The Miami Heat (58-16) have clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference and home court advantage, at least until the Finals. They are the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions and most are predicting they will march their way to the Finals for the third straight year.
But don’t tell that to the Knicks, Pacers, Bulls, or Celtics…
We’ve seen this story before. Miami is 5-8 against the teams I just mentioned this season. Two years ago they were a combined 1-6 against the Bulls and Celtics. Last season they were 1-3 against Boston in th regular season. Miami has proven that regular season losses are not a concern to them as they eliminated the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in 2011 and Boston again last year in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Will anyone stop the Heat from advancing to the Finals for the third straight year?
Let’s break down the Heat’s four biggest obstacles in the East.
The Knicks have taken three out of the four meetings from the Heat this season and are the only team in the NBA to win in Miami twice. Experts are comparing the make-up of this team to the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, who are the only team to beat the Heat in a series since the “Big Three” came together in 2010. In the four regular season meetings this season, the Knicks were scorching from downtown. They have made a staggering 59 three pointers in four games this season against Miami. The signing of veteran Kenyon Martin has turned out to be a good fit as he brings toughness and tenacity to the front-line of the Knicks. Martin can take pressure off of defensive big-man Tyson Chandler and can give you eight to twelve points a night. The Knicks are neither shy nor short of confidence either. Raymond Felton has been on the record saying he likes his chances against the Heat if they were to go head-to-head against Miami in the Playoffs.
Ray sounded off to ESPNNewYork.com:
“We’re definitely one of the teams who gave Miami the most fits this year, so if we get the opportunity to play them in the Eastern Conference finals, then I kind of like our chances. I love our chances, actually.”
Indiana has shown they can at least make things interesting against the Heat in a playoff series. The Pacers lost a tough six-game series in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals last season and were up 2-1 over the Heat before dropping the last three. Shooting Guard Paul George has improved tremendously and has displayed his reputation as being one of the best two-way players in the game. Indiana has frustrated the Heat at times this season, taking two out of the three meetings this season from the Heat. They have outrebounded the Heat as well in all three of the games they played against each other. Roy Hibbert must be aggressive and control the paint in each game if the Pacers stand a chance to beat Miami in a seven game series. Their ability to make outside shots will also play a vital role if they want to take out the Heat.
The Bulls snapped Miami’s epic twenty-seven game winning streak and could have provided the blueprint to beating Miami: Beat them up inside and make them earn every point. Head Coach Tom Thibodeau is known for being a defensive guru and always gets the most out of his players. However, as we sit here and ponder if Derrick Rose will return or not, Chicago will be pressed to score points against Miami. Playoff games are often so intense and close that sometimes you need superstars to bail you out on possessions where they can make something out of nothing. Will Rose be there to provide that?
Not only are the question marks regarding Rose a concern, but Chicago’s bench is not considered to be as strong as years past and their health is questionable at this point. The Bulls’ best chance is to grind out each game and play lights out defensively. Role players such as Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Kirk Hinrich must provide scoring to have any chance of beating the Heat.
To put it nicely, the Celtics and Heat don’t like each other. These two teams have plenty of history against one another. One of the main reasons LeBron James chose to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami was to get past the Celtics. He failed to do so while he was in Cleveland, losing two playoffs series against Boston (2008, 2010). Everyone remembers the footage of LeBron taking off his Cleveland Cavaliers jersey for the last time as he walked through the tunnels of the TD Bank Garden in defeat. Fast-forwarding to today, the rivalry has grown tremendously. The Heat have sent Boston packing the past two years. Arguably the most recognized game for LeBron James’ career up to this point was last year’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 6, where he dropped forty-five points against Boston to save Miami’s championship hopes. Miami went on to win Game 7 and ultimately the NBA Title.
Not many will give the Celtics a chance if these two teams were to square off in the Playoffs. The injury to Rajon Rondo was huge and Kevin Garnett is banged up as well. But make no mistake about it-Boston isn’t scared of the Heat and will provide a decent challenge to them. Jeff Green will certainly have to play well if they stand any chance of upsetting the Heat. It will be interesting to see if they have something left in the tank and if they will pose any threat to the Heat, given the chance.