Ranking NBA Teams with Best Shot to Beat the Miami Heat in Playoffs
Frankly, it'd be semi-shocking if any other organization won the title this spring. But games are played for a reason, and there are a handful of teams that possess the right dose of talent and discipline needed in order to knock the Miami Heat off its perch.
The Miami Heat are currently defending their title with more dominance than any team in over a decade, probably since Shaquille O'Neal went stomping through the league as a Los Angeles Laker.
LeBron James is having a historically brilliant season on both ends of the court, Dwyane Wade is probably the fourth or fifth-best player in the world and Chris Bosh is shooting 70 percent in the restricted area while establishing himself as the league's foremost shooting big man.
Due to the combined health issues going on with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, both those teams didn't make the cut. Neither did the Chicago Bulls, who might be at the top of this list next season if Derrick Rose returns to the form we all hope to see.
Here are five clubs that Miami wouldn't be thrilled about facing in a seven-game series, ranked from least to most probable.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have the game's best point guard running their offense, an All-Star power forward whose court awareness has nearly caught up to his revered physical capabilities and a bench that's fondly known as the NBA's deepest.
This entire season the Clippers have had one of the 10 best offenses in the league (they currently rank seventh, scoring 107 points per 100 possessions a game) and a defense that's noticeably improved from where it was last year. Right now their point differential ranks fourth in the league, behind the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.
This is a good stat to use when constructing an argument as to which team might be fourth-best in the NBA, but how do they specifically fare against the Heat? This season the two teams have squared off twice, with each team walking away with one victory and one defeat.
A seven game NBA Finals series between them wouldn't lack star power or excitement, but ultimately the Clippers lack the type of frontcourt depth to really give Miami any trouble. Lamar Odom is expected to receive big minutes down the stretch of close postseason games this year, and that's a challenge LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would be happy to conquer.
4. Indiana Pacers
Last season the Indiana Pacers appeared to have "solved" the Miami Heat, pushing them to six games in a series most believed would end in four or five. A major reason for this was Chris Bosh's injury early in the series that kept him out of commission the rest of the way, but the Pacers also had some ingrained mismatches they enjoyed exploiting.
Roy Hibbert and David West can be a handful around the basket, and if the Heat have one weakness, it's dealing with size on the glass. Along with the frontcourt, Indiana has two individuals on the perimeter who've elevated their games above and beyond expectations.
Paul George and Lance Stephenson would be hugely important pieces in a series against Miami, primarily because they'd be matched up against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. George's defense in particular has been highlighted as borderline elite, but it's his ability to score consistent baskets at the rim and behind the arc that the Pacers would most yearn for in a low-scoring series.
The Pacers aren't "afraid" of the Heat. They've beaten them twice already this season. So that's good. They also need their elite defense to be even better throughout an entire series if they want a chance at dethroning the champs.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
A rematch of last season's NBA Finals is what most expect to see in this year's championship, and as the season's gone on, it has felt more and more like an inevitable matchup—thanks to Kevin Durant loudly establishing himself as the world's second-best player.
The Thunder have a roster with strengths that mirror Miami. LeBron James and Durant are their team's respective best player/leader, and they just so happen to play the same position, whether it be in a traditional lineup or as power forwards in smaller units.
Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka match up nicely as dueling third fiddles who consistently knock down open jumpers, set screens, rebound and try to make a difference on the defensive end. Elsewhere, Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade are two score-first on-ball guards who make interior defenders weep on a regular basis.
The Thunder will probably face off against the Heat in the Finals for the second year in a row, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're best equipped to defeat them. The two teams are fairly matched, but by the narrowest of margins, Miami has more talent. And there's nothing the Thunder can do about it between now and then.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
It's a clash of style that we'll probably never get to see, unfortunately. The Grizzlies are a team built on the shoulders of a monstrous Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol tandem that gives just about every team in the league problems, the Miami Heat included.
A series against the Grizzlies could force them to go bigger than normal, putting Chris Andersen, Joel Anthony or Udonis Haslem on the floor more often than Shane Battier (who might be Miami's most important player outside their Big Three).
But similar to the Pacers, Memphis struggles scoring the basketball from behind the three-point line, which is a required tactic in keeping up with Miami's uber-efficient offense.
The Grizzlies are a team best equipped to turn the pace and style in their favor, but whether that's enough to overcome LeBron James' talent is a completely different question.
1. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are consistently elevated above the rest of basketball because of a near perfectly run system that adapts on the fly, with parts that fit like someone's hand in a latex glove. On both ends of the court they have players who know where they're supposed to be and what they're supposed to be doing (two of the most important, least heralded qualities an NBA player can have).
It just so happens that two of San Antonio's best players happen to be far above average at two positions that traditionally hurt the Heat more than any other: point guard and center.
Had Danny Green not suffered a professional public meltdown during last year's Western Conference finals, there's a good chance we would've seen the Heat face the Spurs in what rightfully would've been hyped as an immovable object vs. an unstoppable force.
Nobody knows which team would've prevailed in that series, but it's safe to say it would've lasted longer than five games.
The Spurs are as good a team as any in basketball, Miami included. They have dangerous unknown commodities (Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Green) and old-time veterans still playing at an MVP level (Tony Parker, Tim Duncan). If they meet Miami in the NBA Finals, LeBron's team would still be given the benefit of the doubt, but those with sense wouldn't lay down too much money on it.