NBA Roundtable: Miami Heat edition (cont.)
HEAT'S BIGGEST THREAT
MANNIX: Matching up with size figures to be Miami's Achilles' heel, so, in the East, you have to put Boston and Orlando at the top of the list. I'm a big fan of the Celtics' three-headed center rotation of Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and (eventually) Kendrick Perkins. Each has a different set of skills that will be prove to be valuable. And there is no one on the Heat roster who can match up with Dwight Howard one-on-one. If Boston or Orlando can turn Miami into jump shooters, the Heat could be in trouble.
ZACH LOWE: Boston has the big bodies, but it has to be worried that Heat could really clamp down on its perimeter game by having Wade or James defend Rajon Rondo the same way Kobe Bryant did in the Finals: by sagging several feet off of Rondo and daring him to hit jump shots. Miami used Wade on Rondo for stretches in the first round last season, and Boston has never found a consistent solution for that style of defense. Combine that with the way James shut down Paul Pierce in the conference semis, and Boston could have a really tough time scoring.
JENKINS: Of East teams, Chicago could at least test them when Carlos Boozer is healthy. That might be a fun 1-4 matchup in the playoffs, though the Heat probably have too much offense. I agree with Chris about the Celtics. They can throw so many big bodies out there that they should be able to wear down anybody inside. And they're such a proud group you know they're not going to give up Eastern Conference supremacy without a vicious fight. Every game against the Heat will be personal for them.
LOWE: Orlando is a more interesting case to me. The Magic have Howard, the one player for whom the Heat really don't have an answer, and they have a system on both ends they execute well and consistently. They obviously don't have Miami's superstar talent -- Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson have proved merely "good" or "very good" at this point in their careers. But I like the idea of a System vs. Superstars battle, and I think Orlando could give the Heat problems.
THOMSEN: Miami -- a healthy Miami -- will go into every game in the East figuring it controls the matchups. When the Heat play against Boston, LeBron is going to feel he can outproduce Pierce, and the same goes for Wade vs. Ray Allen and Bosh vs. Kevin Garnett. Their biggest worry is going to be dealing with Rondo, but they'll feel like they have a majority of the matchups covered. If they can beat the Celtics, then they're probably going to win the conference. Boston creates the most worries of any team in the East because if the Celtics can slow down the game and pound it inside to their big men, they can reduce the open-floor advantages held by James and Wade in particular.
The other possibility is that Miami won't play as a team. If James and Wade can't figure out how to play together fluidly, the contenders that have been together for a while and know how to move the ball -- Boston and Orlando -- can beat them.
The only team in the league that is likely to dominate the matchups against Miami is the Lakers -- Pau Gasol beats Bosh, Kobe beats Wade (we can't predict Wade wins that matchup; that's a title he'll have to earn in an NBA Finals) and Ron Artest reduces LeBron's numbers. Then you throw in Andrew Bynum winning his matchup, the Lakers' point guards winning theirs, and you also have to say the Lakers have the better bench around Lamar Odom.
Miami is going to have to be playing at a very high level to overcome those problems and beat the Lakers.