Why the Miami Heat's Road to a Championship Will Be Much Tougher in 2012-13

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Why the Miami Heat's Road to a Championship Will Be Much Tougher in 2012-13
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Miami Heat won the NBA championship last season on the back of a season for the ages, with LeBron James combining with all their other players peaking at just the right time.

The Heat were pushed hard by the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs. Even with Chris Bosh hurt, talent took them through that matchup.

Then, the Boston Celtics had the Miami Heat teetering on the brink of a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals before James' simply awe-inspiring Game 6 performance that effectively ended the Celtics' resistance.

The Oklahoma City Thunder won the first game of the Finals, but after that, it was the Heat in the driver's seat to the championship.

So what does this tell us for the Heat in 2012-13?

It tells us that without the once-in-a-generation player turning in a season like one we have not seen in decades, the Heat may not even have made the Finals.

I'm not saying they won't get to the Finals in 2012-13, though.

What I am saying is that this team is going to need health and another year of incredible performances from LeBron James to get them there. Maybe that's obvious, but the point is that they didn't overwhelm everyone on the way to an easy title.

The Heat's path to the Finals should be no tougher in terms of what teams they face, but it is who they face in the Finals that could cause them problems.

The Los Angeles Lakers are currently the consensus choice to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals for the next couple of seasons.

Bballbreakdown discuss how Nash and Howard change the Laker offense

How do the Heat stack up to the behemoth foursome that is Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard?

On paper, they don't. At least not well.

Steve Nash will own the point guard matchup and Dwight Howard will get almost whatever he wants no matter who defends him.

The Steve Nash-Dwight Howard tandem, if it connects properly, will be extremely difficult to defend. With one each of the top pick-and-roll ball-handlers and converters in the game, the Lakers will be dangerous.

Throw in Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol spotting up on the weak side or cutting to the basket, and Metta World Peace in the strong-side corner launching threes, and you've got an offense that could prove unstoppable.

If you have to guard that Nash-Howard pick-and-roll, you'll need to double Dwight as he rolls to the basket. That forces you to leave either Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol alone, wide open on the weak side.

Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol. Undefended. It's up to you, Erik Spoelstra.

Who the Heat use to guard Dwight Howard will also be argued about a lot. Chris Bosh gives up too much in terms of bulk to effectively body up a man whose game is based on overwhelming power.

Harry How/Getty Images

After Bosh, the Heat's big-man rotation is, while improved, still poorly equipped to handle someone like Dwight Howard.

While Howard was in Orlando, the Heat did not bother trying to stop him; they simply let him get his while shutting down the Magic's myriad long-range weapons. That led to victories.

You can't shut down Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.

That leaves Miami fielding someone like Udonis Haslem (undersized), Joel Anthony (undersized) or Dexter Pittman (who may not even make the roster).

How the Heat approach this issue is going to be very interesting.

Miami will probably continue with the small-ball philosophy of playing Bosh at center most of the season, and that strategy forced the Oklahoma City Thunder to change their rotation to counter it. Bosh was too athletic and had too much range for Kendrick Perkins.

Although Dwight might struggle against Bosh's range, there's no way the Lakers will take him off the court because of it. And at the other end, Dwight is going to have a field day.

Then it comes down to who wins that battle between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

It's going to be a fun season for both teams, and a tougher one for the Heat to slog through and retain the NBA championship.

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