5 Teams That Could Beat the Miami Heat in the NBA Playoffs
5 Teams That Could Beat the Miami Heat in the NBA Playoffs
After winning their last 26 games, the second-longest winning streak in NBA history, it’s hard to argue against the fact that the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat are the best team in the league right now. If you asked most people who the favorites were to win the title this season, at least 75 percent of them would say the Heat and that’s probably a low estimate.
There’s a plethora of reasons why this Heat team is as good as they are. They are a terrific defensive team, ranking in the top-10 in the league in opponent’s points per game and opposing field goal percentage. They are an incredibly opportunistic and efficient offensive team. It also helps that they have three of the best players in the league in Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and, of course, LeBron James.
James is the obvious x-factor for Miami and has been since his arrival in South Beach. However, it wasn’t until game six of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics last season when he really hit another gear and became the type of player that can lead a team to winning a title.
After hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy last season, the Heat seem poised to do it once again this season. They are absolutely cruising through the league right now and still look like they have another gear that they can turn on if they need to. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like any other team in the league really stands a chance of stopping Miami from winning back-to-back championships. However, if someone was to pull off the upset of the Heat, there are five teams that would be the ones that could do it.
The Indiana Pacers are the only team in the East that appears like they could conceivably beat the Heat in a seven-game series. There’s no denying the fact that the Heat are a substantially more talented team than the Pacers, but there are certain things that the Pacers do that could potentially bother the Heat enough for Indiana to sneak away with four wins.
One of the things that the Pacers do really well is control the pace of the game. Indiana likes to get the game moving slowly and likes to work methodically, and are very skilled at making that happen. If they were able to execute that plan against the Heat, it would definitely play to the advantage of the Pacers. Not only is that how they operate the most effectively, but it also largely eliminates the Heat’s ability to get out and run in the open floor, which is when they are the most dangerous.
Another aspect of the game that plays to the Pacers’ advantage is their ability to rebound. On the season the Pacers are the best rebounding team in the NBA, largely due to the efforts of Roy Hibbert and David West. Contrarily the Heat are dead-last in the league in rebounding this season because they play a small lineup most of the time. The Pacers would have a definite advantage on the boards, which would create more offensive opportunities for them and could help carry them past the Heat.
The Memphis Grizzlies could cause the Heat problems in a seven-game series for many of the same reasons that the Pacers could. The main thing that would damper their chances of beating the Heat, though, is that they have to fight their way through the Western Conference Playoffs to meet the defending champs.
However, if they were able to make it to the Finals and face Miami, the Grizzlies also are able to control the pace of games and play terrific defense. In fact, Memphis has the best defense in the NBA statistically, allowing just 89.5 points per game. Their roster is laden with upper-tier defenders, both in the post and on the perimeter.
Memphis would also have a distinct advantage on the glass against Miami. The Grizzlies feature one of the best frontcourt duos in the league in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who are both capable of dominating in the rebounding department. They also bring Ed Davis, another extremely effective rebounder, off of the bench. For a poor rebounding team like the Heat, Memphis could definitely cause some problems there.
Gasol would be the key for the Grizzlies to upset the Heat in a series. Gasol is one of the most versatile big-men in the league. He can create offense for himself and for others better than almost any frontcourt player in the league and is also one of the best interior defenders in the Association. If Memphis were to beat the Heat, Gasol would have to have a monster series.
At first glance it seems like the Denver Nuggets would be a team that the Heat would love to face in the Finals. The Nuggets play at one of the fastest paces in the league, which plays right into the strength of Miami’s offense and scheme. However, there are a couple of things that the Nuggets do that could definitely cause problems for the Heat.
The first of these things, once again, is rebounding. Denver’s roster is full of players from Kenneth Faried to Kosta Koufos to JaVale McGee that are highly effective on the boards. That’s why they rank second in the NBA in rebounding this season as a team. It’s a rarity that they get beat in that area of the game, especially against a team with as little size as the Heat have.
Also in regards to size, the Nuggets are the best team in the league when it comes to attacking the rim and getting points in the paint. In fact, it’s a huge margin between Denver and the next closest team when it comes to points in the paint. For the year the Nuggets average 57.9 points in the paint per game. The next closest team to them is the Sacramento Kings, who average just 45.9 points in the paint per game.
The reason that comes into play against the Heat is that the Heat don’t have many players that are adept at protecting the rim. The player that comes closest to fitting that bill for Miami is Chris Andersen, but he plays under 15 minutes per game for them. The Heat have athletes like LeBron and Wade that can help somewhat, but they are still somewhat vulnerable around the rim. If the Nuggets were able to execute their game-plan at the rim against Miami in a series, they might have a chance.
Oklahoma City Thunder
At the start of this season, many people believed it was a foregone conclusion that the Oklahoma City Thunder would be meeting the Heat in the Finals this year like they did last season. Given that, you might assume that the Thunder have the best chance of any team at beating the Heat in a seven-game series.
OKC came close last season in the Finals. They may have lost in five games, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of how hard they pushed Miami. The Thunder took the first game of the series and then lost the next four. However, Oklahoma City only lost one of those four games — the final game of the series — by more than six points. Every game in that series was tightly contested and most of them went down to the wire.
With stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it’s pretty obvious why the Thunder are able to hang with Miami. The thing that reduces the amount of confidence in them to beat the Heat is the fact that they no longer have James Harden. Harden was inconsistent in the Finals last season, but he, Durant and Westbrook were also very young and were experiencing that kind of pressure and atmosphere for the first time. He would have had a different series this season.
Without him, though, the Thunder would need an enormous series from role players like Serge Ibaka or Kevin Martin for them to knock off the Heat. Durant and Westbrook are obviously the go-to-guys, but they can’t beat a team of the Heat’s caliber by themselves.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have to be considered the team in the NBA with the best chances to keep the Heat from winning their second championship in a row. Obviously, they are an older team that has a recent history of under-performing in the postseason, but they have played too well this season for them to not be at the forefront of this conversation.
One of the reasons that they pose such a threat to the Heat is that they are one of the only teams in the NBA that come close to matching the efficiency of the Heat. The Heat have shot 49.6 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from long range this year. The Spurs have shot 48.7 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from beyond-the-arc this season. There’s not much a discrepancy between the two teams in that regard.
What’s more important is that the Spurs actually take more shots per game and average more points per game than Miami. Their offense is easily just as potent, if not more, than the Heat’s.
Another thing that works in San Antonio’s favor is the depth of their team. The Heat play a fair amount of guys, but there aren’t many guys on their bench that inspire much faith in Miami fans. Meanwhile, the Spurs have at least 10 players that they play that they feel confident with them on the floor. Part of that is due to their system, but it’s also that they have a heap of talented guys on their roster.
The Spurs, out of all 29 other teams in the NBA, would pose the biggest threat to the Heat in the playoffs this season. If we are being completely honest, though, it doesn’t seem like any team in the league has a real chance of stopping Miami. The Heat seem like they are about to roll to back-to-back titles while barely breaking a sweat.