Many people may have well already dubbed Miami the 2010-11 NBA Champions without regard to the defending NBA or Eastern Conference Champions. Until the Lakers and Celtics are beaten they remain the NBA’s best teams. They also have the talent, experience, and depth to retain their titles as the NBA’s best teams. The question is not if both teams can beat the Heat, but which one is better equipped to hold off the surge that has arisen in South Beach. Which of these two historic programs has the best chance to remain at the top and extinguish the Heat.
I would like to make it perfectly clear that this article is not about placing the Miami Heat on a pedestal above the rest of the NBA. As much as it makes me cringe to say it, the Lakers are the team to beat, then comes the defending Eastern Confrence Champions. The Miami Heat have to earn the right to be a team to beat. However, I am not interested in bashing the Heat either; I am interested in discerning which team is best suited to avoid being singed by the media-acclaimed 2010-2011 NBA Champions—last cheap shot I swear—the Celtics or Lakers?
The potential Depth Chart of each team looks something like this:
- Mario Chalmers
- Carlos Arroyo
- Dwayne Wade
- Eddie House
- Lebron James
- Mike Miller
- Chris Bosh
- Udonis Haslem
- Z. Ilgauskas
- Joel Anthony
- Derek Fiscer
- Steve Blake
- Kobe Bryant
- Sasha Vujacic
- Ron Artest
- Matt Barnes
- Pau Gasol
- Lamar Odom
- Andrew Bynum
- Theo Ratliff
- Rajon Rondo
- Nate Robinson
- Ray Allen
- Von Wafer
- Paul Pierce
- Marquis Daniel
- Kevin Garnett
- Big Baby Davis
- Jermaine O'Neal
- Kendrick Perkins
The Grade system used is defined as follows:
A= Clear Advantage
B= Decent Advantage
D=Will have some trouble with the match-up
E= Will have a lot of trouble with the match-up
The Miami Heat’s PG position contains Mario Chalmers, Carlos Arroyo, and potentially Eddie House depending on what line-up is out. On the other side the Celtics boast Rondo and Donkey. I don’t think there is any question of Rondo winning this match-up; instead, the argument lies with Nate Robinson against the Heat back-ups. I personally prefer Robinson to all three of the Heats guards—granted I am a Celtics fan. I think that Nate showed a lot of maturity in the playoffs last season, proving that he can be an explosive scorer (rivaling Eddie House) but also be bale to manage the game for the few minutes that he is in. I believe that Robinson’s scoring ability, and decision making put him ahead of the Miami PGs. Also, giving Robinson another year to mature and learn the scheme and learn from Rondo can only help the Celtics.
Boston’s Match-up Grade: A-
This is where it gets a bit tricky. Who do you put on Wade, Allen or Pierce? I think in this scenario you put Pierce on Wade. Pierce was able to defend Dwayne Wade solidly all of the first round, where as Allen tended to guard James better than Pierce did. Pierce’s offense didn’t suffer nearly as much when he guarded Wade as when he guarded James. Now some may believe that Miami has a clear advantage here, but I am not so sure. Last year I would have easily given Wade the nod over Pierce—even though Pierce is one of my favorite players—but now Wade is going to be in a system in which he is not the sole go-to-guy. This means that Wade will not be pressuring Pierce nearly as much as in the past and Pierce will have more energy to play both offense and defense for when Wade does get the ball. As for the back ups, I think that Eddie house clearly has the offensive edge over Marquis Daniel, but the defensive edge goes to Daniel. Miami may have the slight edge over Boston in this case, thought I honestly believe that it is very evenly matched…but rose colored glasses off.
Advantage: Slightly Miami
Boston’s Match-up Grade: C-
This is the category that really hurts the Celtics. Lebron is clearly more offensively gifted than Ray Allen, and Mike Miller is more reliable than Von Wafer. However, that being said I think the advantage slims a bit because of Allen’s athleticism. In Cleveland James had other cast members to go chasing after Ray Allen all game long and was able to stay home on Paul Pierce, who plays more of a traditional offensive game. James is going to have to run after Allen which will drain a lot of his energy. If Lebron doesn’t guard Ray then who will? Wade? Arroyo? If Wade guards him, then Wade will be more exhausted then he normally is and unable to perform at his usual heights. If one of the point guards is on Allen then James or Wade has to be on Rondo who is also extremely tiring to guard because of his speed. Assuming that James is on Allen (because I assumed earlier that Wade is on Pierce) I think that the match-up is a little more even then before. Of course, if you put James on Pierce and Wade on Allen, then the SG grade for Boston goes up and this grade will go down; however, overall I believe that the grades will stay the same. I don’t think there is a change that can be made to make a significant difference between the match-up grades.
Advantage: Slightly Miami
Boston’s Match-up Grade: C-
This is a position that a lot of people like the Heat in. Personally, I like the Celtics. Chris Bosh is absolutely a strong offensive presence, but I do not think that he will be able to perform against KG. Granted, I did some research to try to back up this evidence but it seems that in the games that Toronto played Boston only once did the two play against each other—the other games having one of the two players out due to injury. Garnett has the defensive advantage where as Bosh has the offensive. Though I must admit, I believe the difference between Bosh’s offense and Garnett’s is not nearly as close as the difference between the defenses of the two players. In addition, it will be much easier for Garnett to guard Bosh knowing he has the O’Neal’s and Perkins (once he recovers) behind him to help out. As for Haslem and Davis, it seems like Haslem would be the obvious choice to have the edge. However, similar things were being said about Antawn Jameson and Lamar Odom yet, Baby out played both of them during the playoffs. I think that Davis’ heart and high energy make this an even match.
Boston’s Match-up Grade: B
Heat fans can say whatever they want about Ilgauskas and Anthony but the Celtics have the clear edge in this position. The Heat’s two best centers backed up the Celtics’ two centers last season; not to mention that once Perkins is healthy again he will add immense depth to the position whose lack of depth arguably cost the Celtics the NBA title last season. At any time during the game the Celtics will have the advantage on the floor down low, and these big men will be able to absorb fouls and share the load between each other. Having three centers of this caliber is something to be valued, no matter how old some people would like to argue they are, they still were good enough to earn a starting spot over the Heat’s last year.
Boston’s Match-up Grade (pre-Perkins): A-
Boston’s Match-up Grade (post-Perkins): A+
Boston’s Total Match-up Grade: B
It is hard to argue against Derek Fisher’s experience and leadership. He is a fierce competitor and his shots just find a way to go in the net. Even though his explosiveness is not what it used to be, he still holds a pretty distinct advantage over Chalmers and Arroyo. The back up point guard, however, does not hold an advantage; I would give Arroyo and Chalmers the nod over Steve Blake…okay, maybe not Arroyo. Either way, the point tends to be moot; Kobe is going to be handling the ball for the most part when Fisher isn’t in the game anyway.
Lakers’ Match-up Grade: B
The main issue here is figuring out the idea of Kobe vs. Wade. It is fair to say that Vujacic is better than House, I do not think I will get too many complaints with that statement. However, are Wade and Bryant equal, or does one hold the edge over the other? Many will argue that Kobe is better defensively and offensively. I do not know if that is the case. I will admit that Kobe is more clutch between the two players, but overall I think offensively these two are even. Defensively I also believe that they are even, the reason that Bryant appears to be better is because he can attack more with Gasol and Bynum behind him. In addition, Wade is going to be tested all game long by Bryant, where as Wade’s touches will be diminished. I think that the ability of Kobe to put extra pressure on Wade offensively, due to handling the ball more, will allow him to tire Wade out.
Lakers’ Match-up Grade: B-
This is a position that will be determined on game day—well, they all will really but this one in particular. Lebron is an offensive force and can defend extremely well, he has the advantage hands down. The only question that will be answered on game day is how much of an advantage. Artest is a wild card, as he proved during the finals. His Defense tends to be consistently solid, but there are games where his defense is superb. There are also games where his offense is better than normal. If these two things happen to coincide, the advantage may not be that great for the Heat. Nonetheless, I cannot assume that Artest will be on his game that often, and definitely not for seven games in a series. In addition, Atrest will have to deal with all the pick-and-rolls that the Heat are bound to run to get Wade and James open. With his big body, Artest may get beat up and tired trying to get around the pick. As for the back ups, I would argue that Mike miller and Matt Barnes are rather even, perhaps with Miller having a slight edge.
Lakers’ Match-up Grade: D+
In this position the Lakers pan out against the heat very similarly as the Celtics do. Pau Gasol is very similar to Garnett, but a bit more geared towards offense than defense; in fact, I would argue that he is in-between Bosh and Garnett defensively and offensively. Gasol does not have the range of Bosh, nor the presence or awareness of Garnett (and by this I mean to say he allowed Big Baby to use the rim as aid again and again without changing his approach). I think that Gasol will be able to keep Bosh in check, if not man-handle him, in this match-up. As for Haslem and Odom, I believe they are both streaky players that can get going but also can get in slumps. I would not give either and edge, but that could change based on who got in a groove sooner in a seven game series.
Lakers’ Match-up Grade: B
Andrew Bynum HAS to hold up for the Lakers to maintain an advantage in this position; in fact, I would say that the Lakers go from a strong advantage to losing the advantage if Bynum is plagued with more injuries. If Gasol is forced to step into the center roll, Z and Anthony may just have the size and strength to make him a non-factor just as Perkins was able to do in the Finals. Also, Ratliff is not a strong enough candidate to give the Lakers enough faith in their bench. As long as Bynum is playing well and in the line-up, the Lakers will still be able to out-muscle the Heat with Bynum and Gasol down low. However, even with Bynum in the line-up, the depth at this position has to be a concern.
Lakers’ Match-up Grade (with Bynum): B
Lakers’ Match-up Grade (without Bynum): D
Lakers’ Total Match-up Grade: B-
To Sum up, I do believe the Celtics are better prepared to beat the Heat and win the NBA Championship than the Lakers. However, this is all speculation. There are a lot of factors that affect each team. Will Perkins recover? Will Bynum stay healthy? Will The Heat gel? And many more questions will arise, and probably have risen though I failed to address them. Nonetheless, this season should be a very entertaining one and one to remember.