The Miami Heat weren’t all-conquering NBA champions last season. Yes, LeBron James seems to be getting better with every passing season, but that’s not true when it comes to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, while opponents like the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs have shown teams what it takes exactly to beat the best team in the NBA in a 7-game series.
The Heat signed Greg Oden this summer while re-signing Chris Andersen. This potentially gives them a very capable and effective twin tower duo coming off the bench, but Andersen usually brings energy, rebounding and defense to the game, usually good enough for 15 minutes a game before his effectivity wears out. Greg Oden is simply one huge question mark, even though he can be the solution to so many problems the Heat have in the paint on both offense and defense.
And that was the biggest issue the Heat faced in the Eastern Conference finals with Roy Hibbert, and in the finals with Tim Duncan. A 7-footer who doesn’t budge from the rim, and prevents, or makes it very difficult for the Heat to keep driving to the paint with James and Wade, who are practically unstoppable (Wade as well when he’s healthy) to contain on the perimeter. The moment that big body is waiting for them in the paint, the Heat are forced to win by hitting jump shots from mid range or put on their shooting lineups that are so effective in stretching the floor.
In the end, it didn’t matter. LeBron James and Wade hit the shots the Spurs were giving them in the Finals. Chris Bosh had his moments that forced Hibbert and Duncan to move out. Udonis Haslem had a couple of big games in the conference finals that were enough to carry Heat through two 7-game series.
But those teams aren’t the only threat to the Heat. The Memphis Grizzlies have big men who clog the paint. The Chicago Bulls, now that they have Derrick Rose, are good enough to cause the same problems for the Miami heat. The Oklahoma City Thunder, in theory, have the kind of big man combination with Ibaka and Perkins to stop the Miami Heat for more than one game if the two teams find themselves in a series one more time.
But it’s not that simply. The Spurs showed that you need shooting. Just like the Miami Heat, stretching the floor is a big part of their offensive system. In their two home wins over the Heat, it was simply about out-shooting the Heat massively, as Danny Green and Gary Neal looked like Finals MVP for a moment or two. Can other opponents do the same?
The Bulls don’t have that kind of three-point shooting depth. They might have a better point guard than the rest of the Heat’s rivals in Derrick Rose, but he’s a question mark whether or not he can regain the ability that made him the MVP in 2011. The Grizzlies lack quality on their bench and the ability to stretch the floor once Randolph and Gasol aren’t working too well offensively.
So who can do it? The Spurs and the Pacers, once again. The Brooklyn Nets don’t have the defensive presence in the paint (Not Lopez, and not Garnett) to deter the Heat from attacking the basket time and time again. Danny Granger can become that extra outside threat in a new role as he takes a second seat to Paul George’s emerging superstardom.
There is Dwight Howard that could pose a problem, like he did for LeBron James in the 2009 playoffs. But the Houston Rockets are a new team, that need time to mesh, before we give them the honor of being the best in the West and the most like
The Heat, at the moment, are still the favorites to win the NBA title. Even with Wade taking steps backwards, James might be good enough to carry them to another best-record in the NBA season as long as Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and others play their role correctly. But both the Spurs and the Pacers were a game away from dethroning the Heat. The Spurs were a lot closer than that. The two-time NBA champions are beatable and vulnerable to a certain kind of playing style. This season, we’ll see a lot of team trying to emulate what we learned last season in how to beat the Miami Heat, hoping it’ll be enough this time.