pleasant surprise, especially because for the large fraction of the season, they were without their leader, Danny Granger. Granger is a top notch small forward, and while he may not be the All-Star he once was, he can definitely light it up with his shooting ability. Granger will also get on your face and can definitely handle guarding LeBron, especially with his fiery love for the game.
Paul George has shown the entire NBA that he is one of the best young players in the league, and he is a force in all aspects of the game. George is a premier defender and rebounder and he can definitely put points on the board with his impressive ability to finish at the rim, combined above average perimeter shooting (38 percent from three-point range). George is probably going to be assigned to guard Dwyane Wade especially with Granger back.
The keys for the Pacers to ultimately defeat the Miami Heat is to have the ball dominated in the inside with David West and Roy Hibbert. West is a crafty and skillful big man that can really stretch the defense with his mid-range shooting. West will show up, don’t worry Pacer fans. However, it is Hibbert that may be a question mark.
Roy Hibbert last year was an All-Star and was a top-five center in the league. However, his defensive presence has slipped and his offense has been non-existent. Hibbert needs to become more confident in his shot and needs to show up and really provide the interior wall against the drives of James and Wade.
If the Pacers are to win the series, Hibbert will need to average more than 14 points a game and compile double digit rebounds every game of the series.
I think pretty much everyone has the Heat as the clear favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals. However who can dethrone the champs?
I believe that the team that can give the Heat the biggest problems is the Los Angeles Clippers.
Yes, the Clippers—not the Spurs; not the Thunder; not the Grizzlies. Though LAC has been the laughing stock of the NBA the past few decades, they might have the most competitive team against the Heat.
The Clippers have quality in all positions of the game and have bench players that can really be starters for other teams. Led by All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, they really can light up the scoreboard in multiple ways.
The season series was split one game a piece, but neither game can really be a deciding factor on who is really the better team. As I look at it now, the Heat are seemingly unstoppable. Accordingly, the edge goes to the Heat but the Clippers have all the tools to end their title run.
Chris Paul is an all-NBA defender and is without question right now the best point guard in the game. He will most likely be on Dwyane Wade or Mario Chalmers throughout the game.
The Clippers can decide to either have Billups or Crawford in as the two-guard, both of whom can really light it up from beyond the arch and give the Clippers the scoring punch. However, they both are going to struggle to guard whoever the other guard will be for Miami whether that is Wade or Allen.
Matt Barnes’ and Caron Butler’s biggest roles for the game are to hold LeBron to minimal damage. That is a task that neither will find easy—let alone possible at all to fulfill. However, if the Clippers are to win, they need to make sure that LeBron doesn’t tear it up for 40-plus points, which he has the potential to do every game.
The interesting matchup here is how Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin will fare against another. Bosh may not be the the power forward for the Heat, but he and Griffin will need to score for their respective teams and will need to match what their counterpart is doing offensively.
DeAndre Jordan is crucial to give the Clippers a legitimate shot blocker to not allow any easy inside shots for James or Wade. The importance of Jordan’s ability to protect the rim can’t be underestimated.
The Clippers other complementary pieces like Eric Bledsoe, Grant Hill, and Lamar Odom have their own share of strengths which can ultimately derail the “Heat train.”
Nevertheless, I believe that the Heat will come out superior against any competition, whether it is indeed the Clippers, or even the Thunder, Spurs, Grizzlies, etc.