If all goes according to plan, the big 3 will be hosting its first postseason party, instead of a preseason one.
Actually, they have been all season.
Miami has hit a few bumps in the round throughout the course of this lockout-shortened, schedule-condensed whirlwind of an NBA season, but it hasn't been anything to lose sleep (or hair) over.
Given that Miami should win their first of "not five, not six, not seven..." NBA championships since King James took his talents to South Beach, which of the seven teams left in the playoffs has the best chance to beat the Heat this postseason?
Sounds like Power Rankings to me. Let's get to it:
Philly will need a miracle to even get to Miami in the Conference Finals.
Key Quote: "What I said was, looking back at the past two years matching up against teams, we had a tougher time against the Heat. That's all I said. If I had to choose, we match up better against the Bulls."—Evan Turner
I don't blame you Evan. Of course you would rather play the team that doesn't have its two best players in uniform. I have a feeling LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will contribute at least a little if this match up transpires.
Round of Potential Matchup: Miami and Philly couldn't meet before the Eastern Conference Finals. Philly would have to defeat the Boston Celtics in the Semis.
Record vs. Miami Post "Decision": The Sixers have one win and 11 losses (including playoffs) in the two seasons LeBron has spent in South Beach.
Key Matchup: Andre Iguodala vs. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Key Stat: Philadelphia's starting lineup from the first round against the Chicago Bulls (Jrue Holiday, Turner, Iguodala, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes) averaged 55.9 points per game during the regular season. LeBron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh averaged 67.2. Philly simply does not have the star power to hang with Miami in a playoff series.
Best Case Scenario: Evan Turner becomes a lethal closer, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young turn into Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion 2.0, and Andre Iguodala perfects the science of cloning so that he can guard LeBron and Wade at the same time— all overnight.
This still would only be enough to steal Game 3 in front of a rabid Broad Street crowd.
Prediction: Heat in four.
Could the up-start Pacers hang with Miami?
Key Quote: Indiana Head Coach Frank Vogel called the Heat the "biggest flopping team in the NBA," on the eve of their second-round series with Miami.
Coach Vogel went Rex Ryan on his players and heaped an extra serving of pressure onto a team that is already overmatched on paper. We'll have to wait and see what effect it has on his young squad.
Round of Potential Match Up: Miami and Indiana will square off in the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the right to advance to the Conference Finals.
Record vs. Miami Post "Decision": Indiana has beaten Miami twice in the seven games between the two teams over the past two seasons.
Key Matchup: Danny Granger vs. LeBron James. Granger will need to at least play LeBron to a draw if Indiana has any chance in this series. He has always been a very good NBA player, despite his seemingly great potential.
Key Stat: Over the last month of the regular season while Indiana was fighting to make the playoffs, they didn't lose a game (4-0) when Granger scored at least 25 points. He is their most important player in this series.
Best Case Scenario: Twice in the series Paul George and Danny Granger are able to keep pace with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Roy Hibbert protects the rim like the All-Star center that he is, and the Pacers lose in a hard-fought six-game series that they can build on for the future.
Prediction: George and Granger put together one magical game at home to avoid a sweep. Heat in five.
The Clippers are legitimate, thanks to CP3.
Key Quote: "If you left DeAndre Jordan in the gym over night and told him he couldn't dunk, he would have six points in the morning."—Charles Barkley.
Okay so this quote doesn't really apply to anything, just a classic gem from TNT's Charles Barkley.
Round of Potential Match Up: Picture it now, Lob City in the NBA Finals.
Record vs. Miami Post "Decision": The Clippers won the only match up between these teams over the past two seasons that included Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James. Overall L.A. is two and one against Miami since 2010.
Key Matchup: Chris Paul vs. Mario Chalmers. This is a step up in class for Mario Chalmers. It is likely they would match up until the final five minutes of the game, when LeBron or D-Wade would take over the task of guarding Paul, but a lot can happen in the first 43 minutes of the game.
Key Stat: If the Clippers can keep it close for the first 43 minutes of the game, they can then turn the ball over to the best closer in the NBA. Paul averaged a shade over 41 points per 48 minutes of "clutch time" (final five minutes of a game, neither team leading by more then five points) during the regular season this year.
Best Case Scenario: The Clippers have a "Super Bowl" like atmosphere for Game 3 at home despite trailing 2-0 in the series. A few Paul-Blake Griffin lobs blow the roof off of the Staples Center, and Clips fans have a moment to be proud of for the first time in their history. The Clippers time is coming; it's just not now.
Prediction: Heat in five.
The Lakers have a chance on Kobe's will alone.
Message received. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum responded in Game 7 after Kobe called out their effort. This team will go as far as Kobe will drag them—just like he wants it—and just like it's been for the better part of a decade.
The opponent is irrelevant.
Round of Potential Matchup: A Heat-Lakers NBA Finals has seemed inevitable since the revolution known as "the Decision." Maybe we can dust off those old Nike commercials.
Record vs. Miami Post "Decision": The Lakers have had trouble with the Heat over the past two seasons, having lost three of the four battles.
Key Matchup: Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol vs. Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, and Ronny Turiaf. Other than Bryant, the Lakers greatest strength is their size in the front court. This is one of Miami's biggest weaknesses. You do the math.
Key Stat: Michael Jordan: six championship rings. Kobe Bryant: five championship rings. Until there's literally a fork in Kobe, this is the only stat that matters.
Best Case Scenario: Kobe puts together a performance like we've never seen—something along the lines of 35 points on 50 percent shooting per game while holding Dwyane Wade to 30 percent shooting.
Bynum and Gasol combine to average 30 rebounds a game, and Metta World Peace plays like Ron Artest.
Kobe reaches rarefied air with his sixth ring, and the Lakers win in seven.
Prediction: From a style standpoint, this is a mismatch on paper for the Lakers. L.A. likes to slow the pace down and play through their two seven-footers in the paint; Miami likes to turn games into a track meet.
If Miami gets running, which they've been able to do in nearly every match up with L.A. over the past two seasons, then this will be a very short series.
Heat in five.
The battle tested Spurs are going to be a tough out for anyone.
Key Quote: When asked how confident he was about his team's chances to win a championship this year, Gregg Popovich responded that he was, "scared to death."
Obviously Pop was poking fun at the question here. That brash confidence, and disdain for flashy things like the media is what makes the Spurs the Spurs. They have taken on Popovich's personality throughout his career. They won't be scared of Miami.
Not even a little.
Round of Potential Matchup: San Antonio and Miami could only meet in the NBA Finals.
Record vs. Miami Post "Decision": The Spurs are 1-2 against the Heat since the 2010-11 season.
Key Matchup: Tony Parker vs. Mario Chalmers. Tony Parker has a favorable matchup in this series. We could be talking about a second Finals MVP for the ex-Mr. Longoria when all is said and done this season.
Key Stat: The Miami Heat allowed their opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from the three-point line during the regular season (26th in the league). The Spurs lead the league from three-point land, shooting 39.3 percent on 21 attempts per game. This could be huge if this series happens.
Best Case Scenario: The aging Spurs find the fountain of youth, Tony Parker dominates the series to the tune of 30 points and 12 assists per game, San Antonio's team defense disrupts LeBron and Wade offensively, Tim Duncan forces Chris Bosh into an early retirement, and Erik Spoelstra learns a thing or two from the legendary Popovich. The Spurs beat the Heat in a six-game series reminiscent of last year's finals against Dallas.
Prediction: That fountain doesn't actually exist. Heat in six.
Paul Pierce and LeBron James tend to bring the best out of each other.
Key Quote: On comments made by Atlanta Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr.: "You have no idea what you are doing when you say those 'old' comments. I appreciate that. I don't read your columns, but it gets back to me."—Kevin Garnett.
It was Kevin Garnett making those comments to the media following Boston's series victory over Atlanta, but it really could have been anyone in the Celtics organization. Outside of that locker room you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks they can beat the Heat, but I dare you to say that to Garnett's or Paul Pierce's face.
Boston has a slightly better chance then San Antonio because of familiarity.
Round of Potential Matchup: If Boston can beat the 76ers and Miami can beat the Pacers the teams would meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. This would be the third spring in a row that LeBron would face Boston in the playoffs.
Record vs. Miami Post "Decision": The Celtics have seven wins to go with six losses over the past two seasons against the Heat (including playoffs).
Key Matchup: Rajon Rondo vs. Whomever Miami Uses to Try to Stop Rajon Rondo. If Rondo is a difference maker, they can beat Miami. Period.
Key Stat: Per 48 minutes of "crunch time" (final five minutes, neither team leads by more then five points) during the regular season, the Heat's big three of James, Wade, and Bosh averaged 95.4 points. Boston's big three of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen averaged 83.5 per 48 minutes. Considering how close games between these teams usually are, this series will be decided in the last five minutes of probably every game.
Take Miami's totals with a grain of salt because, again, those are regular season numbers.
Best Case Scenario: These two teams are like heavyweights, squaring off for the third time in four years.
They know each other too well for any surprises.
It's just down to will now. In a battle of wills between these two teams, Boston clearly has the edge. A raucous Boston crowd swallows LeBron whole, Rondo steals Game 1 on the road by himself, and Boston wins in six.
Prediction: If Boston isn't heading home for game six leading 3-2, they won't win the series. They can't win a Game 7 in Miami.
Heat in seven.
Talk about a Big 3.
Key Quote: On Chris Bosh: "I was talking to my teammate and he decided he wanted to put his two cents into it. I'm a quiet guy, a laid-back guy, but I'm not going to let nobody talk trash to me. He's on a good team now, so he thinks he can talk a little bit..There's a lot of fake tough guys in this league and he's one of them."—Kevin Durant.
Durant made those comments following a game between the two teams in January 2011. From day one the Oklahoma City have had no fear of the Miami Heat. They view Miami as their equals.
As a basketball fan I hope they get a chance to prove it.
Round of Potential Matchup: Both teams would have to win their respective conferences to meet in the NBA Finals.
Record vs. Miami Post "Decision": The Thunder split their two games against Miami, both this season and last.
Key Matchup: Russell Westbrook vs. Dwyane Wade. If Westbrook outplays Wade it will be difficult for Miami to come out on top.
Key Stat: When James Harden either led the Thunder or scored the second-most points in any game this season, Oklahoma City went 16-3. Miami couldn't dream of having a bench player impact their record in that way.
Oklahoma City's depth along with their top-end talent make them as good a matchup against Miami as any team in the league.
Best Case Scenario: Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka do a better job of protecting the paint then Tyson Chandler did for the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, Durant outplays LeBron, Westbrook outplays Wade, and the Oklahoma City Thunder cruise to their first of many titles in the Durant era.
Prediction: Hopefully basketball fans are rewarded with this matchup after a strange year. Thunder in seven.