Word is that this Miami Heat team is pretty good.
Good enough to beat the Indiana Pacers without Chris Bosh; good enough to comeback from series deficits in three consecutive rounds; good enough to tie an NBA Finals record for three-pointers made in a game.
In the past two years, the Heat have made this winning thing look easy. Even in 2011 when they lost to the Dallas Mavericks, they pulled off a 12-3 record in series’ against the Philadelphia 76ers, the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls–the team with the league’s best record and reigning MVP. And that was a far inferior team to what you see today.
The Heat faced a few more trials and tribulations in this past season’s playoffs, but proved resilient by erasing a 2-1 series deficit against Indiana, a 3-2 deficit against Boston and a 1-0 deficit against Oklahoma City. Miami were hardly considered favorites unlike the previous season. The New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder were all believed by many to be capable of knocking off the Heat.
Now that the Heat have a championship under their belt, perhaps there will be less doubters. The Heat won 16 postseason games and did it in style with some of the greatest postseason performances ever captured by the public eye. Playing without their third best player for nine games, and then playing a few more with him still ailing, the Heat defeated the league’s best teams, including a Thunder team that had just won four straight over a San Antonio team that came in winning 20 in a row.
The Heat weren’t going to celebrate all offseason like they did following the 2006 championship. The front office signed sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and plan on re-signing center Dexter Pittman. Suddenly, the Heat went from having a weak bench with nothing but inconsistent players to possessing one of the deepest benches with some of the league’s most consistent players, including Allen who is a 40 percent career shooter from beyond the arc.
Of course, the road won’t be easy. Other teams besides Miami have improved since last year, including that little Oklahoma City team that didn’t lose as dramatically as a 4-1 series win indicates. The Thunder, and these two other teams soon to be mentioned, are all in prime position to provide the Heat with a fair share of competition down the road:
It certainly helps the Miami Heat that they picked up Ray Allen. He’s going to be extremely motivated when playing the Celtics, but you can bet for sure that the C’s will be just as hyped to play Allen and the Heat. This rivalry has grown considerably over the years with the two teams meeting in the postseason three consecutive times, with Miami winning the past two including last year’s 4-3 Conference Finals win.
While the Heat stole Allen from Boston, the Celtics found a quick replacement in another Heat-killer in Jason Terry. The former Dallas Mavericks sixth man has proved to be a thorn in the Heat’s side, especially in the 2011 Finals when he couldn’t help but hit every critical shot. He’ll now be replacing Ray Allen as the Celtics primary sharpshooter, and will share time at the two with defensive-specialist Avery Bradley, who will be sitting out the first few weeks of the season with shoulder surgery.
Along with Terry comes draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, as well as Jeff Green. The former Thunder star sat out all of last season with heart surgery and is set to return next year. His versatility as a combo-forward will help the Celtics against a Heat team that dabbles a lot in versatility and ‘positionless’ players.
Most importantly, however, is they still have Rajon Rondo. The Heat don’t know how to stop him and it’s doubtful they find a way anytime soon. As long as Rondo is paired up with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics will be the Heat’s biggest threat in the East.
Los Angeles Lakers
Remember when everyone wanted to see that Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers NBA Finals matchup once the ‘Big Three’ was formed? For awhile there, it didn’t appear it would happen as the Lakers were ousted in two consecutive second-round. The Heat were just a step ahead of the Lakers, who couldn’t bear a tough Western Conference without depth.
The dream may become a reality this year. After a disappointing postseason where they fell to the Thunder in five games, the Lakers made in known that they were going to be aggressive in free agency. In turn, they pulled off the impossible by trading for Steve Nash, who will pair up with Kobe Bryant in the best backcourt in the NBA.
The league’s best passer playing with the league’s best scorer is either going to end in two ways: Terribly or brilliantly.
L.A. also signed All-Star forward Antawn Jamison to come off the bench, which was formerly a tremendous disadvantage for the Lakers last year without Lamar Odom.
Outside of all the new acquisitions and Bryant, the Lakers still have Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who will prove to be tough guards for the Heat. Miami can front them all they want, but those two are still going to make their presence felt in someway because of their length and offensive capabilities.
Oklahoma City Thunder
In 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Dallas Mavericks 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals. While the series results appears to have the Mavericks as definitive winners, it’s not the case at all; the Thunder held a lead in the fourth quarter of every loss in that series. The problem was that they weren’t ready to take on a far more experienced team.
The very next season, they defeat the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the WCF. They lose 4-1 to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, but they surely weren’t beat as a 4-1 result indicates. The Thunder were in every game besides Game 5 when the Heat were absolutely berserk from beyond the arc. Perhaps if James Harden contributed on a more consistent basis, the Thunder could have pulled through.
Now with NBA Finals experience under their belts, the Thunder aren’t just motivated, they’re also going to be more ready for the bright lights that could cause temporary blindness. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will only improve, as will Serge Ibaka. With Eric Maynor also returning, the Thunder can finally rely on some scoring off the bench outside of Harden.