Ranking the 5 Must-Watch Heat Games in January

David WeissCorrespondent IIIJanuary 1, 2013

Ranking the 5 Must-Watch Heat Games in January

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    With two forgettable losses and a controversial play marring the last week of what has been an otherwise incredible year for the Miami Heat, I think we're all ready to close the books and welcome 2013. 

    In the foreseeable future is another title defense, potential free-agency chatter (K-Mart! K-Mart!), the looming cloud of Derrick Rose hovering over a one-team, top-heavy Eastern Conference, the return of Amar'e Stoudemire, whose New York approval rating just dipped below Isiah Thomas' and, last but not least, the opening of The Hangover Part III, starring Zach Galifianakis as Rex Ryan, Bradley Cooper as Mark Sanchez and Mike Tyson as Tim Tebow.   

    Seriously, there's a lot to get excited about. 

    And considering how boring the Heat's season has been thus far, I think both the team and its fans could use a little bit of excitement. 

    Now, I'm not trying to insinuate that the Eastern Conference is so awesomely, pathetically terrible that the Heat could have sleepwalked their way to a .500 record if they wanted to. 

    All I'm saying is that the last time I saw anyone as amped up as the Heat were on Christmas Day against Oklahoma City this happened. 

    But fear not, because the month of January promises to offer an array of games actually worth watching. 

    In fact, for the first time in a while, you won't be secretly hoping for another lockout to shorten this stale concoction of a regular season.

January 8 vs. the Inferior-Diana Pacers

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    On the surface, the Heat's matchup against the Indiana Pacers looks pretty ho-hum.

    Danny Granger, who was a vital part in this budding rivalry during last year's playoffs, will probably be out. 

    The Pacers are hardly what you would call an elite contender. 

    And, for the most part, there really isn't much implication to take from whichever team wins or losses. 

    So, why circle this game?

    Because not only will the Pacers make the playoffs again this year in a shamefully weak Eastern Conference, but there is an undeniable level of resentment that Indiana has for the South Florida talent-laden champs. 

    Whereas LeBron and Dwyane Wade are in Jay-Z songs, on the cover of Sports Illustrated and getting shoe deals, the Indiana Pacers are generally overlooked. 

    Beyond David West, Danny Granger and Paul George, I'd bet most NBA fans would have a hard time naming the other players on the Pacers roster.

    Not to mention Frank Vogel once called Miami the biggest flopping team in the league.

    All of these elements generally translate to chippiness, competitive basketball and some awesome quotables from the players of the losing team in the post-game conference.

    Now, I don't guarantee things often, but, based on last year's playoff series between the two, I'm willing to bet we will see one flagrant foul in this game. 

    And, if you're anything like me, that alone should be enough to sell you.  

January 4 vs. the Chicago Bulls

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    Even though the Indiana Pacers (18-13) have a better record than the Chicago Bulls (16-13) right now, there's a few reasons I ranked this game higher than Miami's matchup against Indiana:

    1) I think most people would agree that Tom Thibodeau is a much better coach than Frank Vogel. 

    2) Danny Granger doesn't come close to changing the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference as much as Derrick Rose would. 

    3) The combination of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer should be a better test for Miami's small-ball lineup than David West and the rotting mummy that is Roy Hibbert. 

    4) The implications of this game are nothing to scoff at considering it's likely  Chicago will make the playoffs and that Derrick Rose will probably be coming back at some point this season, at least based on reports

    Let's just say this: There is more to be gleamed from this matchup than just a possible Eastern Conference Semifinals preview. 

    And the last thing Miami wants to give a Bulls team missing its franchise player is any kind of psychological edge. 

January 16 vs. Golden State

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    While its hard to deny that the Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the Cinderella team of this season, Golden State has quietly mounted its own resurgence.

    Not only have the Warriors already defeated Miami once this season, but their current record (21-10) nearly matches the number of wins they had all of last season.

    Led by Stephen Curry, who's averaged 20 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds in his last 10 games, and the double-double machine we call David Lee, the Warriors are one of the best teams Miami will face this month. 

    They are also 10-4 at home so far this year. Miami's record on the road? An unimpressive 7-6.

    Boasting the fourth-best rebounding rank in the league and living up to the signature offensive pedigree that has defined the Warriors legacy for years now, this should be a fun, tightly contested game that closes in hundreds. 

    So, in the words of T.O., grab your popcorn!

January 27 vs. Boston

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    Heat-Celtics is the closest South Florida has come to reliving Miami's former rivalry with the New York Knicks. 

    These two teams have a long history that goes beyond the time that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been teammates. 

    Remember when the Celtics would regularly eliminate LeBron James' Cleveland Cavs from the playoffs?

    However, since the formation of Miami Thrice, James has gotten the better of the Gritty Green, eliminating them during their meetings in the last two playoffs. 

    Last year's meeting was especially poignant, though, as the future of either the Celtics' or Heat's big three looked destined for a makeover, depending on which team lost the series. 

    Ultimately, that team was the Celtics.

    But, just to add insult to injury, the Heat were not only responsible for breaking up the Celtics big three, but actually adding one of them to its crew. 

    In short, there's enough drama between these two that you'd almost expect the Bravo network to feature its games. 

    Add to that a history of hard fouls, trash-talking and LeBron James' superhuman performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and you basically get the picture.

    Heat-Celtics is appointment TV. 

January 17 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

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    L.A. has always been known for being the place where the stars come out, but, between these two super teams, we may just see a red carpet during the pregame show. 

    Now, I know a lot of luster going into this game has been lost because the new-look Lakers have struggled for much of the season. 

    Here's the thing about the NBA.

    At the end of the day, it's all about matchups. 

    Two years ago, the Memphis Grizzlies eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in Round 1 of the Western Conference playoffs. 

    Last year, meanwhile, a similarly configured Memphis Grizzlies team was eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers in Round 1, and, in the following series, the Clippers were then swept (and embarrassed) by the San Antonio Spurs. 

    With Kobe Bryant aiming for a sixth ring the same way a 17-year-old teenage boy aims for a hotel room nightcap to his prom night, this game will speak volumes about how the Black Mamba's legacy will probably end. 

    Especially when you consider that his contract will end next year and how he's hinted that a possible retirement announcement is coming sooner than later.

    Speaking of contracts, did you know that LeBron James' deal with Miami ends in 2014 too? 

    Now, how much you want to bet that the Lakers will be more hungry to sign LeBron (like every other team in the league with money will) rather than Kobe by then. 

    In more ways than one, this game will serve as a crystal ball for how the NBA will look in a few years. 

    And while it may not offer the same kind of competitive one-on-one matchup that Thunder-Heat on Christmas Day did, I'm sure the world wouldn't mind watching LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh duel up against Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. 

    May the best super team win.