Miami Heat: Is there Any Realistic Competition in the East?


The Miami Heat haven’t appeared this mortal since the Big Three joined up nearly three long years ago.

A number of complaints and concerns have surfaced around the Heat organization in the first few months of the season, despite the Heat’s 24-11 start being one of the best in franchise history.

Among those complaints include the obvious rebounding issue (the Heat are currently ranked 29th in total rebounds per), the new-found defensive issues that didn’t exist the previous two years (Ray Allen and his lateral movement is being blamed for the team giving up 97 points per game), and the ineptitude of the role players on certain nights, specifically Mario Chalmers.

While we could sit here and talk about LeBron James being on pace towards a fourth MVP, the fact that this team is leading the league in field-goal and three-point percentage, and that six players on this team are shooting 39 percent or better from beyond the arc, it’s much easier to simply ignore history and show obvious concern for the Heat losing focus in road games in early January.

Heat fans have become spoiled. They have come to forget that their team was first-round fodder for two seasons before LeBron, Chris, and company showed up. Yes, expectations are obviously high and it is perfectly natural to believe that this Heat team could do a lot better in the regular season. However, they know the risks that come with playing 82 games at the significant pace they are going to play come postseason time.

There’s simply no need for the Heat to worry as much as their fans do. They don’t want to lose, but they certainly don’t treat every game as if it’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals, which is something we’ve seen from teams that have literally dropped confetti and streamers–the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers–after defeating the Heat at home.

The Heat were chastised for celebrating after defeating the Boston Celtics in the second-round of the postseason. Meanwhile, there are franchises that are having ticker-tape parades in their own building because they beat the Heat. Let that tell you just how motivated the opposition is when they play the Heat, as well as the respect the Heat command as the NBA’s team to beat over the past three seasons.

If the opposition has a celebration akin to winning a playoff series in the regular season, you are running a franchise that is going to be making some serious noise come playoff time.

Does Miami have problems? Of course it does. But they aren’t debilitating problems that are going to become a strain on this team come postseason time. They won three consecutive games without Chris Bosh against the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs and they defeated a far more superior Chicago Bulls team in 2011, one that also had the current Houston Rocket in 7-footer Omer Asik.

None of those teams are truly intimidating under the boards once LeBron James becomes a power forward, and those are the Heat’s biggest threat in who ends up representing the East a few months from now in the NBA Finals.

Because despite all of the problems and concerns we have concocted in our attempts to portray the Heat as vulnerable, they are the best team in the Eastern Conference and it’s not even really close. They currently hold a one-game lead over a New York Knicks team that has lost six of its past ten and are three-and-a-half games up on the Atlanta Hawks in the Southeast division.

Yes, the Heat did fall to the Knicks twice. But that came during a stretch where the Knicks were essentially unstoppable from the three-point line. Chances are the Heat are willing to allow Raymond Felton to continue taking pull-up threes for the entirety of a seven-game series. Also, take note that age is already catching up on Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby.

Kidd is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc, but has only made three of his past 13 three-point attempts. Wallace hasn’t played since December 15th due to a sore left foot, while Camby is averaging a humbling 2.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Suddenly this team doesn’t come across as volatile as they were only a month ago.

Because of injuries, the team has been starting Chris Copeland and James White.

There are two players on the entire Knicks team shooting over 50 percent: Tyson Chandler and Kurt Thomas. Chandler’s numbers are inflated due to the fact that nearly every one of his field-goal attempts are a dunk; Thomas is averaging ten minutes per game on the year.

As evidenced by last year’s NBA Finals, the Heat can take on these jump-shooting teams.

As for the Indiana Pacers? It’s the same team from last year plus Ian Mahinmi and D.J. Augustin. I feel I have to remind skeptics that this same Pacers team was on its way to a quick second-round exit if Chris Bosh didn’t get himself hurt in the first half of Game 1. It took two games for the Heat to make an adjustment, and for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to work off each other to defeat one of the league’s biggest teams.

7’2″ Roy Hibbert’s offensive influence was affected by being fronted by 6’8″ Shane Battier. How scared of this team are the Heat supposed to be?

The Chicago Bulls would be worth a glance if they hadn’t committed a fire sale with their bench of the past two years. Without Asik, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, and John Lucas providing their defensive services along the perimeter and interior, the Bulls are just an extremely hard-working team that’s going to get burnt out by the time the playoffs come around.

Derrick Rose can only do so much. I know we’re all excited because of how well Adrian Peterson came off of his ACL surgery, but that doesn’t always happen. Rose will certainly make the Bulls a better team, but what will he be expected to do when a healthy LeBron James is defending him? In the 2011 Conference Finals, Derrick shot 1-of-15 in the fourth quarter because of the effect James’ size and speed had.

And Rose was a lot healthier then than he will be for this year’s playoffs.

The Boston Celtics are a team that will always be scary to the Heat. Because Rajon Rondo is still on the team and still facilitating, the Heat are going to end up yielding incredible offensive performances to a team that doesn’t usually provide consistency in that respect. Rondo is averaging 9.9 assists per in 21 games against Miami, second only to his 11.3 assists per which has come in 13 games against San Antonio.

The Heat are one of five teams Rondo is averaging at least nine assists per game for his career against.

With Avery Bradley making his return, the Celtics also have a perimeter defender to spend time defending Dwyane Wade. Having Bradley means that Celtics can pay a little more attention to LeBron James. LeBron made Paul Pierce his personal punching-bag in last year’s Conference Finals scoring at least 29 points in all seven games, forcing coach Doc Rivers to put the likes of Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass on James with hopes they would ease the bleeding.

It didn’t. There still isn’t an individual defender who has a chance at limiting LeBron, but they do have a defender who can take on Wade, as well as Kevin Garnett aggressively guarding Chris Bosh, which leaves the rest of the team to take on James. Although the Celtics have looked as bad as they have in the Big Three era, they are still winners of their past five and exhibit excellent chemistry on both ends of the floor.

A 19-17 Celtics team is essentially the team that should cause the most worry in the entire Eastern Conference. How badly do you think the Heat want the playoffs to start just so they can take on the only competition worth worrying about out in the West?