Miami Heat Becoming the Scariest First-Round Matchup Ever
Brandon Jennings made the mistake of stating that he actually preferred that his Milwaukee Bucks go up against the Heat in this year's opening round.
Per Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Jennings fatefully said:
The two games that we played Miami so far, we matched up well against them. If you ask me, that's who I would want to play first round, Miami. Just the fact over the years, a lot of the games have gone down to the wire with us and Miami.
Right now we haven't really played well against the Knicks. I just feel better if we play Miami first round, just the fact we have good games against them.
The Bucks point guard dropped that nugget on March 9, and less than a week later, Milwaukee endured a solid beating at the hands of the Heat. Jennings certainly wasn't wrong about the fact that his Bucks had played the Heat fairly well this season; Milwaukee took Miami to overtime on Nov. 21 and actually beat the Heat by 19 points on Dec. 29.
But after getting a glimpse of the new-and-improved version of the Heat on March 15, it's safe to say he's probably reconsidering his position about the Bucks' desired first-round matchup.
Whether Jennings' statement gave the Heat some extra motivation or not, Miami is crushing all comers right now. Since their winning streak started on Feb. 3, the Heat have been winning games by an average margin of 11.4 points.
Based on the team's overall dominance, the Bucks' mediocre play of late and the little extra oomph that Jennings' statement may have provided the Heat, Milwaukee looks to be heading for a buzz saw in the first round.
But it's not like the other possible candidates for the No. 8 seed figure to fare much better.
At the moment, the Boston Celtics are three games ahead of Milwaukee for the No. 7 seed in the East, while the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks are three-and-a-half games up on the eighth-seeded Bucks.
If Milwaukee were to improbably turn around its recent run of mediocre play, any of those three teams could potentially end up facing the Heat in Round 1.
The Hawks probably hope they're not the team to slip, as the Heat have beaten them four times this year by an average of 11.3 points per game. And things aren't exactly trending in the right direction either. Miami's margin of victory in the four contests against the Hawks this year has increased in each meeting.
The Heat won by six on Nov. 9, nine on Dec. 10, 13 on Feb. 20 and 17 on March 12. At this rate, Miami will probably crush the Hawks by about 100 if the teams meet in the playoffs. Well, maybe not that much, but something close to it...math was never my strong suit.
Though it looks like the Hawks won't pose a challenge to the Heat, it also seems unlikely that the Bulls will do much better. Though Joakim Noah and Co. did actually win a game against Miami this year—a 96-89 victory on Jan. 4—the Heat absolutely dominated them in the second matchup, holding the Bulls to just 67 points in a 19-point blowout on Feb. 21.
The key to Chicago's win in January was a dominant effort on the boards. But with Chris Andersen now banging around inside and James showing greater focus on the glass, the Heat don't figure to suffer a 48-28 rebounding disadvantage again. In fact, the Bulls out-rebounded Miami by just three in the teams' most recent meeting.
Toss in the fact that a short rotation and heavy minute allotments for their stars has made the Bulls look like the walking dead on some nights, and it certainly doesn't seem likely that Chicago will have the energy to put up a fight if it runs into the Heat in the first round.
One team that has always been full of fight is the Celtics, and they're another club that could possibly slip into that No. 8 spot before the season ends.
Like the Bulls, Boston has defeated the Heat this year, winning a 100-98 overtime slugfest on Jan. 27. But that result doesn't necessarily mean the Celtics are much more than a potential first-round speed bump to the Heat.
Miami knows it can handle the Celtics in a playoff series, mostly because it has handled them in each of the past two postseasons. Boston took the Heat to seven games in last year's Eastern Conference finals, but has since lost Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Besides that, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are a year older and a fraction of a step slower.
History and age concerns aside, the Celtics can't be confident about facing a Heat team that has gone to a new level during its streak. Everything Miami does now is faster and even more forceful, which is a terrifying proposition for the deliberate Celtics.
Maybe Boston's veteran grit and experience gives it a better chance to challenge Miami than the other possible matchups in the East. But that's like saying it's the oldest, sturdiest barn in a tornado; it might hold out for a moment or two, but eventually, it'll be swept up by the sheer, destructive force of nature that the Heat have become.
In looking at all of the potential first-round matchups, no team appears even close to standing up to the Heat. This year's playoffs could very well feature the most lopsided first-round series in NBA history.
*All stats via NBA.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.
**Stats accurate through games played March 15.
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