What? A 2013 NBA Finals without the Miami Heat?
That's insane, ludicrous and, frankly, disrespectful to the reigning NBA champions, isn't it?
On paper, an NBA Finals this season without the Miami Heat doesn't seem real. But on the court, the Heat have given fans plenty of reasons to think that a trip to the NBA Finals could be much harder than originally thought.
From the mighty New York Knicks to the Heat's inability to rebound the ball, there are plenty of signs leading us to believe that the Heat will miss the 2013 NBA Finals.
All statistics are current as of Dec. 19.
What do you get when you combine the New York Knicks and two 20-point blowout wins against the Miami Heat?
You get the Heat's biggest obstacle to an appearance in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Against the Knicks, the Heat have looked out of place, overpowered and, frankly, pretty weak. The reason why the Knicks have owned the Heat this season is because of Tyson Chandler's presence in the paint and their ability to knock down three-point shots like they are layups.
Right now, the Heat better hope that someone else knocks the Knicks out of the playoffs before the two have a chance to meet.
If the Knicks and the Heat meet during the playoffs this season, my money is on the Knicks, and I'm sure everyone else's money is in the same place.
There's nothing LeBron James can do to single-handedly dethrone the Knicks. We know—because he's already tried and come up short twice.
After some impressive play in the Eastern Conference playoffs and the 2012 NBA Finals, many thought Mario Chalmers was going to take his game to the elusive and vague next level.
Well, I hate to say it, but that certainly hasn't happened.
Instead of being a more productive and efficient player, Chalmers has earned himself more time on the bench than usual, and his offensive production is down 1.5 points compared to his career average.
If the Heat want to make the 2013 NBA Finals, Chalmers absolutely has to start playing smarter and more efficiently. Shooting 40.6 percent from the floor isn't going to cut it, and neither is averaging just 3.7 assists per game.
Right now, LeBron James is the Heat's best point guard. He's also their best small forward, power forward and center. So, Chalmers, if you would, please step up your game so LeBron can focus on more important things.
The Heat have significantly picked up their defensive pressure since the start of the season.
That doesn't mean they're playing at a championship rate just yet, as giving up 97.9 points per game earns them the 15th-best overall defense in the NBA.
The problem for the Heat defense is that they are allowing too many second-chance points, and that brings us to the wonderful art of rebounding.
Yes, rebounding is mainly a part of a team's defensive performance, and the Heat look like they've decided to give up on that altogether.
The players who need to pick up their defense the most are Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. Bosh is allowing big men to dominate him in the paint, and Chalmers is allowing guards to slash into the paint way too often.
If their defense doesn't improve over the next few months, making the 2013 NBA Finals will be the least of the Heat's worries.
The Heat are dead last in the NBA in rebounding with an underwhelming average of just 38.3 rebounds per game.
You could argue that the Heat proved against the Minnesota Timberwolves that they can win without rebounding the ball—as the T'Wolves outrebounded the Heat 53-24.
But I'd counter that the Heat aren't going to be playing inefficient and unbalanced teams like the T'Wolves in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
If the Heat got outrebounded by, let's say, the Knicks by that same margin, they'd lose by 35 points. It's just a fact of life that the Heat need to get better at positioning themselves after the shot and going up to rebound the ball.
LeBron can't be the Heat's leading rebounder throughout the length of the season. If he is, it just proves that the Heat's biggest issue—frontcourt depth—is going to keep them from the 2013 NBA Finals.
Let's be honest.
Aside from Ray Allen, and maybe Norris Cole, the Heat bench, offensively speaking, is rather underwhelming.
The Heat aren't going to beat anyone with their bench, and that's certainly a problem.
The main issue for the Heat's second unit is that there is just no depth in the frontcourt, which is the Heat's major area of concern.
If they don't go out and sign a veteran big man, they are going to struggle down the stretch against bigger teams, as we've already seen this season.
Last season, the East wasn't as strong, so the Heat's lack of depth didn't mean nearly as much. This season it's a different story, and that's why depth could keep the Heat from a chance at repeating as NBA champions.
The Heat consistently play down to their competition, and that's not something you can just change come playoff time.
Sure, the Heat were able to make a comeback last season in the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers after they played down to them for three games.
But that won't be as easy this year, as the competition in the East is significantly better.
The Heat need to figure out how to bring their A game to each and every contest, because if they don't come playoff time, they'll still have their lackadaisical attitude getting in the way of an NBA Finals appearance.
While I disagree with Chuck that Wade isn't as talented as he once was, it's clear that he's lost a step on both sides of the ball.
It's not because he's becoming a less aggressive or worse basketball player; it's because he's continued to play recklessly and let his body take a beating over the past six or seven seasons.
Wade is a fearless player, and that's starting to take its toll on him.
He's already missed three games this season, and his season averages of 19.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds are down a bit compared to his career averages of 25 points, 6.1 assists and five rebounds per game.
No, he's not a bad player. But he's not the Wade of old, and that's not great news for the Heat.
No, leading his team in points, rebounds and assists isn't a bad thing. But it's certainly a sign that the other guys on the team aren't stepping up their games where they need to.
Chris Bosh shouldn't be letting LeBron outrebound him, and Mario Chalmers should be close to LeBron's level when it comes to assists.
With 8.5 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game, LeBron is having a great season. The fact that Chalmers is 3.2 assists per game away from LeBron's average speaks more about Chalmers' inconsistent play than LeBron's dominance.
Maybe the King's dominance isn't in question, but the fact that no one is competing with him for the stat totals, especially in assists, is questionable to say the least.
The Heat need Chalmers to step up and be an actual point guard so that the pressure for that role is taken off LeBron's shoulders. Not having a well-balanced attack, especially at the point, is a sign that the Heat shouldn't punch their plane tickets to the NBA Finals just yet.
The Eastern Conference is full of teams that have legitimate frontcourts. The Heat are unfortunately not one of those teams.
From the New York Knicks with Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire sometimes, to the Boston Celtics with Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett, the Heat have some serious competition in the way of a 2013 NBA Finals appearance.
If the Heat can't figure out how to defend against larger teams that can beat them in the paint and on the perimeter, they aren't going to be in the NBA Finals this season.
And Spoelstra, collapsing and bringing help-side defense on a big every time he touches the ball isn't a defensive game plan. I'm just saying.
Chris Bosh isn't having a terrible season, he's even averaging 18 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
Not to mention the fact that he's shooting at 54.7 percent from the floor. The point is, Bosh isn't playing terribly.
The only problem is that he's not doing enough considering that he's a "center," especially on the defensive side of the ball and on the glass.
The Heat just got outrebounded by the Minnesota Timberwolves to the tune of 53 rebounds to 24. That's not a sign of a team that's ready to compete for an NBA Finals appearance. That's a sign of a team looking for an identity in the paint and at the center position.
That's exactly where the Heat are and, the fact that Bosh is their "starting center" is a clear sign that the 2013 NBA Finals isn't in their immediate future.