Three Eastern Conference Stars Standing in Way of Miami Heat Repeat

David Weiss@<a href="" class="twitter-follow-button" data-show-count="false">Follow @Davinchy83</a> <script>!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){jsCorrespondent IIIJanuary 10, 2013

Three Eastern Conference Stars Standing in Way of Miami Heat Repeat

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    So I'm not going to lie: As a huge fan of the cartoon Smurfs, the movie Groundhog Day and, of course, the Miami Heat, there was really no way I was going to miss watching my favorite team go up against the best rebounding team in the NBA

    Which means I'd need to move my recliner two feet closer to the television, have a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios on one arm of my chair, a printout of all the comments left in my last article by fans who insist the Heat's rebounding issues are due to a lack of effort more than size on the other and the words "Chris Anderson" already pre-programmed on the Twitter search of my phone. 

    Now, don't judge me for being the hopeless romantic that I am, but if Sam Baldwin and Suzy could defy all the odds and end up together, I don't see why kismet couldn't drive Birdman into the innocent embrace of South Beach. 

    In any case, the Miami Heat would lose to the Indiana Pacers, out-rebounded by 19 on the glass after giving up an astounding 22 offensive boards, and embark upon a road trip with five games remaining. Their success in such circumstances is now .500 for the season. 

    To be clear, Miami wanted to win this game. LeBron James reminded us of that much by rehashing some of the boastful remarks made by Indiana's players in the recent past. 

    Ultimately, though, their struggles on the glass and the road were too much to overcome. 

    And for the first time in a while, we were all reminded that although this Heat team is stacked with talent, it still maintains the mentality of an underdog. 

    Much like the Boston Celtics thrive on intimidation, we usually don't see Miami at its best until adversity comes into the equation. 

    It took them five games to beat a New York Knicks team that was ripe to be swept in the first round of last year's playoffs. They fell behind three times in the playoffs, against Indiana, Boston and Oklahoma City, before coming back to win each series. 

    To quote the wise words of the philosophers Joey Tribianius and Chandler Bingistotle, Miami needs "the fear"

    Without it, as well as a decent rebounder, there are three players in the Eastern Conference just as capable as Dirk Nowitzki was two years ago of sweeping the rug out from under the over-confident Heat and sending them into the kind of despair only known by ruthless dictators, VH1 reality stars and, worst of all, Dallas Cowboy fans.  

Honorable Mention: Carmelo Anthony

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    From the visionary mind who brought you the punch heard 'round Madison Square Garden and the critically-acclaimed documentary, Snitches Get Stitches, comes the series, Man v. Honey Nut Cheerios.

    Except instead of the affable Adam Richman, this delight will be hosted by Carmelo Anthony in all his reasonable splendor. 

    Now, I'm willing to play devil's advocate on behalf of Anthony. 

    Maybe he did want to just have a civilized conversation with KG after the game, perhaps over a cup of tea even, to discuss the proper bounds of trash-talking etiquette and types of cereal with a less offensive nature. For instance, Fruity Pebbles is a renowned crowd-pleaser.

    The New York Knicks have shouldered their fair share of doubts this season.

    First, their success was attributed to an easy early schedule.

    People said Carmelo Anthony was the same selfish player he's always been, the difference was just that he's shooting better.

    They said that the team would implode back to humbler times once Amar'e "The Fireman" Stoudemire came back into the lineup.

    But this latest incident suggests that the Knicks don't yet have the kind of composure it takes to be a winner in the NBA.

    After all, if Carmelo can get rattled by the creaky legs of the Boston Celtics, how is he ever going to beat a Heat squad consisting of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh?

    At the end of the day, there's two kind of franchise players in the NBA: the guys who want a ring and the ones who are just angling for an endorsement deal with General Mills.

    Do you, Carmelo. Just do you. 

3. Derrick Rose

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    The last time the Miami Heat met the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs, the Heat eliminated them in five games

    And that was with a healthy Derrick Rose

    So to suggest that Derrick Rose could come back from a devastating ACL injury that has sidelined him since the first round of last year's playoffs and lead the Bulls past Miami is a bit of a stretch. 

    But assuming Rose were to return and could play at even 80 percent of his signature explosiveness level, the collective outpouring of support for the Bulls would be pretty overwhelming. 

    Add along to that a team that is only 3.5 games behind first place in the Eastern Conference without its best player and the kind of size that has proven to give Miami fits in the past and, well, anything is possible

    Besides, as I stated earlier, this Heat team has an underdog mentality. Kind of hard though to play with an edge when you're going against a guy that is trying to defy more odds than anyone in this league since, well, 2012 LeBron James

2. Paul George

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    Paul George's playoff average last year was 9.7 PPG and 6.6 RPG on a .389 FG shooting percentage. 

    After working on his game with LeBron James over the summer, his stats have taken a leap, averaging 16.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 3.7 APG on a .422 FG shooting percentage.

    As LeBron pointed out prior to the Heat's loss to the Pacers, Danny Granger's absence will allow George to continue to grow as a featured player on the team.

    And whether or not Granger comes back this season, Indiana already has the size and athleticism to match up better with Miami than anyone else in the Eastern Conference. 

    A Granger return, however, would prove that much more devastating.

    With George continuing to emerge on a game-to-game basis (and don't neglect the confidence boost of leading his team past Miami) as Miami's big men seemingly continue to shrink, the only thing we can be certain of these days in the Eastern Conference is that a Pacers-Heat rubber match in the playoffs is likely to go the distance this time around.

    Speaking as a longtime Heat fan, that doesn't exactly bring to mind the fondest of memories

1. Rajon Rondo

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    As the only team to push Miami to a Game 7 in last year’s NBA playoffs, the Boston Celtics deserve the recognition of being considered the Heat’s toughest opponent in the Eastern Conference, if not the league.

    In comparison to a seven-game series last year, the Heat eliminated the Boston Celtics two years ago in five games.

    The biggest difference? Rajon Rondo, who was slowed by a dislocated elbow during the first season of Miami Thrice's playoff meeting with the Celtics after Game 1.

    Of all the performances that stood out in last season’s playoffs, Rondo’s 44-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound outing against Miami in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals stands chief among them.

    After that contest, LeBron James remarked that Rondo “showed why he’s an all-pro and one of the superstars in the league.”

    Between a rising shutdown defender in Avery Bradley, the addition of former Heat tormentor Jason Terry and the ever-steady contributions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Rondo and the Celtics have enough grit, firepower and experience to give Miami a run for its money.

    And assuming Rondo can channel his reputable temper on the game instead of misdirecting it against officials and players, the sometimes complacent Heat may just need another superhuman performance by LeBron James if they plan on making a third consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals.