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Why They Should Win
Nothing has changed for the defending champions—except they've grown stronger.
As expected, Miami has plowed through the Eastern Conference thus far and, of course, it starts with LeBron James. But escaping the big-name flair, Miami is actually getting it done with defense.
Miami held the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls to an average of 84.7 points per game, winning by a margin of 13.9 points per game. While the Heat shot 49.1 percent, they held opponents to a 40.9 shooting percentage, the lowest returns of any defense in the postseason.
While Dwyane Wade’s knee health has been a question mark and has limited him, the difference this season compared to last is what the Heat reserves are getting done.
Miami’s bench has been excellent, and at 36 points per game, it is scoring more than any remaining team's bench. The Heat’s bench only scored 18.2 points per game in last season's championship run.
What Can Trip Them Up
Miami is susceptible to the three-point shot, and the San Antonio Spurs' 14 three-pointers in Sunday's Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals poses a potential threat in the NBA Finals. The Heat could also struggle to stop the inside play of the Memphis Grizzlies.
But first, the Heat must deal with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Pacers are equally as challenging defensively as Miami. The Heat dropped two of three this season to the Pacers. In those games, Miami scored 90.3 points per game, down from its 102.9-point average.
If Wade isn't healthy and the Heat struggle to score, the Pacers could steal games and potentially claim what would be a monumental upset.
Important Stat Moving Forward
The Miami Heat are not as bad at rebounding as many believe. Sure, in the regular season, Indiana's league-best 45.9 rebounds per game outdid Miami's last-place 38.6 rebounds.
However, the Heat's league-best 49.6 shooting percentage and Indiana's No. 26-ranked 43.6 percent shooting may have something to do with that.
The Pacers grabbed more offensive rebounds at 12.9 to 8.2, which makes sense because they missed more. But the margin tightens on defensive boards, as Indiana out-rebounded Miami by a slighter 33 to 30.4.
He Needs to Be a Star
James will be the difference maker if the Heat are to repeat as world champs.
Of the four teams remaining, the Heat would fall the farthest without their best player. Of course that’s easy to say when he’s also the best player in the game. No one player is more important through the conference finals and into the championship than James.
James' averages through nine playoff games: 24 points on 51.8 percent, 7.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
Chris Bosh breaks the notion that an All-Star can't be an X-factor.
Bosh is going to be asked to play tougher in the interior against a physical frontcourt of Roy Hibbert and David West. Bosh is averaging 13.2 points per game on 51.6 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds this postseason.
Bosh did well in the regular season against the Pacers, averaging 17 points on 58.3 percent shooting, topping his regular-season averages of 16.6 points on 53.5 percent shooting.
Norris Cole could be the point guard of the future for the Heat. He is averaging 8.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting in the playoffs.
With so much attention being paid to James, Wade and Bosh, point guards Cole and Mario Chalmers could combine for a strong series.