Eastern Conference Threat Meter for Miami Heat's Main Obstacles
The Miami Heat are by far the class of the Eastern Conference.
They have held a firm lead on the top seed in the East for nearly the entire first half of the season and don't appear to be letting that lead go anytime soon.
Despite holding just a 6-6 record against the East's current playoff squads, no team possesses the talent or the chemistry of the NBA's reigning champions.
Miami is 0-4 against New York, Chicago and Indiana this season, but would you really doubt them in a seven-game series against any of these teams in the postseason?
All stats are current as of January 29, 2013.
Despite entering the season's halfway mark under .500 and hanging onto the eighth and final seed in the East, you can never count out the Boston Celtics.
Well, that was until they lost their All-Star point guard, Rajon Rondo, for the remainder of the season to a torn ACL.
Even with a resilient double overtime victory over the Miami Heat in the midst of learning Rondo's diagnosis, the Celtics won't be able to stay afloat minus their best player.
Boston is a team with a lot of pride, but as the last two postseasons have displayed, the Celtics cannot keep up with the younger, more athletic Miami Heat.
It seems like the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce era in Boston is on the verge of ending, as the team slips more and more out of contention.
Losing their youngest star will only further separate them from Miami.
Threat Meter: 2 out of 10, Low
The Miami Heat seem to have the Brooklyn Nets' number recently, winning the last 12 meetings against the Nets franchise, including two blowout victories this season.
However, the Nets have looked much improved under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, with an 11-3 record in the month of January.
They will be looking to finish the month with 12 wins when they square off with the Heat in Brooklyn Wednesday night.
The Nets are receiving inspired play from Brook Lopez and have a solid core around Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, but they have yet to show consistency in their first year in the BK.
Still, the Nets aren't quite a contender yet.
They boast a meager offense, averaging just 96.1 points per game, and are a poor shooting team from most spots on the floor.
The Nets' differential efficiency of 0.6 is third-worst in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn doesn't stack up well against Miami and has a ways to go before it can go head-to-head with the East's top dogs.
Threat Meter: 4, Low to Medium
The Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat earlier this month by just seven points, but it was a dominant seven-point win.
Chicago out-rebounded Miami 48-28, and the Bulls had 19 offensive rebounds compared to the Heat's four while becoming just the third team to beat Miami on its home floor.
All this is without their MVP point guard, Derrick Rose.
The Bulls have finally put it together after a slow start, leading the Central Division and holding the third spot in the East.
Still, too many question marks surround this team for them to be considered a serious threat to the defending Eastern Conference champs, or even more threatening than their division rival, the Indiana Pacers.
Will Derrick Rose be the same when he returns? If so, how many games will it take before he's himself? Will he fit right back into the lineup smoothly? How long can Carlos Boozer keep up his current production? Will their bench be good enough?
The Bulls score just 100.1 points per 100 possessions, putting them in the bottom 10 in the NBA.
Rose will undoubtedly make them more competitive, but his level of play is a big if, and the Bulls lack the offensive firepower to beat the Heat in a seven-game series.
Threat Meter: 5, Medium
You can just feel the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers rivalry brewing. After last year's physical, six-game second-round series, there has been bad blood between these two teams.
Indiana contains a boatload of the Heat's biggest weakness—size in the frontcourt.
Starting with seven-footer Roy Hibbert to go along with David West and hybrid forward Paul George, the Pacers big men are a huge thorn in Miami's side.
On top of that, the Pacers boast the best defense in the league, posting the best defensive efficiency rating at 95.6 while allowing just a tick over 90 points a game.
The Pacers limited the Heat to their lowest scoring output of the season when they beat Miami 87-77 a few weeks back.
Indiana's stingy defense does a good job limiting Miami's role players, and their size can overwhelm the Heat in the paint and on the boards.
However, the Pacers cannot contain LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's explosiveness.
After the duo torched Indiana in the playoffs last year, as Chris Bosh was sidelined with an injury, they continued that dominance this season, combining for 52 points and 15 boards.
As good as the Pacers are on defense, they have an anemic offense this season. At 91.6 points per game, they only look down on the lowly Washington Wizards in the scoring department, and only by a hair.
According to HoopData.com, the Pacers also own one of the worst effective field-goal percentages, and they lack a 20-point scorer currently.
They won't be able to rely on just size and defense to take down the Heat; the Pacers will need someone who can break down their vaunted pick-and-roll defense, which they just don't have.
Threat Meter: 6, Medium to High
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are the only team in the East that are in the same stratosphere as the Miami Heat when it comes to on-paper talent.
The Knicks had two convincing blowout wins over the Heat this season where they lit Miami's defense up from beyond the arc for a total of 37 three-pointers in the two games. They also averaged 108 points while limiting the Heat to just 88 points in those two wins.
Still, this comes down to how serious of a threat the Knicks can be to the Heat when it matters most. With both team's having relatively complete top-to-bottom rosters (more so the Knicks than Heat), it comes down to the battle of the stars.
As amazing as Carmelo Anthony has been this season, will it be enough to compensate for Amar'e Stoudemire's diminished production?
The Knicks have the tools to beat Miami, but it remains to be seen if they can jell like a championship team.
Will Carmelo keep his ego in check? Will Amar'e be able to thrive when he's on the court with Anthony?
The fact is that New York displayed the blueprint for beating the Heat in its two victories against Miami this season, but that will be very difficult to maintain in a playoff series.
The Heat aren't going to allow an average of 17 converted three-pointers in the playoffs, and they will put a huge emphasis on limiting the ball movement by trying to force Carmelo into isolation plays.
The Heat will rely on fronting as well as the defense from James and Shane Battier, who were very effective against the Knicks in last season's playoff series.
Also, the Knicks have a very old backcourt and will rely heavily on Raymond Felton's health for their success in the playoffs.
New York is undoubtedly the Heat's biggest threat to returning to the Finals, but at the end of the day, that's all they are: a relatively high threat.
Threat Meter: 7.5, Medium to Relatively High
Note: A relatively high threat takes into consideration how much more of a threat West teams like the Thunder, Clippers and Spurs are to the Heat, while the Knicks can't be put on the same level as those teams.
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