A lot of hoopla has been made out of how Miami’s signing of D-wade, Lebron, and Bosh will make them instant favorites to win the title, similar to Garnett, Ray Allen, and Pierce in Boston. I will take a look at some of the similarities and differences between the two teams as a semi-objective Magic fan (Hey, as of now, I don’t like either team; I just want the Magic to beat both of them).
Any conversation about this topic has to be started by saying the obvious: D-Wade and Lebron are better than Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce ever were even at their respective peaks. Sorry Boston, but coming from a fan of the Magic, I am not just hating on Pierce and Allen it’s just the truth. Furthermore, neither Allen nor Pierce was ever known for their stifling defense (well besides flopping for Pierce) before Garnett joined them, so it’s safe to say that Lebron and Wade are better in that department as well. Furthermore, look at the impact James and Wade had on their teams as solo superstars, better than any of Boston’s big three did when they were separated. A very big advantage for the Heat.
However, the 2008 version of Garnett is probably better than Bosh is now. Bosh has never been known for defense, and K.G. built his rep on it. Both were coming from middle of the road to poor level teams, and put up points as the main shot-takers, but Garnett has always been much more of a defensive force than Bosh is. Advantage Celtics.
Another comparison that people like to make is that of Rondo to Chalmers. While it is interesting that they were both relatively new players who were/is considered a shaky starter at the point but that is where the similarities stop. Rondo was always known as playing pretty physical defense (dirty, in fact, if you’re not a fan of Boston), Chalmers defense, well, not so much. While Chalmers is a better shooter than Rondo (almost any guard is), he is no where near the finisher or distributor that Rondo was and is (especially now). So the 2008 Celtics were at least a little better off at the point.
Another big difference in the two teams will be their bench and big man. Leon Powe was an adequate backup, Big Baby was an up and coming backup at the PF. Perkins was a young beast in the middle that played physical D, and got rebounds. Also the Celtics had big man coach Clifford Ray, who is an awesome coach (he helped develop Shaq and Howard, just to name a few). Miami on the other hand has Zydrunas Illgalska’s who has a decent jump shot, but won’t bang for his life, and wouldn’t get any rebounds at all if he was 6 inches shorter based on his effort. Miami is getting Udonis Haslem back, who is a scrappy player who will do their dirty work. But even with him, the Celtics would have a pretty size able advantage at Center and in general depth for the big men.
Although it is hard to judge the rest of Miami’s bench, I can compare the two sixth men: Mike Miller and James Posey. I know some will argue that Miller will start, but I really doubt it. Now Miller has a pretty sweet stroke and will score some points, but he isn’t exactly know as a good defender, and seems to be on the decline. Posey on the other hand, was a lock-down defender, who could shoot the three, and had a knack for clutch shots. I would say that Boston had a pretty good advantage in sixth men.
For my last comparison I would like to talk about the divisions and elite teams at the times. There were only two good teams in the East other than the Celtics in 2008. Detroit was a solid contender still (although it was on its last legs unbeknown to anyone at the time), and the Cavaliers were coming off an unlikely finals appearance (but no one really thought they were contenders, just a 50+ win team). Now the West was much better overall, but the elite teams had began their decline. Suns and Spurs where on the way down, ditto for the Mavericks, and although they were good, the Jazz and Rockets weren’t real contenders. The Lakers were also just a ‘good’ team until they got Gasol. But no one thought that they were truly the best team in the Conference even though they won the number one seed with their last game of the season.
The Celtics own Atlantic conference was pitifully weak. It had been won previously by the Nets (I know what a difference in three years…) and had no strong teams at all, after Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson where traded away from the Nets. No other teams besides the borderline Toronto Raptors were in playoff contention. And no one had won 50 games the previous season.
For the 2010 season the Eastern Conference is looking much improved, with Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, and perhaps even Chicago Bulls as legit contenders. The next tier of teams in the East has grown quite a bit as well; the Hawks and the Bucks are pushovers no longer. The West looks weaker than it did in ’08, but still has the now back to back champs the Lakers, as well as an up and coming Oklahoma City. And it would be foolish to forget about the Jazz, Rockets (Yao’s back), Sun’s, Mavericks, Portland, and Denver Nuggets (with George Karl back they should be contenders). So in comparison to ’08 the West might have seemed stronger, but it’s closer than it looked. The East is much improved with the level of the top 6 teams being much greater than it was before. So this might be a wash.
As far as division goes the Southeast Division is much better than the Atlantic division. There were four teams in the playoffs last year from this division, and all of them had various strengths. Orlando is the reigning Southeast Champion, and has won 59 games two years in a row. Altlanta has had improvement every year for the last 5 years and last year won 53 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Charlotte Bobcats had the best scoring defense last year and got into the playoffs for the first time in their history, and with Larry Brown as their coach, don’t expect them to regress. Washington suffered a horrible season and gave up many of its key players, but a John Wall/ Gilbert Arenas lead team could surprise you. There is no comparison here, the Southeast division is much better than the Atlantic was and is. With an elite team in the Magic, and very good teams at the next two slots, this will be no cakewalk for the Heat, like it was for the Celtics.
So I have finally reached my conclusion. The Celtics in ’08 where a more rounded team with solid defensive players throughout the roster. The Heat’s top two players are a big advantage, but can they compensate for a bench that doesn’t even look inclined to play defense (besides Haslem), and doesn’t have a real big man to take care of business on the boards? That is the question, and I think the answer is no right now. Regardless of how the roster fills out this team will not win as many games as the ’08 Celtics because their division is just that much tougher, and they don’t have the defense. I personally don’t think they will win the East (semi-bias perhaps, but I do think they will get to ECF, if they don’t see the Magic first!) because I don’t see the D, and if they do win it, I don’t think they will make it past the Lakers front court. It will be fun to see how it turns out however, and I will enjoy watching.