Heat vs. Celtics: Critical Questions Facing Each Team on Their Way Back to ECF

Joye Pruitt@hoopselectSenior Analyst IJuly 1, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 09:  Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics looks on in the fourth quarter while taking on the Miami Heat in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 9, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The biggest question on my mind during this summer’s NBA Free Agency mega-swirl is not necessarily which player will land where.

Well, that was a bit of a lie at minimum, but my questions truly lie on the Eastern Conference and how the 2013 NBA Playoffs will shape up in comparison to this past year’s surprises and early outs.

What draws more concern is how the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will fair.

Every other team in the Eastern Conference matters, but not really. Every fan of the league knows that in the Eastern Conference, no matter how balanced a team may be (Indiana Pacers) or how hot they can get from beyond the perimeter (New York Knicks), rankings will be primarily determined by the failures or successes of these two franchises.

The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics have a stranglehold on the east—at least for the moment—and it will be intriguing to see how the draft and the free agency will shape their immediate futures.

Here is how the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will land in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals and who will make entry into the 2013 NBA Finals.

What Will Be Boston’s Starting Lineup?

The 2012 NBA playoffs made one thing painfully apparent to anyone who deemed themselves Beantown faithful—there would be absolutely no way the Boston Celtics would be able to sustain dominance in the Eastern Conference with the starting lineup they had in place against the Miami Heat.

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 09:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics points in the fourth quarter while taking on the Miami Heat in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 9, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NO
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

2012 NBA Playoffs final starting lineup:

PG Rajon Rondo, SG Ray Allen, SF Paul Pierce, PF Brandon Bass, C Kevin Garnett

This lineup may have seemed to expose the Miami Heat when Brandon Bass was a contingent offensive force for Boston. Kevin Garnett appeared somewhat rejuvenated throughout the season and even arose to the occasion consistently in the NBA Playoffs.

Rajon Rondo had a 40-plus point game against the Miami Heat in a Game 2 performance that echoed sheer magnificence. Ray Allen turned back the hands of time and landed a slam dunk.

Even through all of their efforts and coach Doc Rivers’ unyielding temperament, the Celtics could not overcome that mercurial force that touted LeBron James as the head of their three-headed beast.

Boston will not be able to put this same group of men against a much more confident and in synch Miami Heat franchise without tweaking aspects of their approach. Bringing in Fab Melo added definitive size and defense around the rim, while Jared Sullinger adds the fuel of fundamentals that the Boston franchise has paraded for so long.

Don’t think that Sullinger, Melo or even Kris Joseph will be gracing the starting lineup anytime soon, but the depth and youth it adds to the Celtics’ bench is more than enough to take the Celtics on far less bumpy ride.

2012-13 starting lineup:

PG Rajon Rondo, SG Avery Bradley, SF Paul Pierce, PF Brandon Bass, C Kevin Garnett

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 18: Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics comforts teammate Avery Bradley #0 as he winces in pain during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Well
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

What Will Be Miami’s Starting Lineup?

There is something uncommonly confusing about the Miami Heat.

Without a true center, without an elite point guard and without a third of their Big Three, the Heat fought all the way to the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. There were men listed at the center position, but who is really considering Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf fruitful components of Miami’s everlasting playoff run?

Not I.

The Heat moved Chris Bosh to the center position, something he had declined to take on with the Toronto Raptors before the fateful summer of 2010. There will not be much adjusting come the 2012-2013 season in Miami’s starting lineup—even with the acquisition of any free agents.

Dwyane Wade’s surgery will not factor into his influence on this squad. Sorry, if you were counting on it. His only absence will come in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

2012-13 starting lineup:

PG Mario Chalmers, SG Dwyane Wade, SF LeBron James, PF Udonis Haslem, C Chris Bosh

Will the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics Face Off in Eastern Conference Finals?

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 21:  (L-R) Mario Chalmers #15, Chris Bosh #1, Dwyane Wade #3 and LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat celebrate during the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 21, 2012 at American Airl
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

That depends on whether or not you have been paying attention to all the free agency talk since Sunday morning.

The power rankings of the league do not solely rest on what a team has control over, but the primary control lies in what surrounding franchises can boast. For instance, Sports Illustrated reported Sunday that the Portland Trail blazers offered Pacers’ C Roy Hibbert a four-year $58 million dollar deal.

Indiana was the No.3 seed in the 2012 NBA Playoffs in the east and, without him, the Pacers will have some serious trouble filling the void.

You have the Atlanta Hawks, who have gone as far as they are going to go in the playoffs with the core they have in place presently. A trade for Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets is reportedly in the works, but with the new general manager possibly blowing up the roster, it will take more than a season to find synchronicity with a new lineup.

The Orlando Magic are enduring one of the worst nightmares—also known as Dwightmares— they could possibly think of. They are still attempting to find ways to appease the superstar or rid the organization of the plague descending upon it through his actions.

The Chicago Bulls will be Rose-less for an unknown amount of time and, as optimistic as fans would like to be about his recovery, it does not only include the time it takes his injury to physically heal. Rose will have to get his trust back—in himself that is.

The Bulls are looking to make some moves in free agency as well that will hopefully push them further ahead in the conference without their work horse.

Is there any other franchise in the east worth mentioning?

With the Pacers, the Magic, the Hawks and the Bulls being thrust out of the way, potentially, it clears the path for another Boston-Heat rivalry series in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Don’t you dare bring up the moves the Brooklyn Nets are trying to make in this offseason.

Deron Williams also has the Dallas Mavericks in contention. They need him and a prayer to put together a better ending than either the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat.

Who Will Enter the 2013 NBA Finals?

After substantiating the fact that BOS-MIA will likely be the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals matchup, it all comes down to who will come out on top.

Unfortunately for those who have grown weary hearing of Miami’s dominance in this year’s Finals, it will not end with their demise as they will once again return to the Finals. Many times in the history of the league, the greatest players overcame the feat of their first ring and keep trekking towards multiple championships.

While LeBron James’ heart has been questioned for the nine years he has been in the NBA, James showed no remorse after pounding each franchise that stood in Miami’s way to the championship. That was all that mattered then.

It would be a long shot to assume that, after he has tasted the sweet aroma of victory, that he is willing to relinquish it any time sooner than his skill forces him to.

Mix that in with Dwyane Wade’s willingness to take a back seat to James’ superiority on the court and Chris Bosh’s renewed responsibility and range on the court, and you have a formula that the Boston Celtics, with father time still relishing in the bones of two of their main components, cannot overcome.

The championship mentality and heart that everyone praises Boston for is not enough anymore. The physical endurance must be there and, from the Celtics, it simply is not.

Look for the Miami Heat to make another Finals appearance, even with an 82-game season on their shoulders. 


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