I don’t think anyone was questioning the Miami Heat’s chances coming into the playoffs. After cruising through the regular season with 66 wins, highlighted by their ridiculous 27-game winning streak, they were able to come into the postseason with very few criticisms. No crippling injuries, no team controversies, and no glaring weaknesses makes them an easy choice to repeat. Oh, and having the world’s best player playing the best ball of his career doesn’t hurt either.
Of course, it’s not all roses for the Heat. There are many reasons to believe they should have no problem at least getting a shot at defending their title in the NBA Finals, but we all know basketball can be a cruel mistress. One injury, one shot, one instant is all it takes. I decided to take a look at what might go wrong for LeBron and co. in their search for a repeat.
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5. Memphis is a bad matchup
In each of the past three seasons, the team that has knocked out the Oklahoma City Thunder has gone on to win the title. After putting away Kevin Durant and crew without much trouble, the Grizzlies look like the team to beat out West… even if they did get stomped during Game 1 of the West Finals against San Antonio. If they can get past the Spurs, who have shown their age in this postseason, they might have a shot at taking down the champs.
Memphis split the season series with Miami, with each winning on their home floors. The Grizzlies boast the best defense in the NBA, and could cause major problems for the Heat in a best-of-seven series. Tony Allen is a stud who could single-handedly take Dwyane Wade out of the picture, the duo of Z-Bo and Marc Gasol should control the glass against a lesser Heat frontcourt, and if Mike Conley can keep up his recent stellar play, Mario Chalmers would stand no chance. George Karl even said if there was one team that could take down Miami, the Grizzlies are it.
4. Dwyane Wade’s health may hold them back
It came out recently that Miami is a bit concerned about D-Wade’s ailing knee. The same injury that has nagged him for the past few months hasn’t shown signs of improvement, and he hasn’t been himself all postseason. Of course, this has yet to cause any problems for the Heat, but they haven’t exactly faced any realistic contenders.
The knee issue may be enough to throw Miami off course. We know that the problem is there to stay, so if defenses begin to ignore him a bit more they could focus most of their attention on LeBron and Bosh. The problem with double-teaming the King is his ability to pass out of pressure, but with at least one leg of the tripod weakened in Wade, the Heat will be more apt to fall.
3. The Heat have struggled against the three remaining teams
Against the Pacers (1-2), Grizzlies (1-1), and Spurs (2-0), Miami hasn’t been able to taste their typical success. They seem to falter against the strongest opponents, even though they were so ultimately dominant in the Eastern Conference standings. Before they knocked out the Bulls, remaining playoff teams had accounted for nine of their 16 regular season losses.
It’s no coincidence that these teams present extremely dangerous interior defenses. If you can force the issue with the Heat and bully them in the paint, they lose some of the attractiveness that made them consensus championship picks. Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan and Zach Randolph all drool at the chance to bang bodies with Chris Andersen for 48 minutes.
2. Extended rest is a blessing and a curse
We saw what the extended rest between series did for the Heat in round two. After putting away the Bucks in short order in the opening series, following a week-long break, they looked sluggish and rusty in their Game 1 loss against the Bulls.
Unfortunately for Chicago, they weren’t the healthiest bunch during the most important part of the year, so Miami fought past their shortcomings in Game 1 and rallied for four-straight wins. If a better equipped team was able to jump out to an early advantage, the Big Three may find themselves in more trouble than ever before. All of the remaining teams also play extremely well at home, meaning that a 1-0 hole could easily get worse once the series shifts away from Miami.
1. Paul George could cancel out LeBron
George has backed up every bit of praise he received throughout the season. He’s posted an impressive line this postseason, putting up over 18 points per game and proving he can be extremely effective with the ball in his hands. LeBron ran all over George in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year, but the Pacers star’s improvements may be enough to take LeBron out of the picture at times this year.
George’s defense — NBA All-Defensive Second Team — is what may ultimately be the difference maker when these teams meet in the conference finals. If he can frustrate LeBron into making poor decisions, taking a few ugly shots or maybe simply getting into his head, Miami turns into a vulnerable team. Without a need to double-team No. 6, the Pacers would have a much easier time on the defensive end, where they truly excel.
Which team has the best chance of beating Miami?
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