As the 2010 free agency hype calms down, the clear front-runner and newly crowned favorites of 2011 are the Miami Heat.
Miami cashed out. They obtained Chris Bosh, LeBron James to go with Dwyane Wade—all undeniable playmakers that request special attention on the court.
I implore that we further examine the Heat roster and analyze their chances at capitalizing in June.
Besides the self-titled “greatest trio in NBA history,” the Miami Heat recently acquired sharpshooter Mike Miller and reliable veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas (who similarly turned his back on 14 years of Cleveland love, a town that even made him a 2-time All-Star).
Other names on the roster include the “menacing” point guard tandem of Mario Chalmers and Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston, James Jones, as well as the Miami favorite, Udonis Haslem.
With the Miami roster almost set in stone and a solid starting five (Chalmers, Wade, James, Haslem, Bosh), the speculation of whether or not the Heat can come together and win a championship begins.
For Miami to even come close to winning an NBA championship, they must first make it out of a newly rejuvenated Eastern Conference.
Let’s assume this new dynasty finds a way to come out of the Eastern Conference unscathed and ready for the best of the West.
For three years now, the Lakers have taken the Western Conference crown.
I see no reason why they can’t do so again.
The Lakers are a playoff-proven team. They have found a way to perform in the direst of circumstances.
Let’s begin looking at match-ups.
Stopping Dwyane Wade and LeBron:
Wade and James could very well become the best tandem in all of basketball. Both find a way to slash to the hole, while providing special play-making abilities.
I believe that the Lakers, as a team, have an answer for this.
The Lakers have shown one thing in the past three years—they do not slack on defense and can just about stop any offense. Think about the teams the Lakers beat on their way to a ring last year.
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant (a young, passing and slashing point guard with the newest MVP candidate). The Utah Jazz’s Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer (a new-age Stockton and Malone). The Phoenix Sun’s Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire (arguably the best passer in the game teamed with one of the best power forwards). The Boston “big three plus one.”
Match-up-wise, to counter Wade and James the Lakers have Kobe and Ron Artest on defense. Kobe is an eight-time All-Defensive first team player and Ron-Ron is known as one of the best man-on-man defenders still in the game.
I’m not saying that these two can single-handedly stop the King-King duo, but they can provide a viable answer.
LeBron and Wade are primarily slashers and it is widely known that neither possesses a true three-point shot (enough make the defense adjust). To further counter Wade and James’ slashing tendencies, the middle is clogged by Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (arguably the best front-court in the NBA).
Stopping Chris Bosh:
The third King in the Miami lineup, Chris Bosh. Chris Bosh is one of the best, if not the best power forward in basketball today and is matched up with Haslem to create the Miami front court. But the Lakers still provide an answer in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, a battle-tested duo. Gasol and Bynum have obliterated front courts that have consisted of Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and Kevin Garnett.
Chris Bosh, with all his talent and 20-10 games, failed to bring more than two first-round exits to Toronto in seven years. Bosh is an undersized center (6’10”) and played power forward for Toronto (with Andrea Bargnani at center). Bosh at the five in the current lineup is a mismatch against 7’0” Gasol and Bynum.
Unless Bosh plays the four and Ilgauskas or Joel Anthony step in the play the five, we’re looking at an undersized front court. Then again, I’d love to see Ilgauskas attempt to play defense or offense against the Laker bigs.
The Second-unit debate:
The Lakers recently added Steve Blake to an already solid second-unit.
Lamar Odom, the X-factor for the Lakers, gets a pure point guard in Blake to go with the human trampoline and momentum shifter, Shannon Brown. Both Blake and Odom could start on a different team (and have). They give the second-unit the ability to run a legitimate offense, while allowing the starters to rest.
Miami on the other hand, has Alston, Miller, Jones, and Ilgauskas to lead the charge.
Alston is a solid second point guard (or third, depending on the re-signing of Arroyo).
Miller is a play-making sharpshooter.
Jones is great outside threat (career 39.5% three-point percentage).
Ilgauskas is just… old.
Immediately after the signing of LeBron, people questioned whether or not Miami could put together a full team. Pat Riley has proved his doubters wrong. He has lured a competent bench with the hopes of a championship. Miller was the steal of free agency for Miami as he very much beefs up what would have been a lacking second-unit.
I still believe in Odom and Blake as a great secondary. However, I can’t argue that Alston, Miller, and Jones can provide off the bench.
If Miami signs Arroyo, they will be re-signing the point guard that came second to only Chris Paul in assist-to-turnover ratio.
When you look at a second unit, you’re looking for players that are solid and can do their job. Under this evaluation I’d say the Heat has put together a well-built second-line. Role players and a solid bench can very much carry a team when it matters most.
LeBron knows this best, as he still owes Daniel “Boobie” Gibson for getting him past my beloved Pistons and into the Finals in ‘07.
Miami will have to find a way to stop the skillful Lakers offense. The Lakers never had a problem outscoring other teams in the playoffs. Against the Suns (the definition of a high-powered offense), the Lakers racked up two 120-point games and showed they could play at Phoenix’s pace.
When it comes to playoff basketball, Lakers think defense first and their effective, triangle offense comes natural. The Lakers have shown they can play defense.
The plot thickens when teams can shut down the triangle offense.
Let’s ponder the defensive capabilities of Wade, James, and Bosh.
While they can all offer stat-stuffing numbers that show they can play defense, I argue the true defensive capabilities of any of these three players. LeBron’s Cavaliers allowed 98.9 points per game in their short playoff stint last year. Boston, a team that averaged 93.8 points in the playoffs exploded for 120 against the non-defense-minded Cavaliers.
In the Finals, the Lakers had a very tough time against the hard-nose, defensive Celtics. I cannot emphasize enough the necessity for a team to replicate this style of ball to even come close to taking the Lakers to seven games or even winning.
LeBron needs to stop relishing in the “block from behind even though I committed the turnover” glory.
Wade needs to get low and play good man-on-man defense.
Bosh needs to become a bigger and better presence in the paint (similar to KG).
Defense must be on the forefront.
Unless all these pieces come together, it’ll be very hard to stop the leagues most skilled and tested front-court, a coach with more rings than fingers, the triangle offense, and the Black Mamba.