Heat fans witnessed the same old, nauseating story after Sunday’s devastating loss in Boston.
For the third time this season, Boston bested Miami. Although the Heat may have better players, especially at the top of the roster, the Celtics have the better team. Right now this is certain.
And for the Heat to win their second NBA championship this summer, they—barring a major shocking upset—will need to find a way past Boston. There are no detours on this map.
I talk of championships, because that is the only goal for this team.
The Heat do have several things going in their favor when thinking about a Boston matchup in the playoffs.
First, Miami’s core is younger. Outside of Rajon Rondo, the Celtics’ core players run in their mid 30′s. This doesn’t matter now as much as it will in May and June. Paul Pierce is hurting, the O’Neals are hurt as usual, and Kevin Garnett’s knees are ticking time bombs.
One of the main reasons I picked the Heat to win the East back in October was because of the miles on the Celtics’ tires. Over 82 games, I assumed one or two key players would wear down.
That hasn’t entirely been the case, but there is much basketball left to be played. It gets harder to play at a high level as the grind of the NBA season goes on.
Last year, they were able to get to the Finals in part because they sacrificed winning games in March and April to be fresher for the playoffs. They limited the Big Three’s minutes, and last year’s conference champions went 5-8 to finish the season.
If they do the same this time around, Miami, who sits just a half-game back in the conference standings, will absolutely surpass them for the top seed.
That would be a huge boost for several reasons.
It’s clear that Boston, Miami, and Chicago are the East’s elite, with Orlando a solid step behind after Operation Save Gilbert Arenas failed. Clearly, Miami would rather potentially face Boston or Chicago instead of both.
If Miami can secure the top seed, it means a much easier path to the Finals and a much more difficult one for Boston.
Whoever plays Chicago in round two, assuming they’re the opponent, will be in for a slugfest. Boston can’t afford a lengthy, bruising series with the Heat on deck. Their core just doesn’t have the longevity to withstand it and then be at full strength afterward.
In that scenario, the Bulls would play a role in the Heat’s success in an indirect manner. In fact, I don’t think the Bulls are that far behind Boston and Miami. They’re really a shooter/defender-type away from being serious contenders, and there is no question a Bulls-Heat rivalry is brewing for the next few years.
On the flip-side, if Boston goes in full assault mode for the top seed, and doesn’t limit minutes, they’re screwed. By the time the Conference Finals come around, Pierce and Garnett would be in hospital gowns drinking apple juice out of sippy cups.
The bottom line is no matter what happens from here on out, I still think the Heat’s chances of getting to the Finals are good.
If this were the Celtics from two or three years ago, I’d be worried. But they’re not.
Can the Heat get better? Sure. Do they need to get better? Absolutely. They need to get to a point where every possession they play as a team, a la Boston. It’s very difficult to beat a true team with just one or two guys carrying the load.
For the Heat to take out Boston in a series, they need efficient output from the bench, a group that’s been a question mark all season.
Sunday’s loss was by no means a good one, as there is no such thing. However, it wasn’t the end of the world. Remember, all that really matters happens within the playoffs.
And if Kevin Garnett ever tries to pull a stunt like he did below when Udonis Haslem is on the court, he might get his face bashed in.