Miami Heat: Top Eastern Conference Threats to Team's Chances at Repeating

Sam R. Quinn@SamQuinn_Senior Analyst IIIAugust 14, 2012

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 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

No matter what way you look at it, the Miami Heat are the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference.

The trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh makes for the best big three in the conference. However, that doesn't mean that a conference foe wouldn't be able to win four out of seven games against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

Of course, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves, as the season doesn't start for another three or so months, but it is always fun to play the matchup game with the best teams in the league.

Here are three Eastern Conference teams that are the biggest threat to the Heat's chances at repeating as NBA champions.

Boston Celtics

We already saw that the Boston Celtics were capable of beating the Heat when Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Co. pushed Erik Spoelstra's squad to the brink in the Eastern Conference finals.

If not for some otherworldly performances from James, the Heat would have been sent home empty-handed yet again, that time by a team that wasn't nearly as talented as they were.

Fortunately for the Celtics, they got a little younger and a little bigger through the 2012 NBA draft.

Talk about his back problems all you want, but Jared Sullinger is going to put up solid numbers at some point during his NBA career. Fab Melo is as raw as they come, but he'll be a valuable asset to the Celtics once he learns how to effectively protect the hoop.

That's what you need to beat the Heat: A player to protect the rim and another to score. The Celtics have Garnett, who can do both of those things, and Sullinger and Melo, who should be able to combine to do the same with time.

Oh yeah, Pierce and Rajon Rondo will be back for another go at it, but they will have Jason Terry at their disposal instead of an injury-plagued Ray Allen.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers would have been no match for the Heat this upcoming season if not for the team's recent acquisition of Andrew Bynum.

Instead of heading into the year with Andre Iguodala as the underachieving poster boy for the team's perennial mediocrity, head coach Doug Collins now has a seven-foot All-Star center on his roster.

Bynum is going to completely change the dynamic of this Sixers team. Philadelphia was lacking in the big-man department last season, as Elton Brand was decent, but not good enough to make the team a serious threat to Miami.

Now that Bynum has assumed the role as the primary big man on the court, he'll be able to go to work on Chris Bosh at will. Bosh is a solid defender, but he's not good enough to cover Bynum when Bynum is at his best.

Even if the Heat find a way to cover Bynum, he'll be able to find his teammates on the perimeter for plenty of open shots. Evan Turner, Jrue Holliday, Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Jason Richardson are going to love the space that they get when on the floor with Bynum.

Not only can Bynum play offense, he's pretty solid on the defensive end as well. We all know one of the primary things a team has to do to beat the Heat is contain LeBron and prevent him from attacking the rim.

Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers had the Heat with their collective backs against the wall in the Eastern Conference semifinals before losing the last three games of the series.

Once again, it was James who channeled the basketball gods to grant him unstoppable skills in the most pivotal of games.

There is genuine bad blood between these two teams, as Danny Granger and Paul George are far from James' biggest fans, which makes this matchup all the more intriguing.

Roy Hibbert is that interior presence that a team needs to upset the Heat. As one of the few true centers in today's NBA, Hibbert did a great job on both ends of the floor in last year's playoffs.

His ability to assert himself down low allowed Granger, George and their teammates to create space and open up shots. Things obviously would have been more difficult if Bosh hadn't missed the back end of the series, but the Pacers have the necessary pieces to take down the Heat.

If Granger and George get hot, and David West can get in a groove like we saw occasionally in the semifinals, the Pacers can beat the Heat.


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