Do the Miami Heat Have Any Realistic Challengers in the East Outside of Boston?


You can bet on it: The only realistic challenge for the Miami Heat, with the exception of the Boston Celtics, will be from the Western Conference.

June 5, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett (5) is pressured by Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the second half in game five of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Not even the Boston Celtics can compare with the juggernauts that are the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, however. Although Boston has a point guard in Rajon Rondo who the Heat can’t figure out, one of the league’s greatest defenders in Kevin Garnett and a solid replacement of Ray Allen in the form of Jason Terry, the Celtics still lack that one attribute needed to have a realistic chance at beating Miami: a LeBron-stopper.

Take a look at Boston’s roster and you’ll notice not one player capable of limiting LeBron James. Paul Pierce was brutalized by James in the team’s Conference Finals matchup; Pierce shooting 34 percent from the field and LeBron averaging 33 points on 52 percent shooting. Boston will have to look towards Pierce, as well as the likes of Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green when it comes to defending the three-time MVP.

Mickael Pietrus, a solid defender who may have been the Celtics only legitimate shot at limiting James, is no longer with the team after leaving as a free agent.

Sure, the Celtics will still be an excellent team and should end up giving the Heat fits when they do meet up in the postseason. But they’re not going to give the Heat a run for their money like Oklahoma City or the Lakers would. Boston’s key players are all one year older and the organization did little in the offseason to find someone capable of limiting the league’s best player. Although they picked up some size in Darko Milicic and Jason Collins, they’re hardly the type of players who can pose a threat for a seven-game series.

Boston also lost their top shot-blocker in Greg Stiemsma, who is now with Minnesota.

As long as the Celtics have Rajon Rondo, they’re going to give the Heat some trouble. Miami has yet to realize that allowing a point guard to idly walk in within 15 feet of the rim is an idea that should be scrapped. When you allow a quarterback to work without pressure, he’s going to eventually find his target. Given the Heat aren’t applying pressure because of Rondo’s weak jumper, it’s still not a well-thought out idea to give the league’s top point guard time to work with while having no pressure applied.

That Celtics team is the only squad in the East capable of challenging Miami as far as who represents the conference in the NBA Finals.

The Chicago Bulls? A non-threat. Derrick Rose’s recovery is supposed to extend into March and it’s impossible to determine how efficient he’ll be following. Throw in the fact that the team stripped their bench and replaced it with a hodgepodge of mediocre and below-average role players and you have a middle-of-the-pack playoff team.

Indiana? Certainly a good team, especially after retaining Roy Hibbert and picking up some needed size in Ian Mahinmi and rookie Miles Plumlee. However, Hibbert’s lack of aggression in last year’s second-round series with the Heat was troubling. Despite having a significant height advantage over whoever defended him, Hibbert couldn’t seem to solve the Heat’s defensive tactic of fronting the 7’2″ center.

Plus, losing to a Heat team that was without Chris Bosh outside of the first half of Game 1? Hardly something to be worrying over.

I refuse to jump on the Brooklyn Nets bandwagon. The Heat have seen plenty of Joe Johnson in Atlanta and know that he’s not the type of player to put a team like the Nets over the top. Not even adding Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans and C.J. Watson to the mix will make much of a difference, neither. This Nets team will be significantly better than the Nets teams we’ve seen in years past, but Brook Lopez would represent a tremendous liability on the defensive end against a team like Miami.

The New York Knicks could be a team worth worrying about. Their roster is composed of names who should make them to beat out East. The problem is that the players attached to those names refuse to make the Knicks the team to beat.

Carmelo Anthony refuses to become the facilitator the team so desperately needs and Amar’e Stoudemire has absolutely fallen off the face of the earth. New York made a few significant moves over the summer, but only ended up signing over-the-hill veterans who have been well past their prime. 38-year-old Marcus Camby, 39-year-old Jason Kidd and 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace were all signed as future rotation players.

Miami is a team that likes to get out and run, yet the Knicks are being led to believe that those three veterans, including one that hasn’t played since 2010, will be enough to make the Knicks a realistic contender to defeat the Heat. Either this team enjoys first-round exits, or they’re doing the whole offseason signings thing wrong.

Don’t look anywhere within the Heat’s division for trouble, neither. Joe Johnson is no longer with the Hawks, Dwight Howard left Orlando for Los Angeles, John Wall is going to be out for eight weeks and the Charlotte Bobcats are still well below-average. We may just end up see the Heat sweep through 16 division games without losing a game.

I’m not guaranteeing anything. 82 games is a long time and anything is capable of happening within those parameters to offset the Heat’s potential dominance of the Eastern Conference. However, if you judge each team by their current roster and their history with the Heat, you will see a trend that has Miami as the clearly dominant team out East, with the lone exception being a Celtics team who has historically given the Heat trouble.

The Heat will become the team to beat and with every team making positive offseason moves in order to keep up, it’s sure to be interesting as to how well each Eastern Conference foe matches up with the team that has won the past two conference championships.