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Ranking Potential First-Round Opponents for Miami Heat

Peter EmerickSenior Writer IIMarch 11, 2013

Ranking Potential First-Round Opponents for Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat are the first team to clinch a playoff berth, and they're well on their way to clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire NBA.

    That means it's time to start looking at the matchups the Heat may find themselves in come time for the first round of the playoffs.

    There are four teams—the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics—that could all realistically end up in the eighth spot in the East.

    While the Heat have a combined 6-3 record against the teams mentioned above, there are a few that match up better with the Heat than the others.

    Ahead is a list of the potential first-round matchups for the Heat, ranking from most desirable to least desirable. 

4. Most Desirable: Chicago Bulls

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    The Chicago Bulls are on a cold streak, losing six of their past 10 games. They're finally showing that winning without Derrick Rose isn't easily sustainable.

    Without Rose on the floor, the Bulls are still a defensively sound team, but they couldn't be any further from being offensively competent.

    Hanging with the Heat takes an ability to put up points fast, and that's something the Bulls just can't do.

    While they do pose a threat to the Heat in the paint with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer holding down the fort, the Heat have proved that they know how to win without interior production on the boards.

    There's no doubt that the Bulls have the defensive capacity to slow the Heat down, they just can't score at a pace to be competitive with Miami.

    Even if Rose comes back a week or so before the playoffs, it won't be enough time for him to be ready to slow down the Heat. He couldn't do it at 100 percent health, and he certainly couldn't do it coming off a season rehabbing a torn ACL. 

     

    First-Round Prediction (without Rose)—4-0 First-Round Series Sweep

    First-Round Prediction (with Rose)—4-1 First-Round Series Win

3. Desirable: Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks are an inconsistent team, but that doesn't mean they'd be a pushover in the playoffs.

    They can beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets and the Indiana Pacers, and even hang with the Heat. But then they can get beat by the New Orleans Hornets, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards.

    Frontcourt production is at the foundation of why they can hang with the Heat, though. With Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford, the Hawks can hit the Heat right in their weak spot, the painted area of the hardwood.

    Even with that interior offense, the Heat would rather meet the Hawks in the first round than teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.

    Mainly because the Hawks don't have consistent perimeter offense—other than Kyle Korver—that can keep the Heat honest in their help-side defense.

    LeBron and company wouldn't necessarily walk all over the Hawks, but it wouldn't be a walk in the park for Atlanta, either. Atlanta isn't that great on the road, and going into South Beach and even stealing a single win would be quite a tall task.

     

    First-Round Prediction—4-1 First-Round Series Win 

2. Less Desirable: Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Milwaukee Bucks are a mismatch waiting to happen for the Heat in the first round.

    Not only do they have two of the NBA's most lethal scorers in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but they also have a rather deep frontcourt with Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders and Samuel Dalembert.

    The Heat split their first two meetings with the Bucks, losing on the road and winning at home. At the heart of their loss were turnovers, forced mainly by the perimeter defense of Ellis and Jennings. 

    What's most difficult for the Heat with the Bucks is the fact that they crash the boards well and they have the ability to keep the Heat honest on the perimeter.

    Miami thrives when they are able to get out in transition and bring help-side defense in the paint. Those are two things that the Bucks do a good job of keeping opponents from doing, because of their perimeter shooting and the pace of Jennings and Ellis.

    Getting past the Bucks in the first round wouldn't be easy, but I have a hard time believing that LeBron and company would let a team from Milwaukee stand in their way of a repeat.

     

    First-Round Prediction—4-1 First-Round Series Win

Least Desirable: Boston Celtics

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    The Miami Heat and LeBron James' biggest rivals, the Boston Celtics, are always a tough matchup, even without Rajon Rondo in the lineup.

    Since LeBron came to town, the Heat have a 3-7 regular-season record against the boys from Beantown and an 8-4 postseason record.

    While it looks like the Heat obviously can handle the Celtics in the playoffs, they are never an easy matchup.

    With the "Ray Allen factor," this matchup looks very different, even if Kevin Garnett says he doesn't have Ray's number anymore.

    Even without Rondo, the Celtics still pose a significant threat to the Heat because of the size they have in the paint with Garnett, Brandon Bass and even Jeff Green.

    As an NBA fan, I'd love to see this first-round matchup, but I doubt the Heat feel the same way. 

     

    First-Round Prediction—4-3 First-Round Series Win 

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