How Each NBA Eastern Conference Contender Can Beat the Miami Heat

Joshua Axelrod@jaxel222Correspondent IApril 16, 2013

How Each NBA Eastern Conference Contender Can Beat the Miami Heat

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    Believe it or not, the Miami Heat are mortal.

    There are seven teams in the Eastern Conference that all have a chance of beating the Miami Heat in the playoffs.

    They may have the league’s best record at 65-16 and are coming off the second-best winning streak in NBA history, but they can still be beaten on any given night.

    Dethroning the kings of South Beach will not be easy...but it is doable.

    It will take a lot of grit, hard-nosed defense and the willingness to risk getting posterized by the Big Three every time they touch the ball.

    The Heat will have to earn the Eastern Conference championship if they want to defend their title.

    Admittedly, this was not the strongest year overall for the East. The eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks will enter the playoffs with a losing record.

    Every team will be hungry and gunning to take down the mighty Heat.

    As Kevin Garnett once said, “anything is possible!”

New York Knicks

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    The second-seeded Knicks are the team with the best chance of beating the Heat. They may be a squad full of old men, but the wily veterans still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

    New York obviously needs Carmelo Anthony to be a lights out shooter. He will most likely be defended by LeBron James all series long, so he needs to be more efficient with his shot selection.

    Anthony also needs to make sure his teammates are getting involved. That means avoiding taking bad shots that leave the other four Knicks wondering why they are even on the floor.

    J.R. Smith will have to be the second option offensively. He will probably be matched up with Dwyane Wade, which is a battle he can win if he stays focused for 48 minutes a night.

    The one thing standing in New York’s way of really threatening the Heat is its health.

    Amar'e Stoudemire may or may not return from injuries in time for the playoffs and Tyson Chandler is constantly going down with ailments. Anthony has been known to miss a few games with lingering injuries too.

    If the Knicks can spread the love offensively and stay healthy, they will give Miami a serious run for its money.

Indiana Pacers

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    Defense is the name of the game for Indiana. They may be the best defensive squad in the league, and they need to prove it if they want to shut Miami down for four games.

    With Danny Granger out for the season, their offensive options are limited.

    Paul George leads the team with 17.4 points per game. In this case, balanced scoring might not be the way to go to beat the Heat.

    Someone on the Pacers needs to step up and score 25-30 points a night. George is probably the most likely candidate, though David West and George Hill could potentially pick up some of the offensive burden.

    The difference in the game could be Roy Hibbert. The Heat do not play with a true center, which might allow the 7’2” Hibbert to take advantage of his height and control the paint.

    The Pacers can match up with the Heat defensively, although that might still not be enough to stop a determined James.

    They need an offensive standout if they want to win the Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Maybe Jay-Z can bribe the Heat to throw a few games to Brooklyn. If that fails, the Nets are going to have a tough time matching up with Miami.

    The Nets do not really have any elite defenders, unless you think Reggie Evans can consistently stop a driving James or Wade. Even if they can coral the Big Three, they will not have the energy to deal with Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier.

    Brooklyn needs to outgun the Heat, which they can certainly do with their own Big Three of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.

    Williams could be the difference maker in this matchup. The Heat will need James to guard Johnson, which will leave Williams matched up with some combination of Wade, Chalmers or Allen.

    If Allen is ever stuck on an island with Williams, he has no chance of defending him.

    It will be tough for the Nets to deal with the Heat’s high-powered offense. Jay-Z should really consider playing either the friend or money card with James.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Bold statement: The most important player on the Hawks’ roster is Dahntay Jones.

    Stop laughing, this makes perfect sense.

    Jones is the only Hawk capable of defending James and Wade. He has a reputation as an annoyingly persistent defender who is not afraid to use his training in the art of flopping he received at Duke to his advantage.

    It would be nice for Atlanta if they had two of him.

    They will have to put Josh Smith on James, which will tire him out and limit him offensively. If Smith can send a few of James’s shots into the stands, it might be worth the sacrifice.

    The Hawks are going to have a tough time dealing with Miami’s stars while still maintaining a consistent offensive attack.

Chicago Bulls

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    The team that ended the Heat’s winning streak certainly stands a chance of beating them in a seven-game series.

    Like the Pacers, generating enough offense will be the key for the Bulls.

    Chicago plays tight defense and can match up physically with Miami. Luol Deng will guard James, Richard Hamilton or Marco Belinelli will take Wade, and Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah will deal with Chris Bosh.

    No one questions Chicago’s defensive prowess. But the lack of Derrick Rose this season has caused the team’s offense to take a big hit.

    The Bulls need a spark off the bench to ignite their offense.

    That trigger could come in the form of Nate Robinson, who has been known to make opponents who underestimate him because of his size pay.

    There is no reason the Bulls cannot give the Heat a serious challenge. Of course, the Heat probably still hold a grudge against the Bulls for ending their streak, which will only make them mad.

    The Bulls will not like James when he is angry.

Boston Celtics

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    With a healthy Rajon Rondo, the Celtics are probably at least a four seed.

    Without him, Boston is in serious need of a fountain of youth if it wants to pull the upset on Miami.

    Sure, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still around to provide the Celtics with scoring and veteran leadership. But the old men will need a lot of help from their younger teammates.

    Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Avery Bradley must carry some of the offensive load while matching up with the Heat on the other end. If Terry is smart, he will stay away from James when he goes up for a dunk. History says that will not end well.

    This version of the Celtics doesn't have much time left before they lose Pierce and Garnett to retirement.

    To make their remaining years count, Boston better give the Heat everything they have got.

    That still will probably not be enough, but tough defense and The Truth can go a long way.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Here is the thing about the Bucks: they live and die by one of the most athletic yet erratic backcourts in the league.

    You need consistency to defeat Miami, which the Bucks might not be able to muster in a playoff series.

    Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis need to be efficient scorers and distributors.

    Ellis has been known to do Carmelo Anthony impressions as a scorer from time to time—something he will have to do four times in a series with Miami if he doesn't want his season to end.

    No one on Milwaukee’s roster jumps out as having the ability to shut down James or Wade, which will obviously be a problem.

    Ersan Ilyasova might be able to limit James a bit, though the Bucks will probably have to rely mostly on double teams.

    J.J. Redick needs to hit every three he takes and Larry Sanders needs to step up on both ends of the court.

    The Bucks will be the Heat’s first opponents in the playoffs. Hopefully they are already preparing for that duel.

    Otherwise, this series could get ugly quickly.