Breaking Down Which Title Contenders Can Run with Miami Heat Positionless Lineup
It's not just because of the acquisition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh either. It has more to do with the constant adjustments that are being made in order to get the best out of the team because it turns out there's a lot more to winning an NBA title than putting a few great players together and then telling them to go win some games against teams with established chemistry and systems.
What the Heat did to make themselves into a championship team was to utilize the physical assets they were stacked with, especially LeBron James. As gifted and as talented as James was before the 2011-12 season, we hardly saw what LeBron was truly capable of. Rather than having him run isolation plays and pounding the ball at the top of the perimeter, the Heat made it an issue to have James play other positions as well.
Thus why you have seen James guard the likes of David West and Pau Gasol: Because the Heat are making James utilize his physical attributes more than he has ever had to. Because the Heat are getting this out of James, they've been utilizing a positionless lineup that has made them one of the league's most unique teams.
Outside of James playing multiple positions, we have also see Shane Battier defend multiple positions, Chris Bosh playing at the four and five and even Dwyane Wade playing as large as the three. Due to the positive results of the positionless lineup, the Heat have continued to use it and have created a small-ball lineup out of it as well.
With the positionless lineup set to move on into next season, we take a look at five championship contenders who can run with the Heat and their lineup of stars who can play multiple positions when asked.
Los Angeles Lakers
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What? You honestly expected the Los Angeles Lakers to just go away? C'mon now, they turned Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Caron Butler and a few picks into Pau Gasol, so of course it was natural for them to get Dwight Howard while still holding onto Pau Gasol in the process.
Whether you love the move or hate it, the Lakers are championship contenders after a two-year layoff where they combined to go 1-8 in the second round. Their most recent venture in the postseason featured a struggle in seven games against the Denver Nuggets followed up by a five-game series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It's safe to say the Lakers won't be exiting the second-round anytime soon. In fact, them and the Thunder are the two favorites to make it to the NBA Finals this upcoming season. With that being said, it wouldn't come as a surprise to see the fabled Lakers vs. Miami Heat matchup we've been waiting for since the "Big Three" was formed in South Beach.
This time around, the Lakers plan on giving the Heat a serious run. With Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol down low and the league's top pick-and-roll facilitator in Steve Nash, Miami is going to encounter dire situations where it will need to find ways to not just limit the combination of Nash and Howard or Nash and Gasol, but of Kobe Bryant as well.
The Lakers can run with the Heat's positionless lineup because of the size they possess, as well as having the individual players who can score on their own as well. Plus, having someone as strong as Dwight and someone as long as Pau will cause some obvious disruption for the Heat's plan on taking it strong to the rim.
However, the Heat may have a solution to this. If the team can utilize mismatches by taking Pau and Dwight out of the paint, putting Chris Bosh and Rashard Lewis on the floor as an example, then it would open the floor for the shooters to get their shots, as well as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James playing comfortably driving down the lane.
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Death, taxes and the Boston Celtics causing trouble for the Miami Heat.
Just when you thought it was alright to play on the Boston Celtics' lawn, it turns out the grumpy old men are still waiting outside looking to protect their territory at all costs. Although they have failed to reign at the top of the East, thanks in part to the Heat, they certainly have done all they can to give the reigning champions a run for their money both years.
Last year, it was the Celtics taking advantage of the Chris Bosh-less Heat, stretching the series to seven games and having a chance to close it out in Game 6. If LeBron James didn't have one of the greatest postseason games in NBA history, the Celtics could have very well been the team representing the East and taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Even the year before when the Heat won in five games, Boston still gave the Heat plenty to worry about in the final three games, with Game 4 going to overtime and Game 5 being in the Celtics' favor until the final four minutes.
If there will be a team that could stop the Heat in the East, it's going to be the Celtics. They have an excellent defensive chemistry, are extremely active on both ends of the floor and have a point guard in Rajon Rondo who simply cannot be stopped by this Heat team. Miami's idea of playing off of Rondo and letting him march within 15 feet of the rim has been a recipe for disaster for the Heat's defense.
Despite losing Ray Allen, the Celtics replaced him with an equally elite perimeter threat in Jason Terry.
The Celtics can compete with the Heat because they've found ways to contend with the Heat despite not having an imposing presence down low. Because they are so active on defense and can pass the ball so well along the perimeter and create mismatches, the Celtics are still a considerable threat to Miami's reign at the top of the East.
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With all this talk surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, we've completely forgotten that there is another team out West that is completely capable of representing that conference in the NBA Finals.
The Denver Nuggets have made huge strides since shaking off Carmelo Anthony. With the remnants of the Knicks they acquired in the deal, coupled with a trade involving the Wizards and a recent deal involving Philadelphia, the Nuggets are now one of the league's most stacked teams and have multiple starters at nearly every position.
Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee represent the starting lineup, and that isn't the scariest part.
No, the scariest part would be the fact that the bench consists of Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer, Andre Miller, Quincy Miller, Timofey Mozgov and Evan Fournier; you could easily say that at least three or even four of those players are worthy of a starting job at this moment.
The Nuggets would be a pain for the Heat because not only do they play a fast-paced game similar to the Heat, but they can also beat you in the half-court and possess the positionless players that can defend multiple positions as well. The likes of Iguodala, Gallinari, Chandler and Brewer can all play multiple positions efficiently on both ends of the floor.
Denver doesn't have any player whose name stands out. Instead, it has a rotation that's going to go 10 players deep, with each of those players set to play key roles this season.
Plus, if McGee is going to look as good in the season as he did with Hakeem Olajuwon, then the Heat, as well as the rest of the NBA, is going to need to pay close attention to the Nuggets because McGee has other-worldly athleticism and length. If he manages to couple that with a fundamental post game, then the Nuggets could be in the finals for the first time this upcoming summer.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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It became clear in the NBA Finals: The Oklahoma City Thunder had trouble making adjustments to the Heat's positionless lineup.
Once the Heat instituted Shane Battier in the starting lineup alongside Chris Bosh, the Thunder had no answer on how to defend Battier along the perimeter. Because Miami was either employing Battier or LeBron James as the power forward, it rendered the likes of Serge Ibaka nearly useless.
Kendrick Perkins also found himself out of place, as he failed to keep up with the Heat's unruly fast pace.
So, what makes you think the Thunder would be ready to run with the Heat's positionless lineup?
Well, for one, it's doubtful that their most versatile player in James Harden is destined for another series as awful as the one he had against the Heat. Harden, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year who can efficiently play at the one, two and three, averaged a mere 12.4 points per game on 38 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc.
The bright lights got to Harden, who was missing breakaway layups by the end of the series.
The Thunder also have the year's worth of finals experience and the benefit of playing in the Olympics together as well helping them into next season. You may remember the Thunder struggling in 2011 when it came down to the waning minutes in the Western Conference Finals against Dallas, something that was eventually corrected the previous season.
When it came down to the Finals, however, they looked like the same team from the '11 WCF: disoriented, lost and without any rhythm or confidence.
Despite losing the NBA Finals, it was a huge victory in terms of experience points. Let's not forget that Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Ibaka are all under the age of 24, and this will not be the last time we see them taking on the Heat in a Finals setting.
San Antonio Spurs
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If a team doesn't have the talent to defeat a team like the Miami Heat, it needs to beat them with its depth.
That's the case for the Denver Nuggets, and it's also the case for the San Antonio Spurs. However, what separates the Spurs from the Nuggets is the fact that San Antonio does employ a few standout names on its roster, including the point guard who just finished fourth in MVP voting last year. Tony Parker had a resurgence last year, averaging a career high in assists and averaging his most amount of points since 2009.
Alongside of him, the Spurs also happen to have the greatest power forward to play the game and one of the league's top shooting guards when healthy.
While the Spurs may not have the positionless players that can match up with the Heat's lineup, what they do have is a rotation that goes 10 players deep.
The Spurs live and breathe fundamentals and converting average role players into sensations overnight. Just take a look at what they did to Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson last year; those are the effects of motivation and joining a first-class franchise.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were the real stories of the year for the Spurs. Leonard, who was acquired in a deal for George Hill, surprised everyone with his defensive and shooting capabilities, while Green made a living from beyond the perimeter, shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc.
Two years ago with Cleveland, Green was a rookie who averaged two points per game.
The Spurs could send anyone on their roster on the floor and would net positive results out of it more likely than not.
San Antonio doesn't possess near the athleticism or talent of the Heat, but it has the reliability off the bench to compete with the Heat and not succumb to a lack of energy in the fourth quarter, which has been a strategy of Miami's since acquiring the Big Three.
Miami likes to run and gun its opponents to the point of exhaustion, but it doesn't always work against the teams that manage their players well and have the depth to rely on.
If the Heat and Spurs somehow match up in the Finals, Miami may find itself overwhelmed having to compete with a team as well-rounded and well-coached as San Antonio.