NBA Playoff Teams Who Can Knock off the Miami Heat

Sean Frye@Sean_E_FryeFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2013

NBA Playoff Teams Who Can Knock off the Miami Heat

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    With the playoffs just around the corner, the Miami Heat are poised to make a deep run again this year.

    But if the Heat want to repeat as champions, the team can't overlook any of their Eastern Conference foes come playoff time. 

    Here are some of the teams that could give the Heat problems in the playoffs. 

Milwaukee Bucks

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    While it's hard to imagine that a team with a losing record (35-37) could knock off the Heat in the playoffs, the Bucks could be a dangerous first-round matchup. 

    Right now, the Milwaukee Bucks are projected as the eighth seed in the playoffs. The team is currently 2.5 games behind Boston for the seventh seed, and 5.5 games ahead of Philadelphia for the eighth seed. The Bucks currently have 10 games left in the regular season, including one with the Heat. 

    The Bucks are 1-2 against the Heat this year, with one loss coming in overtime and the other coming during the Heat's 27-game winning streak. In the Bucks' 104-85 win over the Heat in Milwaukee, Brandon Jennings led the way with 25 points and seven assists. 

    Consistency has not been on the Bucks side this season, but they have been a pesky team all year to say the least. The Bucks have good talent on their roster. Jennings and Monta Ellis could prove to be match-up problems for the Heat's backcourt. 

    Larry Sanders is also having a breakout year, averaging over nine points and nine rebounds this season with a player-efficiency rating of 18.85. He could be problematic in the post for the Heat. 

    The Bucks spread the floor well offensively, and also are the fifth-best rebounding team in the league. That advantage could be amplified against the Heat, who are ranked dead last in rebounding. 

    For the Heat to take care of business, they'll have to shoot the ball efficiently. So far this season, the Heat are the best at doing so, as they own the league's best team field-goal percentage (49.7). 

Boston Celtics

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    The Celtics are currently slated to be the seventh seed in the playoffs and would play the New York Knicks in the first round. If they slip to the eighth seed, or advance far enough to face the Heat, the seeding will all be forgotten. 

    This year's games between the Heat and Celtics have been wars.

    Just like the Bucks, the Celtics are 1-2 against the Heat. Their first loss came on the first game of the season. The second one was by a mere two points, a 105-103 loss that came during the Heat's 27-game winning streak. 

    That second loss to the Heat proved that the Celtics can be as dangerous as anybody, especially at home. Jeff Green emerged as a rising star in that game with 43 points, and the Celtics led by as much as 15. 

    Paul Pierce has been up to his usual tricks this season, averaging over 18 points, six rebounds and nearly five assists. Kevin Garnett, who is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds, will reportedly be back from his injury in time for the playoffs. 

    The Celtics lack depth on their bench, so good play from their starters will be critical if they face the Heat. 

    Last year, the Celtics lost in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Heat despite leading the series 3-2. So revenge may very well be on their minds as well. 

    If these two teams face each other again, seven games would almost be a certainty. 

Chicago Bulls

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    Taking down a team that's won 27 straight games is no easy task. But that's exactly what the Chicago Bulls did on March 27 when they took down the Heat. 

    That win has all of Chicago believing that this team, with or without Derrick Rose, has the potential to make a deep playoff run. 

    The Bulls have a winning record against the Heat this year at 2-1, with one game between the two teams in the regular season. So the worst-case scenario for the Bulls is that they'll finish the season .500 against the league's best team. 

    Even without Rose, the Bulls have fared pretty well this season with a 40-32 record. They're currently tied for the fifth seed in the playoffs with Atlanta. A tough schedule down the stretch, that includes dates with Miami and New York, though could see the Bulls take the sixth seed. That means if the Bulls advance to the second round, they would potentially face Miami in the second round. 

    A balanced approach has been the defining factor of the Bulls this season. Five players currently average double-figures in scoring, with Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer both averaging over 15. Joakim Noah has been the team's top rebounder with just over 11, followed closely by Boozer who averages just over nine. 

    The Bulls are also the third-best defensive team in the league, as they only give up 92.5 points per game. 

    Last season left a sour taste for the Bulls with them being ousted in the first round of the playoffs, primarily due to Rose suffering his torn ACL during the series. This season, the Bulls have gelled together to become a very formidable team and one that is certainly hungry. 

    If Rose returns, he could provide a spark to a team that has improved as a whole during his absence. If Rose doesn't return, the team has already proven that they can beat the Heat consistently without him. 

Indiana Pacers

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    Last season, the Pacers led 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat before losing three straight. 

    This season, the Pacers are 2-1 against the Heat with one game left against the defending champions. Currently tied for the second seed with New York, the Pacers could face the Heat in the conference semifinals again as the third seed, or in the conference finals as the second seed. 

    Either way, the Pacers cannot be overlooked come playoff time. They have quietly been one of the league's best teams this year with a record of 47-27. The Pacers have won four or more games in a row this season three times. And they are the league's best rebounding and defensive team. The team averages 46.4 rebounds per game while only giving up 89.7 points per game. 

    The Pacers are a balanced team with both Paul George and David West averaging over 17 points. Roy Hibbert, George and West all average over seven rebounds per game as well. 

    If these two teams meet up in the playoffs, home-court advantage will be the biggest factor. The Heat have the best home record in the NBA at 32-3. The Pacers own the second-best home record in the Eastern Conference at 29-8. One of these teams would have to steal a game or two on the road to take the series. 

Miami Heat

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    The Heat have been the league's best team this year. Throughout the season, they've proved that they are the team to beat. 

    So, the most dangerous team when it comes to knocking off the Heat is themselves. 

    If the Heat are not totally locked in come playoff time, or if a major injury strikes LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, an early exit could be in store. 

    Distractions and injuries have eluded the Heat for the majority of this season. James and Wade missed the team's last game against the Spurs with minor injuries, but the Heat still won behind a last-second 3-pointer by Chris Bosh

    However, if one of those guys were to go down for an extended period of time, it would be far less likely that they could maintain their dominance. 

    As for distractions, the Heat were good last year at eliminating those come playoff time. James and Wade stayed off social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and constant rumors regarding head coach Erik Spoelstra's job security had died down. 

    If the Heat want to repeat this year, they cannot beat themselves. And they must avoid aggravating any lingering injuries at all costs. That's why sitting James and Wade against the Spurs was a good call.