Miami's Vice: 10 NBA Teams Most Likely To Beat The Miami Heat
The Heat responded to their opening night’s loss to the Celtics with a resounding win over the Sixers, somewhat redeeming their disappointing start.
Still, the weaknesses they showed in their matchup with the Celtics, such as lack of familiarity, little post offense and nonexistent post defense, are still very real.
Though the Heat are likely to adjust and conceal these weaknesses quickly, they’ll likely continue to struggle against cohesive teams able to score an abundance of points in the paint.
Bear that in mind as I give you the 10 teams most likely to take out the NBA’s latest super team.
1) Los Angeles Lakers
Let’s start this off nice and easy.
The Lakers have made the Finals the last three consecutive years (and counting).
Their roster boasts two All-Star caliber seven-footers in Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and perhaps the best perimeter defense in the league with Kobe Bryant, 2004 Defensive Player of the year Ron Artest and new addition Matt Barnes.
What the Lakers lack in youth and athleticism they make up for in chemistry, size and raw talent.
For the Lakers to beat the Heat in a potential Finals series they would likely need much greater production from Andrew Bynum than they’ve gotten in either of their two previous Finals series.
Bynum, hampered by injury, only averaged six points and four rebounds per game in 2009 and seven and five in 2010.
The problem is that given Bynum’s past, there’s no guarantee that he’ll manage to remain healthy for the remainder of the season after his comeback, which is scheduled for some time in December.
Lakers have managed to survive Bynum’s ailments in the past, but have yet to face off against a team with Miami’s unparalleled athleticism.
More often than not the key to neutralizing a team’s athleticism is slowing the pace of the game down, pounding the ball inside and taking only high percentage shots. Its a lot harder for a team to get out on the break when they’re getting the ball out from under their own net.
Likelihood of Victory: 55/45
Until a team bests the Lakers in June, they’ve earned the edge over any and everyone.
2) Boston Celtics
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For what it’s worth, the Miami team that the Celtics beat on Tuesday won’t be around by the time the playoffs come around.
They were out of sync, looked incapable of running any play other than fast break and neither LeBron James nor Dwyane Wade could stop themselves from turning the ball over with every other breath they took.
I wouldn’t bet on seeing the Heat look nearly that bad in the playoffs.
That said, Boston certainly had a hand in the Heat’s struggles. Shaq and Garnett were too much for Miami to handle, combining for 19 points and 17 rebounds.
Neither Paul Pierce nor Ray Allen seemed to miss a shot all game, knocking down eight of their combined 12 three-point attempts and Rajon Rondo exploded for 17 assists, the third highest total in NBA opening night history.
Though James’ lockdown defense is vastly underrated by many, there were simply too many players for either him or Wade (a 2010 all-NBA Second Defensive team member) to defend.
The Celtics post play won’t likely get any weaker, particularly considering that they’ll have welcomed back Kendrick Perkins by the time the postseason comes around, but their hot shooting might.
If anyone tells you that they can make out a clear cut favorite in a potential playoff series between Miami and Boston, they’re lying.
Likelihood of Victory: 50/50
The Heat are the new boys on the block now, but the Celtics have already been there and done that. In fact, there really isn’t much they haven’t done since reviving their historic franchise by acquiring Garnett and Allen in the offseason of 2007.
One can only wonder whether their experience or their age will be more prevalent by the time April rolls around.
3) Orlando Magic
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The Magic were happy when they could just send LeBron James home knowing they wouldn’t have to really deal with him for another year.
But ever since James took his talents to South Beach, and by consequence the South East Division, no holds have been barred in the war of words between Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, Heat GM Pat Riley and Magic GM Otis Smith.
Its kinda hard to imagine the players not taking notice of all this.
The Magic have held undisputed claim to the South East Division for the last three seasons and now it's all up for grabs.
You have to wonder how all of this makes Dwight Howard feel. If you’re pulling for the Magic, then you hope he’s angry.
Howard has often been criticized for his lack of seriousness before games and his lack of concentration at the free throw line.
Though Howard has heard those criticisms for the bulk of his career, they pale in comparison to those centering around Howard’s lack of a post game.
We could sit here and break down how important it would be for the Magic, a team still too reliant on their long range attack, to knock down their three-pointers. We could sit here and talk about how important it is for Rashard Lewis to avoid massive dips in his offensive production.
We could even talk about how the Magic really might need to pull the trigger on the Vince Carter for Gilbert Arenas rumors floating out there.
Let’s face it, when Arenas is healthy he’s more of a scorer than Carter ever was, and you, the Magic, could use a consistent offensive spark to complement Dwight Howard.
We could talk about all of that, but really a potential series between the Heat and Magic would come down to the play of Dwight Howard.
If his time spent working with Hakeem Olajuwon was productive and Howard is able to take his offensive production to the next level, then the Magic have as good a shot as anyone at making the Heat disappear.
If not…well…the Magic will carry the Mavericks’ torch as the shudda, cudda, wudda team of the next decade.
Likelihood of Victory: 45/55
I believe in Dwight Howard. Until his team has the ball.
All the strength in the world won’t help if Howard can’t add more to his offensive repertoire than sheer power. I really do think Howard’s woken up to this fact, but I’m not sure if one summer will be enough for him to propel his team over Miami.
Still, a team with the Magic’s offensive firepower always has a puncher’s chance.
4) Denver Nuggets
When the Nuggets are healthy and not at each other’s throats they can be about as dangerous as any team basketball has to offer.
No one knows where Carmelo Anthony will be by the end of the year or even next month for that matter, but if he stays, the Nuggets are one of the few teams with a legitimate shot at taking down Miami.
Though Kevin Durant is the consensus pick for MVP and the scoring title, Anthony has still played more evenly with James than any other player at their position to date.
The often overlooked Chauncey Billups is still one of the league’s best shooters and still has the ability to go off for 30 or more on any given night.
Once Chris Anderson returns from injury, the Nuggets will have one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league. If J.R. Smith is knocking down shots, watch out.
Both James and Wade would have their hands full dealing with the Nuggets wide array of offensive firepower and either Nene or Anderson would give Bosh his share of problems inside.
When operating at full capacity the Nuggets have one of the deepest rosters in the league, and are much more balanced than the Heat have shown themselves to be at this point.
Still, as we saw with the Lakers in their series with the Nuggets in 2009 and the Celtics in 2010, a couple of players with great talent and a decent cast often trumps several good players with a better cast.
Likelihood of Victory: 35/65
Its really hard for me to envision everything going right for the Nuggets. It never has before. They spent years trying to find a good roster to fit Anthony with and couldn’t.
By the time they finally became a legit contender in 2009, the Lakers were head and shoulders above every team in the league outside of Boston.
In 2010 when the Lakers were reeling from injuries, had fallen out of rhythm and the West seemed up for grabs, their coach George Karl was forced to temporarily abdicate the bench and deal with his throat cancer, and the team fell apart.
It seems that even when the Nuggets are doing everything right, misfortune befalls them.
Let’s face facts, for the the Nuggets to beat the Heat their fortune would have to do a complete 180. Its possible, sure, but not a scenario to hang your hat on.
5) Dallas Mavericks
How would this be for redemption?
They’ve spent the entire decade racking up 50-win seasons like Tom Brady racks up touchdowns, only to fail year in and year out.
When they finally did make the Finals, they took a 2-0 lead over the Heat and had a double-digit advantage in the fourth quarter of Game 3 only to offer up the biggest Finals collapse of the decade, arguably of all time.
The roster the Heat have in place now doesn’t remotely resemble the one the Mavericks succumbed to in 2006 (it's better), but hey, if the Mavericks did somehow make the Finals and triumph over the Heat all would be forgiven, right?
Not likely to happen.
The Mavericks lack enough elite players to have more than an outside shot at beating Miami.
They do however have an abundance of outside shooters and as long as you have a player like Nowitzki on your roster and can knock down the long ball you’ll always have that puncher’s chance we've been talking about.
The Mavericks don’t have a prayer of slowing down James or Wade and one wonders whether Nowitzki could win a matchup with Bosh handily enough to make a difference.
Worse is that the Mavericks lack any semblance of an interior offense and before you ask, no, the addition of Tyson Chandler doesn’t change things that much.
Likelihood of Victory: 30/70
The Mavericks were never hailed as an outstanding defensive team. They’ve gotten by over the years due to the outstanding play of Nowitzki and their long-range success.
That probably won’t cut it against the Heat, particularly considering that their perimeter defenders don’t have to worry much about help defense.
6) Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are probably a better team than the Mavericks or Nuggets, but the NBA is ruled by match ups and frankly, they don’t match up with the Heat well at all.
Nenad Kristic, the team’s only seven-footer is there for his presence, not his offense. In fact, most of the points scored in the paint stem from the penetration of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Their offense overall comes solely from the penetration of Westbrook, the spotty jumpshooting of Jeff Green and the all around offensive dominance of Durant.
None of those things are likely to be in full effect against the Heat.
Though James, Wade and Bosh could find some difficulty in scoring against last season’s leading team in total shots blocked, they should produce well enough defensively to more than make up for it.
Durant, superb as he may be, has faced few elite defenders in big games and struggled mightily against Ron Artest and the Lakers last year. He won’t find life any easier with the highly athletic James defending him.
If the Thunder can add a post presence and Westbrook develops quickly Heat/Thunder could become the NBA’s next rivalry, but it won’t happen this year.
Likelihood of Victory: 25/75
The Thunder are still wholly dependant upon the dominance of Durant.
Though teams have made deep post-season runs before by depending mostly on a singular dominant talent i.e. the ‘01 Sixers, the ‘06 Mavericks, the '07-'10 Cavaliers, when they run into truly complete team they always hit a dead end.
7) Portland Trailblazers
Two things would need to happen for the Blazers to win a series with the Heat: 1) Brandon Roy would have to outplay Dwyane Wade, and 2) Greg Oden would have to be healthy.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out which of those two is least likely.
The Blazers have no answer for LeBron James (who does?) and they have a longstanding history of injuries trumped only by the Clippers.
For the Blazers to really make any kind of noise in such a series, they would have to be Celtic-like in their approach.
They would need some kind of plan to at least slow down James, hope that Roy could play just well enough to cancel out with Wade and would need solid offensive contributions from each of their starters.
Many teams have tried to build such a foundation, but the Pistons are the only other team in the last decade have worked that formula successfully, and there’s a reason why: play like that is typically reserved for veteran clubs.
Given that only four members of the team’s are older than 27 and one of those members, Fabricio Oberto, has a career average of only three points and rebounds per game, I don’t think they’re there yet.
If Oden and Pryzbilla are healthy, they should become a fantastic alternating center duo.
With Marcus Camby in the mix, this team can do some damage on the inside and any team that can make that claim has a shot at beating the Heat.
But not necessarily a great one.
Likelihood of Victory: 15/85
Literally everything would have to go right for Portland and everything would have to go wrong for Miami.
Roy would have to take the next step to MVP level, Bosh would need to be pushed around by the Blazers frontcourt and James would have to just about disappear.
That’s a lot of “would have to”.
8) Houston Rockets
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Everyone is claiming that Dwight Howard is the one player who could absolutely wreck the Heat’s defense.
These slides are all based on hypothetical series, right?
Well, what if Yao Ming remained healthy, returned to his All-Star form and the Rockets faced off against the Heat in the Finals?
Are the Heat any more equipped to deal with Ming than they are Howard? Not particularly.
Ming doesn’t offer Howard’s sheer intimidation factor and isn’t nearly as athletic or prolific at shot blocking or throwing down monstrous alley-oops, but he’s much more well rounded offensively and is more likely to put up big scoring numbers.
The problem is that he just isn’t the interior enforcer that Howard is. If James or even Wade penetrates and goes for a dunk or a strong layup with Howard laying in wait they’re likely to be picking themselves up off the hardwood.
If the same thing happens with Ming on the inside they’re almost just as likely to go through Ming as they are most run-of-the-mill centers.
Houston’s addition of Brad Miller over the summer makes them bigger, stronger and gives them a veteran presence, but Miller isn’t going to tip a series one way or another with his scoring.
Luis Scola’s physicality would bother Bosh a bit and Aaron Brooks would need to be dealt with, likely by Wade, but Kevin Martin simply isn’t good enough of a scorer to begin to counter Wade or James and as usual there’s far too much of a gap in talent for Houston to walk away with a W.
Likelihood of Victory: 15/85
Yao Ming would need to play the best basketball of his life on both ends of the floor, the long-range scoring the Rockets pride themselves on would need to withstand the excellent perimeter defenders the Heat have in James and Wade and Luis Scola would need to outplay Bosh by a sizeable margin.
Unfortunately for Houston, the Heat have one of the better players to throw at Ming in the NBA in Zydrunas Igauskas.
Igauskas isn’t known for his defense or physicality anymore than Steve Nash is known for competing in dunk contests. However, Ming isn’t particularly physical and would doubtlessly be bothered by the length of Ilgauskas.
At this stage in his career, it isn’t feasible to expect Ming to be the do-it-all guy he’d need to be to propel the Rockets over Miami.
9) San Antonio Spurs
Remember the days when the Spurs were the toast of Texas, a guaranteed second rounder and one of the sexier (if a little boring) teams in the league?
The Spurs have fallen into the ranks of the other Western Conference semi-contenders and with their postseason play over the last two seasons, one can imagine why.
2009 saw the Spurs suffer their first first-round elimination of the Tim Duncan era.
2010 saw the Spurs suffer being swept for the second time in the Tim Duncan era. (The first time was to the legendary 2001 Lakers who swept the entire Western Conference).
To be fair, the Spurs have dealt with their share of injuries. Will the world pay for overlooking the former world champions?
Are one of the Heat’s biggest potential nemesis lying in wait in San Antonio?
Well, last year saw Tony Parker’s least productive season since 2004, Richard Jefferson was anything but the go-to scorer the Spurs had hoped he’d be and Tim Duncan posted career lows in both rebounds and points per game.
Side note: Duncan will be 35 years old by the end of the regular season.
On one hand the Spurs still at least have Duncan and as long as they can claim him they can score post buckets against practically anyone. They’re also hoping that Center Tiago Splitter’s solid play in Euro League (13.8 ppg on 53 percent shooting, five rebounds) translates into the NBA.
On the other hand, there really isn’t much difference between Duncan and Chris Bosh at this stage in their respective careers.
As far as the rest of the team’s casts, Dwyane Wade is about as big a nightmare as Manu Ginobili could ever have and the Spurs will likely find LeBron James just a bit harder to handle than he was in 2007.
Likelihood of Victory: 10/90
All in all Miami’s is just too talented, too fast and too athletic for the Spurs to beat in a seven-game series.
And last year the Suns showed us how just how much the Spurs enjoy playing with teams that like to run.
10) Cleveland Cavaliers
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Never mind, I can’t do it.
Likelihood of Victory: Well, it's theoretically possible, right?
Karma, poetic justice, whatever you want, its not happening, not in this plane of existence.
Now are the Cavaliers really the 10th likeliest team to take out the Heat? No.
Could I have put down the Bulls or the Hawks or the Bucks if I wanted to be anally accurate? Yeah. Surely one of those teams could have earned 5/95 odds or something.
But what‘s the point and why not have a little fun, right?
Besides, do we really have any doubt how those series would turn out?
And hey, Cleveland managed to beat Boston last night despite the fact that the lion’s share of the talents they’ve been relying on for years reside in South Beach now.
Speaking of which, didn’t Boston beat some team based in Miami the night before? Well, that’s something, right?
Maybe the Cavaliers won’t be as bad as everyone’s claiming they’ll be—and maybe the Heat won’t be quite as dominant.
You never know, maybe the Cavs could win…somehow…if... I got nothing.