Miami Heat: 5 Teams to Be Concerned About in 2011-12
As the outright favorites to return to the NBA Finals when the next season commences, the Miami Heat will carry similar pressure from last year's campaign.
Having dealt with the my ebbs and flows in a season that was a success by all rational accounts, the past effort was a springboard to critical future success.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took the Miami Heat to the edge of greatness last June but fell short in its quest for history-book immortality. With that setback providing the offseason motivation, no reasonable mind expects the Heat to take steps backwards in search of more South Beach midsummer celebrations.
In the way stand five teams that possess the skills to spoil the Heat's championship world tour.
Fresh off the city's first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since Scottie Pippen was crafting his prototype sidekick book, the Chicago Bulls are expected to be in the hunt again when all the talking in New York comes to a close.
Led by the ultra-quick and reigning Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, the Bulls will be hunted in a manner this year's group has not seen before.
Grounded on the defensive philosophy that Tom Thibodeau brought with him from Boston, it is unlikely the young Bulls will crack under the pressure of success from a season ago.
Still, the sour taste of four consecutive losses to the Heat lingers like a bad first date, on a rainy night on Michigan Avenue. That taste gets closer to the morning rise when the reality of its foundations are poked.
The Heat beat the Bulls in a manner that left the MVP with questions about his own late-game prowess. Rose was bottled up by James in the final four games, a feat that previously seemed like nothing more than good conception.
With defense as its staple, the Bulls are sure to be standing near the top when the shortened season nears its close. If this was a Biloxi Casino, I would bet that Rose will not be as easily defended if the two teams met in a similar setting.
The Bulls represent the most lethal threat to a Heat championship.
Oklahoma City Thunder
While the Oklahoma City Thunder will be battling with foes in the opposite side of the playoff bracket, the Heat has to keep one eye on the superb duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Coming off of a run to the Western Conference Finals, most experts expect the Thunder to set up shop in the position for many years to come.
If the series comes to fruition, the small forward matchup would be an NBA Finals throwback of sorts, pitting two major talents of the same position in a head-to-head crash course. If memory serves, the last time that happened was 1995, when Shaquille O’Neal met Hakeem Olajuwon.
The Thunder bring a level of energy that most aging teams find hard match, especially with the rowdy group of Oklahomans screaming down onto the court like it's Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Expect experience to be a tailwind for the Thunder in this year's campaign.
Los Angeles Lakers
While it is still undetermined who will be the lead guard for the Los Angeles Lakers next season, one thing will be apparent under the guise of Mike Brown.
The Lakers will no longer mope around, aimlessly playing matador defense in quarters one, two and three.
The offense will see a transformation that should be interesting, as Kobe Bryant has only ventured outside of the Triangle for a short time in his career. We should see Bryant doing more work off of the ball, freeing himself up for easier attempts at the basket at the tender age of 33.
One can assume more of the same consistent work from Pau Gasol in the new year. He is universally known as the most skilled big man in the game, and he should come prepackaged with plenty of motivation.
With the nightmare playoff run last season, Gasol has some friendly making up to do for those in La-La land. Add to that the lack of Zen control, and we could see a different Spaniard this time around.
Still, the Lakers will go as far as the lead guard can push them in the next campaign. Brown’s offense does require a true point guard, rather than a spot-shooter, as the Triangle offense demands.
Expect the Lakers to look more like two-time champs again midway through the shortened season.
It played out like a well-written piece of fiction from the late 1970s for the Dallas Mavericks a season ago.
The team that featured a collection of older, former All-Star caliber veterans combined with a nice touch our European flavor did the completely unthinkable.
After erasing the Lakers in four consecutive contests in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Mavericks put the League on notice.
After bouncing the Thunder in more competitive yet prudent fashion, the Mavs raised eyebrows, but still played second fiddle to the Heat traveling band.
While things looked rather routine through the first game-and-a-half, the Heatles broke stride, and the backup group from Texas stepped in without missing a beat—pun intended. It was a total team effort, led principally by Dirk Nowitzki and his virtually unstoppable right handstroke.
In the aftermath, the Mavs still remain a viable threat to the Heat’s chances of striking gold again in June. The team will have a healthy Caron Butler and a super quick, wildly talented Rodrigue Beaubois at its disposal this time around.
Add Rudy Fernandez to the mix, and the Mavs will be a major threat to all contenders next season.
Assuming the Boston Celtics remain intact for one season, the veterans from Massachusetts may still have one more run in those tired legs.
While the Heat were able to bounce Boston a season ago in a manner that seemed much less threatening than white paper would have suggested, one must assume the will of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen still remains as diligent as it always has.
The Heat took advantage of its younger star power in the most recent series between the two teams.
James was special when it mattered most, Wade was in "Flash" mode more often than not, and Bosh bounced back from a tad bit of stage freight to earn his keep in the face of the Celtics' still-crafty front line.
As Garnett stated to LeBron after his final contest in Cleveland, it is impossible to recapture one’s youth.
It remains to be seen if the Celtics can make one final push before this era in Bean-Town comes to a close.