Miami Heat: 7 Teams They Don't Want to Face in the 2012 NBA Playoffs
In this writer's humble yet confident opinion, the Heat are more than a favorite to win the title; it's just plain theirs to lose.
So when pondering which teams they'd rather not see in the postseason, I'm not talking about who they're afraid of; I sincerely don't think any of the following seven teams will be capable of taking Miami in seven games.
The Heat, of course, are in it to demolish. They want to flat out romp on the opposition as they barrel towards the inevitable. The plan calls for quick success with a minimum of effort, so they'd rather not have every other game degenerate into a dogfight in the closing minutes.
So really, consider this a list of teams with the potential to make LeBron's march to his first ring much more stressful than Miami would like it to be. Teams like Atlanta, Portland and Indiana may be nice up against the rest of the league, but the Heat probably wouldn't bat an eyelash if they drew any of them in the playoffs.
Your thoughts welcome, although I respectfully decline to reply to fans of "contending" teams regarding my opening assumption. I would, of course, love to hear your opinions on the merits of each slide.
7. L.A. Clippers
First of all, let's get one thing clear. This list necessarily includes hypothetical matchups with Western Conference teams, which could only occur in the Finals. This being the case, I should point out that this list is not meant to co-sign any team as a potential NBA Finalist.
Case in point: the Clippers. Would they—if by no small feat they were to stumble into the Finals this soon—be a sizeable nuisance to Miami's death march? Absolutely.
Do I actually see them in the 2012 Finals? No.
If somehow these two teams locked up for seven games, Chris Paul would proceed to make minced meat out of Norrio Colemers, for one. The Heat would undoubtedly have to put either Wade or LeBron (or Battier?) on him, pulling one prime defender out of position to intercept the likes of Griffin, Butler, Martin and Jordan.
The Heat would also have to endure the mental toll of simply giving up more big plays at the rim against the Clippers than against anyone else... which is pretty much true for every team in the league.
Still. the end results would probably be the same. Miami in five.
6. Orlando Magic
First of all, any time you're talking Orlando, you're talking Dwight Howard. Assuming the Magic ride out the trade deadline without succumbing to the temptation of moving him, he's the main reason LeBron and co. would prefer to leave northern Florida off their late-spring itinerary.
Howard will probably skip breakfast before game time in order to leave room for Joel Anthony (with a side of Udonis Haslem, lightly seasoned with Dexter Pittman). With Dwight Howard likely taking one last big stab at the gold before moving on, he'll be the Miami front line's worst nightmare for seven games.
Also a concern with Orlando is their love affair with the long ball, and their tendency to occasionally blow games open (or come back from massive deficits) by firing up an unnatural amount of threes. While this isn't remotely likely to win them four out of seven, it's a constant threat to make it a very unpleasant series for the Heat.
Miami in five, two migraines for Erik Spoelstra.
5. Boston Celtics
First off, Boston does not make it to number five on talent; I think they have the most remote odds of any on this list of posing the slightest threat to Miami.
This is the team the Heat owned last postseason, now one year further down the hill and that much further from the team that looked capable of pushing the Heat around most of last season. They can barely keep far lesser teams under control these days.
The Celts are a proud bunch and they'll throw everything they have at Miami, but they just don't have enough answers anymore.
So why, then, would LeBron care about playing them again?
There is just such a dramatic history between himself and Boston, exorcised though his demons allegedly are, he certainly doesn't need to have that chapter in his career pried open again.
We all know that a fair share of the questions thrown LeBron's way pre- and post-game are more concerned with his issues past and present, and no team figures more prominently in his bygone misadventures than Boston.
If LeBron had to choose, he'd probably want to stay in his happy place and avoid the colossal media baggage that would accompany a Beantown rematch.
Miami in four, with a 300 percent journalistic annoyance factor.
The Sixers are a young, athletic, running team that's starting to put their collective talent together for season-long success. No more sneaking into the playoffs below .500; Philly is a player in the East—until they run into the Heat and get put down like all the rest.
Still, don't expect the Heat to enjoy themselves as they slowly show the Sixers the door; at times this series will feel like a week-long suicide drill, rather than than the walk in the park Miami favors.
On top of being able to push the tempo of a game, the Sixers are a model of team basketball, with eight players averaging nine or more points per game as of this writing, most of them wing players.
This means Miami's vaunted defense will have its hands full at all times, even when Doug Collins goes halfway down his bench.
The point guard position is in great shape, they have multiple versatile and athletic scoring swingmen to keep the D guessing and Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes can keep Miami worried about the paint, rather than overloading the wing with defenders.
I see the Sixers pulling out as many as two wins (which is relatively amazing against the Heat) in a head-to-head series, on nights when their offense will hum the way it has on most nights. I also see them playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder after being bounced by the Heat last year.
More often than not, however, the Heat's overpowering collection of talent can't help but win out.
Miami in six, with a lot of cardio thrown in.
Much like Boston, Dallas owes its position on this list to the swirling cloud of chatter that would come with a revisit of the 2011 Finals, which the Heat honestly don't want or need on their mission.
Unlike Boston, the Mavs stand a chance of putting up a worthy fight.
Even though the loss of Tyson Chandler would prove fatal in the end—as would the acquisition of Vince Carter—the Mavs still have those other guys who made the Heat's lives so miserable the last go-around, namely Dirk and the two Jasons. Thanks mainly to those guys, the Mavs would still have that 11th-hour magic to make things quite stressful on the Heat.
Shawn Marion also showed a particular gift for getting inside LeBron's head, and he'd have an even bigger earful in store for the boy-king this time around.
So... in-game frustration plus post-game headaches equals "not having fun." Still, all head games aside, I don't think Dallas will have the benefit of a slumping LeBron this time around. Call me crazy.
The problem of off-court heat (no pun intended) comes into play with the rematch subplot, which would be a huge part of the series and could only serve as a distraction in between games. The barrage of dumb press questions—including the inevitable rehash of last year's line of questioning about shrinking and disappearing and generally being a dud when it counts—would be a most unwelcome guest at the Miami picnic.
LeBron will answer those questions, of course—as will his entire team—by mercilessly beating Dallas into the parquet and ridding himself of yet another nemesis in the process.
It's not that Miami doesn't want to see Dallas on the court—like I said earlier, I think they aren't afraid of anybody—and they could not but relish the whole revenge aspect once they've sent Dallas home.
At the end of the day, one simply gets the feeling they really don't care who they have to beat to win it all. The master plan has no time for feuds and narratives. The added touch of going through Dallas is probably not worth the annoyance.
Miami in maybe six, with a lot of bad memories and post-game tests of patience.
Making up the top two spots—and I assure you there will be no surprises here—are two teams with a real shot at pushing the Heat to seven games.
I say pushing, because I expect Miami to enjoy home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and I conversely doubt very highly that anyone is bad enough to win a Game 7 in South Beach. However, as very few teams could even take more than one game from the Heat, consider it a compliment to say the Chicago Bulls could possibly wind up losing in seven.
The Heat will again look to key in on Derrick Rose, who continues to be both the beginning and end of Chicago's go-to offense. The rest of the team won't have to do too much to outdo Rose's support last time these two Eastern powers met.
Rip Hamilton is no cure-all, but don't think this team hasn't progressed in general. They're playing a more balanced offensive game that has proven capable of winning games without Derrick Rose playing.
Does that mean it would stand a chance against Miami if they shut down Rose again?
Not likely, in this writer's opinion. The Heat are just too high-powered to be seriously threatened by a mid-level contingent, no matter how cohesive, without their star to take the pressure off. LeBron has proven quite capable of sparing his team the constant need to double Rose, which will force the rest of the team to respond. The jury is out on how far they can go in this mode...
Maybe enough to win three games against a Heat team that isn't comfortable unless it's running roughshod over the opposition. Considering, Miami would love nothing more than to watch some other team dispose of the Bulls for them before their paths crossed.
Miami in seven, and all the unwelcome suspense of facing elimination.
1. Oklahoma City
While I don't think the Thunder pose a particularly greater threat to the Heat's jog to the title than Chicago, it would probably be a particularly unwelcome sight to see Durant and co. blocking the doorstep to the promised land.
They'd much rather see the Spurs than face the finely-tuned onslaught that awaits them in Oke-town. There are so many ingredients for disaster that Miami will have to be completely on their toes or risk actually losing the title—remember I did say it was theirs to lose.
The Thunder have Kevin Durant, one of the few men on this earth that can still get his points off with LeBron James all over him. Westbrook is another guy who'll require a team effort just to guard him off the dribble, making quality help defense a must. James Harden and Dwyane Wade will make an interesting wing matchup as well.
On the low blocks, where Miami is already suspect as is, they've got a prime shot-blocker in Ibaka and an elite intimidator in Kendrick "Apparently the Only Reason Boston Was So Scary" Perkins.
Points will be hard to come by with any regularity under the basket; this will put even more pressure on Miami's midrange game.
Not that LeBron and Wade won't continue to wreak their brand of havoc, and Chris Bosh is just fine staying away from the basket if things get too touchy-feely down low. The edge afforded the Thunder by their top-flight post presence alone won't force Miami completely out of their offensive comfort zone.
However, between that, Durant and Westbrook to deal with on defense and the temptation to let up in the home stretch, the Heat might actually find themselves in a position to lose the series if they aren't careful.
If one piston slips in the wrong place, it could be enough for an upset of gargantuan proportions.
Miami in seven, but unpleasantly close with many bullets to dodge.