NBA Basketball: The 5 Toughest Matchups for the Miami Heat
Sometimes records simply don't matter.
I remember NBA analyst Kenny Smith during the 2000 playoffs on TNT discussed one of the secrets to his back-to-back championships with the Houston Rockets. He talked about the advantage the team gained from who they didn't have to face in the postseason.
"Seattle," Smith said, "They had our number. They beat us every single time we met throughout the 1994-1996 seasons. But because they were upset in 1994 and 1995, we didn't have to face them on the road to the title. Their trapping defense was like Hakeem Kryptonite."
This had me thinking: What teams in the NBA have the best overall matchups against the Heat? What teams could actually give the Heat the most problems based on the personnel they have available on their roster?
In this article, I count down the top five toughest matchups for the Miami Heat in the NBA. Let me preface this list by saying that this article is not proclaiming any of these teams better or worst than the Heat, nor am I saying they are elite teams per se. I'm just saying that these are the teams that have the most favorable matchups against Miami.
5. Chicago Bulls
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Did you expect them to be higher?
First, let me discuss what advantages they have and what advantages they don't to explain the fifth-place finish.
On the good side, the Bulls have an explosive, elite point guard in Derrick Rose that will challenge the Heat's interior defense as well as that of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Luol Deng guards LeBron about as well as anybody in the East, and if Deng is scoring, he makes the Bulls a tough team to beat.
If Rip Hamilton can get in rhythm, his ability to force Wade to chase him though a myriad of screens can give him an advantage of wearing Wade down. Joakim Noah also has the potential to out-rebound the Heat's frontline.
The Bulls are not a deep team offensively, so they don't present as many problems on that end for Miami as say Dallas did in the finals. The Bulls don't have a clear-cut matchup advantage at any other spot but the one.
I know, I know, Noah over Anthony. But since Noah is not a scorer and can't create double-teams like Dwight Howard to give the perimeter shooters easier shots, I don't think Noah is as big a mismatch as others may believe.
Miami's bench is much healthier this season than last, and even the biggest Heat hater would have to acknowledge that it's a lot stronger than last season. The Bulls have a good bench too, but again, like with Noah, it doesn't present a clear-cut advantage.
Nevertheless, the Bulls are the favorite to get to the ECF against Miami next spring, and it should be a good series.
4. Boston Celtics
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I preface this slide by saying that I know the Heat beat them in the playoffs last year. But if healthy, even without Jeff Green for the season, the Celtics still have the potential to present the Heat with several difficult matchups on the court.
Brandon Bass is a tough, agile power forward that is going to make Udonis Haslem work on the defensive end. Paul Pierce (assuming his fully recovers from his heal injury) guards LeBron James about as well as anybody in the league. Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh essentially played each other to a standoff in the playoffs last season with Bosh getting the slight edge. But KG's defense was generally pretty solid throughout the postseason, even in defeat.
The Celtics defense, is pretty tough when they are full-strength and locked in. The addition of Mickael Pietrus can also help the team spread the floor with his outside shooting and provide them with another defender for James.
Then there's Rajon Rondo, who has given the Heat fits at times throughout his career and clearly holds the edge over the Heat point guards. If he is on his game (scoring, distributing the ball, rebounding). The Celtics are a tough team to beat, even for Miami.
Additionally, Wade must chase Allen though a wall of screens in order to defend him, making him the player that Wade would least like to check. If only the Celtics didn't have Jermaine O'Neal at center, they very well could have ranked higher.
3. LA Clippers
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Elite point guard that can put pressure on the Heat's defense? Check.
Elite power forward that can put equal pressure on the Heat's interior? Check.
Can play an up-temp style that the Heat would ideally have an advantage by playing? Check.
The Clippers are still a team that has yet to prove anything together and are little more than hype until proven otherwise. But on paper, they have the roster that could give Miami problems.
They have a more explosive offense than the Bulls, but their defense is greatly improved. Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul make up an admittedly undersized backcourt. But each can hit big shots in a game, and both will require a spirited defensive effort from Chalmers and Wade.
The Clippers can't punish the Heat in the paint because of their lack of size, but with Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan, they have serviceable bigs that can block shots and rebound. If only they weren't constructed like a fire sale for guards and had a bit more size they would be ranked higher.
2. The New York Knicks
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Go ahead and laugh, but to me, the New York Knicks appear to have the second best matchups against the Heat. If they made an effort to improve their defense, got a real point guard and two-guard, and strengthened their bench, they would really be scary. Here are my reasons for placing the Knicks No. 2:
1. Carmelo Anthony is the toughest matchup for LeBron James. Anthony's offensive arsenal is more well rounded than any other small forward in the East. Whether during Anthony's days with the Nuggets or Knicks, he has always been a tough cover for LeBron.
2. Tyson Chandler's size gives the Heat problems. I know that some might argue that Bulls center Joakim Noah has the same impact against Miami, but one glance at the playoffs last spring should put a halt to that thinking.
The Heat effectively defended Noah and neutralized him for most of the series. But Chandler had a much larger impact against Miami. His shot-blocking, rebounding and ally-oop-dunking gave the Heat fits the entire Finals. As currently constructed, the Heat really have not answer for Chandler.
3. Amare Stoudemire is a tough cover for the Heat because of the versatility of his offensive attack. Boozer doesn't have the explosiveness, hops or ability to draw double teams that Amare has and would put immense defensive pressure on Bosh.
4. Running is usually a smart strategy against most elite teams in the NBA, and the Heat do it as well as anyone. But the Knicks also want to run and if the Heat get in a track meet with a team with this much offensive firepower, it could create problems.
5. Add in the fact that, unlike most teams in the East, the Knicks can really score effectively from the field and post-ups, and you have a team with the personnel to give the Heat the most problems in the Eastern conference.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
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If you were to Google "create matchup problems for the Miami Heat," you would in all likelihood come up with the Oklahoma City Thunder. They would be a tough team for the Heat to face in the Finals and guess what? hey are the team most experts are expecting to win the West.
Up to this point, LeBron James has defended Kevin Durant fairly well. James has bodied up Durant and played the MVP contender physically. But Durant has improved in this department. Over the course of a seven-game series, James will have his hands full trying to guard the league's most explosive scorer.
Kendrick Perkins. This guy has been on the good end of so many Dwyane Wade and LeBron defeats that it's easy to lose sight of what he does so well against them. He was 4-0 against the Heat last season. His tenacious defense, mining of the paint, shot -blocking and rebounding give him an advantage against the Heat's centers. He's just too tough in the paint for Anthony or Curry, and his strong post presence makes Wade and James think twice about driving down the lane.
Speaking of driving down the lane, did I mention Russell Westbrook? Granted, his performance in the WCF last season suggested that he definitely needs to work on his shot-selection, leadership and patience on the court.
But his explosiveness could really give Chalmers and Cole a tough cover at the point. He's the kind of guy that can shed defenses, and the Heat will need to be extra weary of him getting into the paint. He's like Derrick Rose in the way he drives and forces defense to collapse, but with more offensive threats around him.
Then there is Serge Ibaka who is one of the best defensively power forwards in the NBA (unlike say Carlos Boozer). Ibaka can put a tremendous amount of defensive pressure on Bosh.
Add to this the fact that they are one of the few teams in the NBA with the athleticism to counter the athletes that the Heat bring to the court, and you have a team that can offer a serious problem for Miami if they faced them in the Finals.