The Boston Celtics have almost been dismissed as contenders to the Eastern Conference throne in the wake of Miami's historic free agency coup, but it's not a wise decision to discount the experienced Celtics.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh may form the most talented nucleus in the NBA, but it's doubtful the Celtics will stand in awe of the threesome.
Last season, the Celtics were about five minutes away from clinching their second NBA championship in three years, and the only significant player they expect to lose is Rasheed Wallace.
Age is the primary issue facing the Celtics, and it's the age of Boston's team that has most predicting the Celtics to fall short in their attempt reach the NBA Finals again.
Some observers feel Boston is too old to keep up with a team like Miami, and few people see the Celtics finding a way to contain either Wade or James on the perimeter.
In truth, Boston doesn't have anyone who can stay in front of either James or Wade, but the Celtics' defense is based on crowding the ball-handler and trapping all over the court.
It's the same strategy the Celtics employed on Kobe Bryant in the Finals, and Wade and James in last season's playoffs.
Although all three players still averaged good numbers, they were visibly frustrated by the Celtics' defense.
This type of defense will be harder to stage against the Heat because Wade and James present twice the challenge, and Bosh is a more than suitable escape hatch for the Celtics' pressure defense.
But the Celtics have their own advantages over the Heat, and they just happen to be the Heat's biggest weaknesses.
Kevin Garnett doesn't have the pop in his step or the same explosiveness he did before knee injuries robbed him, but Garnett is still a very capable player, and outside of Bosh, he is the most skilled big man for either team.
Assuming Kendrick Perkins makes a healthy return from his own knee injury, the Celtics are stronger in the post with Glen Davis, former Heat player Jermaine O'Neal, and Shaquille O'Neal.
Miami has serviceable post players in Udonis Haslem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Juwan Howard, but the Celtics still have an edge in experience and toughness.
Boston point guard Rajon Rondo is the biggest advantage for the Celtics, because there is not another player on the Heat's roster that even comes close in comparison.
Miami would likely be forced to defend Rondo with either James or Wade, and in that case, other opportunities would open up for the Celtics in the form of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Boston's chemistry, experience, and confidence are also major factors to consider when discussing their status as contenders because unlike the Heat, the Celtics know what it takes to win a championship.
An older team like Boston relies more on their instincts and experience, and this was evident in their Finals run last season after most people had written the Celtics off.
Last season may be the best example against discounting the Celtics because they proved during their run that chemistry and experience can't be taken for granted.
The Heat should bask in their new-found status as championship contenders, but it would serve them well to mind their manners and not disregard the veterans on the block.