NBA Playoffs 2013: Ranking the Miami Heat's Biggest Eastern Conference Threats
There is no doubt that the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and probably the NBA Finals is the Miami Heat. They are loaded and being led by LeBron James, who is at the top of his game.
The Heat are expected to coast through the competition in the East. But the beauty of sports is that what you expect to happen doesn't always happen.
There are some teams that could make a run and upset the Heat in the playoffs. Here is a ranking for each Eastern Conference playoff team, in order of how big of a threat they are to the Heat.
7. Milwaukee Bucks
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The team the Heat will most likely face in the first round is the team that poses the smallest threat.
The Heat were able to make easy work of the Bucks recently, without Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade in the lineup. Plain and simple, the Bucks don't have an answer for LeBron James.
The Milwaukee Bucks are very inconsistent and poor road team. They also are not playing good basketball right now, having lost three straight games and are 3-7 in their last 10 games.
While Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are a tough matchup for any backcourt because of their speed, the Heat should breeze past the Bucks.
6. Atlanta Hawks
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I considered the Atlanta Hawks as being the least threatening team to the Heat in the Eastern Conference, but the Bucks recent poor playing changed my mind.
The Heat swept all four games against the Hawks this season. They don't have the offensive explosiveness or the relentless defense needed to have a chance at beating the Heat.
The Heat have depth and because of Louis Williams' injury, the Hawks aren't as deep or as dangerous from the sixth-man position.
The Hawks are currently the sixth seed and if they were to play the Heat in the playoffs, it would have to be in the Eastern Conference finals.
5. Boston Celtics
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The Boston Celtics sit in seventh place right now and will more than likely remain in that spot for the playoffs. The Heat won three out of their four games against the Celtics this season.
But the playoffs are a different beast and veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are no strangers to turning it on after the 82-game season.
The Heat have had their number in the last two postseasons but the Celt's will play every game against the Heat as if it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
In order for this matchup to happen, the teams would have to meet again in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics are definitely a team the Heat would prefer not to play in the playoffs. However the loss of Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo make the Celtics less threatening to the Heat.
4. Chicago Bulls
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The Chicago Bulls were responsible for ending the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak. They also recently ended the New York Knicks winning streak. This has caused many to be very high on the Bulls going into the playoffs and afraid to play them in the postseason.
But one glaring thing that was present after both streak-snapping performances, is the Bulls losses the following games. The Bulls are able to play up for one big game, but can't continue to stay up the next game.
While they might be able to get up for one game, they haven't proven they would be able to stay up against the Heat for an entire seven game series?
The Bulls also continue to struggle against bad teams. They have three losses in their last four games to teams that have losing records. If Derrick Rose doesn't return and Joakim Noah is still hurting, they are an easier team to face in the playoffs.
While the Bulls are winning big games lately, they are one of the worst offensive teams, lack consistency and don't have a true superstar. They were a threat to end the Heat's streak, but they aren't as big of a threat to beat the Heat.
3. Indiana Pacers
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The Miami Heat have a losing record against the Indiana Pacers this season. This is because the Pacers bring a mix of physicality, athleticism and defensive pressure.
In the two wins over the Heat this season, the Pacers held them to 89 points and a season-low 77. With the emergence of Paul George and Lance Stephenson, the Pacers have a very balanced starting five.
Roy Hibbert has started to play much better offensively and is by far the biggest player on the court when these two teams play. He is a matchup nightmare for the Heat, especially when you combine him with the toughness and leadership of David West.
If these two teams face each other, it would probably have to be in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Pacers could give the Heat a nice run for their money.
2. Brooklyn Nets
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I recently wrote an article about how I felt the Brooklyn Nets are the second toughest Eastern Conference matchup. Their starting five is as balanced as any teams and they have a very deep and effective bench.
However, this season the Nets have been dominated by the Miami Heat. In three matchups, the Heat won all three in easy fashion.
But these three games came before the All Star break and before Deron Williams reemerged as a superstar.
The Nets have started to play really well in the second half of the season and with Williams back to being a top point guard and Brook Lopez being the best offensive center in the league, they are a tough matchup for the Heat.
It takes time for new teams to gel together and the Nets are starting to finally all be on the same page. They are a very physical and tough team, with a bunch of athletic scorers, who can also shoot well from the three-point line.
These two teams could meet in the second round. Dwyane Wade's health could be a big factor in determining whether the Nets have a chance at upsetting the Heat in the postseason.
1. New York Knicks
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For whatever reason, the New York Knicks have been a pain in the neck for the Heat and a tough matchup the entire season. The Knicks took the season series three games to one.
The Knicks three-point and long-range shooting is what has beaten the Heat. The Heat actually had more points in the paint in all four meetings, but the Knicks were able to make up the difference with three-balls.
In order for the Knicks to beat the Heat in the playoffs, they are going to have to continue to shoot the ball well from deep. Carmelo Anthony is playing as well as he has ever played in his career and he will need to keep it going into the season after the regular season.
Relying heavily on jumpers falling is usually not the recipe for success, but the Knicks have been able to use it throughout the season.
The injuries to Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler could severely hurt the already lack of inside presence the Knicks have. LeBron James and Chris Bosh could have a field day exploiting the Knicks issues down-low.
In order for these two teams to face each other in the playoffs, the Knicks will most likely have to go through the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers. Both are going to be no easy feat.
The Celtics are a veteran team that most teams would want to avoid, and the Pacers' physical and tough play has been a problem for the Knicks.
Right now you have to say the Knicks are the biggest threat to the Heat in the East because of the way they have played against them during the season and the way the Knicks have played down the stretch.