Is There Any Eastern Conference Team That Can Challenge Miami Heat?

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterAugust 24, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 09:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics goes up for a shot between Dwyane Wade #3 and LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat in the first quarter in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 9, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Check out the Vegas Eastern Conference odds if you will. Notice anything? 

What should become immediately apparent is that the Miami Heat have an overwhelming advantage over any rival. If you want to bet on the Heat winning the East, you have 4/7 odds. In other words, you must pay seven dollars to win four back on top of it if you're picking Miami against the field.

Chicago has the next highest odds at 9/2. If you're going with the Bulls, their victory turns two dollars into nine bucks. This is quite the gap between one and two, a much bigger chasm than exists in the West. In the other conference, the Lakers are 6/5, the Thunder are 9/4 and the Spurs are 6/1. That's quite a difference from the East, where one team is so heavily favored against the field.

I am in strong agreement with Las Vegas on this one: The Miami Heat should be favored against the Eastern field. Barring injury, it's difficult to see how they lose. The Celtics might tout the addition of the soon-to-be 35-year-old Jason Terry, and the Jared Sullinger draft pick. This appears to be a marginal improvement when a bigger boost is required to close the gap. 

While you can say, "Boston was a game from beating the Heat," it's a deceiving way to frame that situation. The Celtics could handle a Boshless Miami. For all the deserved coverage LeBron James' spectacular Game 6 garnered, Bosh's return was essential in shutting down Boston's offensive attack. Before Chris Bosh returned to the lineup, a normally insipid Boston offense was finding much value in dumping it to KG down low. 

Without Bosh, there was no real way for Miami to counter this. A tentative Bosh returned in Game 5, only playing 14 minutes. When CB4 got starter playing time, KG's efficiency took a bit of a nose dive. Garnett finished out Game 6 and Game 7 with a combined 26 points on 46 percent shooting. Boston was memorably blown out at home in Game 6, and the Heat never looked back from that point. 

This is a long-winded way of saying that no, I don't think the Celtics can beat Miami (barring injury, of course). Considering that the Celtics are the archetypal "rival" for this Miami team, this does not bode well for the rest of the conference.

Given a chance to bet on one team to make it out of the East, I'd probably take the Hawks. But, this is merely because they have 50/1 odds. It's not as though I believe that a Horford-Smith combo will fell a triad of Hall of Famers. 

Vegas seems to like (or at least not hate) the Bulls. But, they lost so much of a second unit that made Chicago special. I would rather not bet on Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and an ACL-recovering Derrick Rose, thank you very much. The Bulls are a tantalizing possibility for next season, at least. 

Some may point to Philadelphia because Andrew Bynum presents a Miami mismatch. Given how Bynum has fared against speedy double-teams, I'm not so sold on that possibility. Like Boston during the last playoffs, the Sixers would need a Bosh injury to be competitive. 

Miami is alone at the team. Of course, as KG once famously intoned, "Anything is possible." But the Eastern conference presents such an unlikely "anything" when it comes to the Heat getting challenged.