After long-last, the Dwight Howard saga has reached its thrilling conclusion, with all sides coming out on top.
Well, almost all sides. Howard joins Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles, Andre Iguodala goes to the Denver Nuggets, the Phildalphia 76ers get Andrew Bynum and the Orlando Magic receive a bunch of draft picks, Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo and possibly two other players to be named later, with those two possibly being rookie Moe Harkless and Christian Eyenga.
It’s stunning to think the Magic were the team losing the franchise star, yet they are the team to end up with the short end of the stick in terms of receiving talent. Receiving Bynum or Gasol wouldn’t have changed much, however, as they most likely would have been in a similar position with an inferior player. Receiving some young talent in Afflalo, Harkless and Eyenga, as well as potentially having high draft picks in the near future, is a good start to rebuilding.
What does that mean for the Heat? It means four easy wins against a Southeast Division opponent over the next few years. The division as a whole is going to see a significant decrease in years past, with the Atlanta Hawks possibly being the only other playoff team to come out. The Washington Wizards will take advantage of their improvements and the Charlotte Bobcats may even avoid the basement of the Southeast.
However, the fact that Dwight Howard no longer is with the Magic doesn’t bear the most significance to the Heat when it comes to getting out of the East.
The most significant move in the East is the fact that Andrew Bynum is now with the Philadelphia 76ers. Before that move, it appeared the Sixers would be lucky to make the postseason after three of their fellow Atlantic Division opponents blew them out in free agency. With Bynum now joining the team, it gives the Boston Celtics, the Heat’s biggest competition in the East, possibly the most difficult team they would face in the playoffs.
Last year, the Celtics struggled mightily against the Sixers in their second-round series. Although Boston pulled out the series win in seven games, just about every game could have gone either way as the Celtics struggled to get into any sort of rhythm on offense. Philadelphia created a lot of matchup problems with the Celtics, and with a huge advantage in the form of Bynum, they may just knock the Celtics out before they can reach the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Philadelphia now has the best center out East, and still have Kwame Brown, Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes down low as well. I would bet against them challenging the Heat if it ever miraculously came down to it.
No, what matters most here is the fact that the Lakers were able to keep Pau Gasol and now have arguably the best team in the league. Because they were able to keep Gasol, they can now pair him down in the post with Dwight Howard, which was a similar situation to what he had with Bynum. Howard, however, has proven to be a better rebounder and defender, which should take the slack off of Gasol.
Howard also pairs up with Steve Nash, the NBA’s best pick-and-roll point guard. That just so perfectly helps the Lakers, because no player in the league thrived more off pick-and-roll’s than Dwight Howard. In order to defend that, the Heat would need to send the likes of Joel Anthony out on the floor because of how well he can defend the pick for a player his size. He has shown success on the defensive end against Howard in the past, but has also suffered because of height he can’t match with.
There’s no one on this Heat team who can consistently defend Howard and there’s nothing wrong with that, because only a few teams have a defender who could. The most the Heat can hope for is improvement from Dexter Pittman, the possibility of signing a minimum salary center to take up a few fouls, or just hope for the best with Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony defending him.
You may have noticed that I’m already talking up the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers NBA Finals matchup like I’m guaranteeing it. Well, I’m not, but it seems like the most likely thing to occur because of the Lakers and their significant advantages at multiple positions. The fact that they now have Nash running pick-and-roll’s with Howard is bad enough, but having to still worry about Kobe Bryant AND Pau Gasol still?
Not to mention that they also have Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace, as well.
If the Heat were to play the Lakers in the Finals, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see LeBron James defending Pau Gasol and Shane Battier defending World Peace. The Heat need to do all they can to neutralize the Lakers’ size and James has shown success when it comes to defending Gasol in the past. His aggressiveness and ability to stay low against Gasol is an excellent way of denying entry passes and it usually results in the team going a different path.
The need for a player like Darko Milicic or Kenyon Martin becomes even more of a necessity now. Even if those two don’t fit into the postseason scheme, they can take up a lot of time defending the four, instead of forcing James to do so because of the Heat’s lack of quality size. Martin, in particular, would fit well against someone like Gasol, who may not respond well to K-Mart’s aggressive style of defense.
The Heat will face challenges with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade having to drive against Dwight Howard, but it’s fortunate for them that they now have a few consistent sources of offense on the outside in the form of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Lewis would be important in the effort because of his ability to hit from the perimeter, which would drag Gasol or Jamison out of the post and along the three-point line.
Any bit of consistent help from the perimeter is going to be a necessity for the Heat. They need to find ways to space the floor against this Laker team and need to use that to score from a high-percentage area and possibly get Howard into foul trouble.
It’s not like the Heat have their fair share of advantages, too. They still have the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history, one of the top power forward’s in the league, a healthy Dwyane Wade and the reigning MVP who appears to have turned a corner in his career for the better.
The Lakers can use World Peace and Bryant all they want, but it’s not going to contain the LeBron James we’ve seen over the past year.
Either way, the 2013 NBA Finals are going to be incredible.