NBA Playoffs 2012: Power Ranking the Biggest Threats to the Miami Heat
With the weaker teams being eliminated or on the verge of being just that, many people believe that the only team that stands in the way of Miami Heat and a championship is themselves, at least in the injury-riddled Eastern Conference. However, the Heat still have to go out and win 13 more games if they want to be the ones hoisting that trophy in June.
That being said, which teams have the best chance of taking down the Heat? Some teams are a given, but there are also a few surprises on the list, and at the end of the day, the Heat will not be able to waltz their way to a championship.
Los Angeles Lakers
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This matchup may be anticipated more than any other. The legend, Kobe Bryant, against arguably the best player in the league, LeBron James, and his super team as he continues his quest for that first ring.
However, the Lakers may possibly be the last team the Heat want to see in the finals. With Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the interior passing skills they possess will give the Heat problems all series long.
Metta World Peace guards LeBron better than anyone else. He can match power with power, but the most intriguing matchup in this one might be Wade vs. Kobe, as each one tries to make their case for the best shooting guard in the league.
Just writing about this one gives me goosebumps. However, I think this is the only match up that would not have the Heat as the favorites to come out on top. Not because of a talent overload on L.A.'s side, but because of the size they throw around inside.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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The OKC Thunder did not finish atop their conference, but have been deemed by many as the best team in the West and most likely to beat the Heat in a seven-game series. I agree.
The Thunder are solid at every position and match up very well with the Heat. The Thunder Big Three don't match up exactly with Miami's, but the matchups are amazing across the board. Both teams play solid defense and are arguably the two most exciting teams to watch in the league.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Heat would rather see any other team in the West aside from the Thunder. The Heat rely a lot on their athleticism and superstar play, but so do the Thunder.
Although I believe Miami would ultimately win this series due to their superstars having the ability to post up and score inside the paint, this series has the potential to be one of the best and most exciting ones we have ever seen.
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The Celtics are looking like the team ready to stand in the way of Miami and their stroll through the Eastern Conference.
Their experience alone makes them a contender the Heat would be wise to keep their eye on. Rajon Rondo is the one point guard who continuously has his way with Miami, resulting in open shots for his teammates as he breaks down the Heat defense.
This is likely Boston's last go at a title with their current roster, and they will be a very tough out. But if the Heat can figure out a way to contain Rondo and monitor his penetration, Miami should be able to take down the original Big Three once again.
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The Pacers are one of the more underrated teams in this year's playoffs. Playing under the shadow of two of the top teams in league all season, the Bulls and the Heat, Indiana has quietly put together a very solid season.
With the acquisition of Leandro Barbosa midway through the season, the Pacers added even more talent to an already capable roster, while the emergence of Paul George as an up-and-coming star is something Indiana fans have to look forward to.
The Pacers possess something that really gives the Heat a lot of problems: size—lots of it. Indiana's front line is one of the biggest in the league, and George's length gives Dwyane Wade problems on the offensive end of the floor.
Because the Pacers have already taken care of the Magic, we know the Heat will have to go through them to get to the championship. If they overlook the Pacers on their quest for the title, it could prove quite dangerous.
San Antonio Spurs
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The San Antonio Spurs do not get enough credit for not only what they have done this season, but over the past decade. However, I can't talk much, because despite their record and impressive first round, I am still not a believer in this Spurs squad.
San Antonio arguably had the easiest first round of the playoffs and they did what they were supposed to do as the No. 1 seed. People talk about how deep this team is; well, NBA coaches shorten their benches come playoff time and it is the superstars who have to step up and get the job done.
Don't get me wrong, Tony Parker is having an amazing season, but do I think the Spurs could beat the Heat in a seven-game series? Not a chance. This may stir some people's blood, but I'm just being honest.
If I were asked to make a prediction about this team, I would say they are going to lose in the second round, whether they play Memphis or the Clippers, but only time will tell what this team is truly capable of in the postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers
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Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league. No matter what team you put him on or what players you surround him with, he is one of the best competitors, players and leaders I have ever seen in the NBA. He alone makes the Clippers contenders in my book.
The Grizzlies, a very well-rounded team who many expected great things from this year in the playoffs, have been outplayed and outhustled by a Clippers team led and inspired by Paul.
Just looking at what Paul did with the Hornets last year against the Lakers and how much trouble he gave them without any other player really capable of creating his own shot; it only makes sense that the Clippers are considered contenders.
People tend to forget just how clutch Paul is and how well he can control an entire game. He is the definition of a floor general and creates problems for teams with his decision making in the pick-and-roll, even teams as good defensively as the Miami Heat.
A lot of things would have to happen for these two teams to meet up, but if they did, we'd have one amazing series on our hands.
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The Philadelphia 76ers are just another good team in the East that struggle to get over the hump and make the jump to a contending squad.
They lack a go-to superstar and although they are an underrated defensive team, they are not ready to play with the big boys just yet. They have been inconsistent all year and if you look back at what the Heat did to them last year, it's easy to see why they pose no real threat for Miami.
They're a good young team with a lot of potential, just not ready to compete for a title.
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The Atlanta Hawks are doing everything in their power to will themselves past a veteran Boston team, but it is likely their luck will run out soon enough, which is actually a good thing for the Heat.
The Hawks are a team with loads of talent, they just haven't figured it all out yet, but with Al Horford back and Josh Smith playing the best basketball of his career, Atlanta may be putting it all together at the perfect time.
The Hawks improve a little each year, but have never managed to make that big jump to becoming a team nobody wants to see in the playoffs. They might be on the verge of something, but not this year.
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The Bulls held on for another win last night without Derrick Rose, but it's no secret they are a much different team with him out for the rest of the playoffs.
If Chicago does find a way to dig itself out of the 3-2 hole, at the end of the day, the Bulls no longer pose the threat that they did at the beginning of this season.
Yes, Chicago did beat the Heat during the regular season without Rose, but the playoffs are a whole different breed of basketball. I would be extremely surprised to see the Bulls advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
New York Knicks
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The Heat will be looking to put the Knicks away this evening in Miami and when the Heat play in Miami, they play very good basketball. It would be very surprising if the Knicks managed to get another W, this time in Miami.
It would put some, but not a lot, of pressure on a Heat team who seemed to be doing a little cruising in Game 4 after pushing the pedal to the metal for 48 minutes in the previous three games.
That being said, the Knicks can't be high or too low on this list. Clearly, the Heat have shown they can handle them, but N.Y. has also shown why there are many teams out there who would not like to play them.
Carmelo Anthony is arguably the best scorer we have in the game today and has seemed to find his touch, while Amar'e Stoudemire feels like he's got something to prove after the stunt he pulled.
The Heat should be doing everything in their power to end this series today before they find themselves tied 3-3 after "Linsanity" (?!) back at the Garden.
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I was a believer of the Memphis Grizzles before the playoffs began. Without Rudy Gay in last year's playoffs, Memphis played some great basketball, and with the addition of Gilbert Arenas, who actually played some decent basketball, you would figure sky is the limit for this team.
I wouldn't call them a disappointment, but they have caught some unfortunate breaks and have now found themselves in a hole not many teams can escape.
As far as how they match up against the Heat, their double-headed monster of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is a lot to handle inside for the smaller Heat big men, and Tony Allen, one of the best defenders in the league, does a good job on both LeBron and Wade.
However, it is very unlikely we see this matchup in the finals when it's all said and done.
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The Nuggets have no superstar and that will ultimately be the death of them. They play great team basketball and get easy baskets due to their run-and-gun style of play, but they have nobody to turn to when it's clutch time.
They have impressed me with two big wins against the Lakers, a team much bigger and more experienced than them. However, I believe their defeat is inevitable.
This is the last team I would expect the Heat to meet in the finals.