Miami Heat: 10 Things They Need to Do to Beat the Boston Celtics
Miami Heat fans have heard it all year long—the Heat have to go through the Boston Celtics, amongst other teams like the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic, before they can even think about the NBA Finals.
As it stands right now, the two teams appear to be on course for a head-on collision in the Eastern Conference playoffs, as both teams remain atop the standings in the conference. Boston also holds the advantage in the season series so far, winning both games earlier in the fall.
However, the Miami Heat have come a long way since they last took on the Celtics. They have found their identity, they are playing like a team and their defense is scary good.
Celtics fans know the Heat can now be considered a viable threat when it comes to playoff time, but at the same time Heat fans know there are a lot of things their team needs to take care of in order to conquer the older, more experienced big three in Boston.
What are those things that need to be taken care of? Here are the top 10.
10. Cohesiveness of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade
This is a given.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh must play well together if the Heat is going to have any shot at knocking off a team like the Celtics, who are loaded with chemistry and experience.
You could argue that this was the Heat's biggest issue in its first two losses to Boston, as Wade and James were still figuring out how to play together on a nightly basis, and Bosh was struggling to find his role on the floor.
However, the good news for Heat fans is that the Miami big three appear to have gotten their act together and have proved to be a deadly force when everything goes according to plan. This shouldn't be an issue come playoff time, but with newly constructed teams you never know how the players will react in their first big, clutch moments in their first postseason together.
9. Bench Production
Undoubtedly the biggest question mark hovering over the Miami Heat was its bench and apparent lack of depth.
The benches are perhaps the biggest difference between Boston and Miami, as the Celtics are blessed with loads of depth, and talented depth at that. On the other hand, Miami's bench has proved to be barely average, if even that so far.
If LeBron James and Chris Bosh want to win their first rings, they're going to have to depend on players like Eddie House, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, James Jones and others to provide a significant impact.
It will be tough for the Heat's bench to compete with Boston's, and there's no questioning the large advantage the Celtics have here.
8. Good Rotations
This one is on coach Erik Spoelstra.
It's no secret that the Boston Celtics have a rather large size advantage, especially down low, when it comes to matching up with the Miami Heat. In order for the Heat players to have their best shot at competing with the Celtics, Spoelstra is going to have to make the right moves and have his rotations perfected.
Even halfway through the season, Spoelstra is still searching for his ideal rotations, as he makes various changes on almost a weekly basis. Some of his moves have been criticized, others applauded.
Of course, there are many things that play into Spoelstra's decisions, such as injuries, chemistry, current performances—the list goes on. But there's no excuse for the young head coach to not have it all figured out come April and May.
7. Try to Force the Celtics to Play Miami's Style of Basketball
Another ill-kept secret is the Celtics' age.
This can work out to be a huge advantage for the Heat, as they have arguably the two best athletes in the NBA in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Miami has to do everything it can to force the Celtics to play an uptempo style of basketball, because when the Heat play in games like these it has proven to be practically unstoppable. However, this will be very hard to do in the playoffs, as historically the games slow down and are usually much lower-scoring as compared to the regular season.
Can Miami break out and run come playoff time? If so, watch out Boston.
6. Come In Humble but Confident
Prior to the season, most fans of the NBA couldn't stand the arrogant, overconfident vibe coming from South Beach. The Miami Heat needed to be humbled, and surely enough they would be after starting their first season together with an average 9-8 record.
Since then, Miami has heated up and hit its stride. However, they must not get back to being overconfident. They need to be humble, yet confident in their game at the same time. They know they can beat the Boston Celtics, but they need to take care of business on the court.
It's a good thing the center of Miami's big three is Dwyane Wade, who has been known for his humbleness since coming into the league seven years ago. Wade also is the only of the big three with a ring, so he knows what it takes and can hopefully keep his troops in line when it comes to the big moments.
5. Be Able to Play Half-Court Offense
Unfortunately for the Heat, not every possession can be a fast break, and they know that. One of the areas where Miami has struggled the most this season is in the traditional half-court offense, especially against teams running zone defenses.
Before they get their hands on the Larry O'Brien Trophy, the Heat must be able to find consistency when it comes to playing half-court offense. All too often this year Miami has looked like a street team in the half court, with everyone standing around while one player works with the ball in an isolation.
This style of play will not win any team a title.
The Heat must have good ball movement, and players need to be moving off the ball. There's no doubting they have gotten better as the season moves on, but they need to reach consistency on a nightly basis if they want to beat the Celtics.
Fortunately for Heat fans, with Mike Miller finally looking like himself, Miami should have a much better half-court game, as a dynamic player like Miller brings a bunch of different looks to the offense. Miller can cut, pass and shoot the three, unlike James Jones, who is more of a three-point specialist.
4. Obtain the No. 1 Seed in the East
Home court advantage is always a nice thing to have, especially in the playoffs. The last thing the Heat would want would be to have to go to Boston for a Game 7.
If Miami can come out as the No. 1 seed in the East, they can have the comfort of knowing home court advantage will be theirs come playoff time.
Although the Miami crowds are notoriously lazy and late during the regular season, take it from someone who went to a playoff game in Miami in 2006: American Airlines Arena is rocking just as much as any other NBA arena come playoff time.
Especially with this being the first season of the heralded big three, the buzz will be extra vibrant come May and June in South Beach.
3. Retain the Heat Culture of Defense First
Heat fans know ever since Pat Riley arrived in Miami, this team's identity year in and year out has been defense first.
The Heat have definitely stayed on track with that trend this year, priding themselves on the defensive end and proving to be one of the best, if not the best defensive team in the league.
Nightly highlights of the Heat include fierce blocks by LeBron James, charges drawn by players like James Jones and Joel Anthony coming off the bench to lock down the opponent.
This Heat team has perfected creating offense with good defense, as steals and blocks often lead to fast breaks and easy points. If Miami can keep up the intensity and come out strong on the defensive end, its chances to beat Boston definitely increase.
2. Find Their Clutch Gene
Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly to some, the Miami Heat have greatly struggled in clutch moments this year. In fact, the Heat are just 1-7 in games decided by five points or less.
This stat is truly disturbing for the Heat, as most playoff games, especially deep into May and June, tend to come down to the wire.
Why the struggle with pulling out close wins? Miami has yet to switch on its clutch gene.
One of the most popular questions regarding the Heat heading into the season was who would take the last shot, James or Wade.
Well, so far this season has lacked a trademark buzzer beater from both players. Many are not sure what to make of the Heat's issues in close battles, but most likely it's the players putting too much pressure on themselves.
If they can relax and play like a team, the buzzer beaters and clutch plays will happen. The question is whether or not James and Wade will be able to do this come playoff time, when all the money is on the line.
1. Stay Healthy
When it all comes down to it, the biggest key to Miami's success is simply staying healthy. It can execute perfectly and do everything else right, but if one of the big three is injured, Miami's chances look bleak.
As well as the big three, if any significant role players go out, the going will get difficult for the Heat.
Miami has already had a slew of injuries this year, but the optimistic Heat fan could look at it as getting it all out of the way before it matters.
Udonis Haslem has been sidelined basically all season with a ligament injury in his foot, Mike Miller missed close to half the season with a thumb injury, LeBron James recently missed a few games due to an ankle sprain, Chris Bosh is still injured with a dreaded high ankle sprain and now Eddie House has joined the party with an ankle sprain of his own.
If a playoff series with the Celtics started today, the Heat would have no shot. With their limited depth and questionable depth, Miami's need to remain healthy in the playoffs is much greater than any other team's.
You can follow Sean Grimm on Twitter @seangrimmsays