The NBA season ended last night, with the playoffs set to tip off this Saturday. While the Miami Heat will enter the postseason as the heavy favorite, the other seven teams will fight to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
The Heat may hold the league’s best record at 65-16, but they can still be beat in any given series. Dethroning the Heat won’t be easy, but it isn’t far-fetched.
It would take a lot of hard-nosed defense and the willingness to let the Heat post up rather than getting beat off the dribble and kicking it out to other deadly shooters.
If the Heat want to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, they will have to earn it this year. However, this is not the most competitive year overall for the Eastern Conference. In the first round, the Heat will face the Milwaukee Bucks, who enter the playoffs with a losing record.
As Kevin Garnett once said, “Anything is possible.”
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks seemly wrapped up the second seed. Out of all the teams in the East, the Knicks have the best chance of beating the Heat. Despite this team’s veteran-filled roster, these older ballers still have plenty of legs under them.
In order for the Knicks to succeed in the playoffs, they are going to need Carmelo Anthony to score consistently.
Anthony also needs to keep his teammates involved throughout the game, which comes back to him avoiding bad shots that leave the other four players on the court watching.
J.R. Smith will have to continue his surge of scoring if the Knicks have a chance. If they make it to play the Heat, he will probably match up against Dwyane Wade. This will be a battle he can possibly win if he stays focused throughout the entire series.
The only thing that can hurt New York is staying healthy throughout the entire playoffs. If the Knicks can spread the ball on offense and stay healthy, they will give the Heat a run for their money.
The Indiana Pacers may be the best defensive squad in the league, but they are going to need to prove it in the postseason if they want to beat the Heat.
Paul George leads the team with 17.4 points per game, but with Danny Granger out for the season they are limited offensively. Point guard George Hill is most likely to step up and score 20-25 points a night. David West could also potentially pick up the offensive slack.
The difference-maker for the Pacers is going to be Roy Hibbert. The Heat do not have a legitimate center, which might allow Hibbert to control the game with his height advantage and post presence.
The Brooklyn Nets are going to have a tough time matching up with Miami if they can get past the Chicago Bulls.
Without Gerald Wallace, who is still recovering from an injury, the Nets don’t have an elite defender. Although Reggie Evans is such a big presence on the boards, there is no way he can do that and consistently stop James or Wade from attacking the rim. If the Nets are going to have a chance, their big three of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are going to have to step up. Williams can be the X-factor in this matchup because James will most likely guard Johnson, leaving Williams matched up with Wade, Mario Chalmers or Ray Allen.
The Atlanta Hawks are not what they used to be in the past few years. Dahntay Jones will most likely be their most valuable player in this postseason. He is known for being a very persistent defender and will not be afraid to get under the opposing best player’s skin. Josh Smith is going to have to play top-notch defense if they want to make a run against the champs, but don’t expect his offensive game to show up if he has to guard James for 48 minutes.
The Bulls ended the Heat’s winning streak earlier this month. Besides the Knicks, the Bulls have the best shot of matching up with the Heat.
The Bulls are known for pressuring oppontents on defense, so they can physically match up with Miami. Luol Deng can guard James and Richard Hamilton can take Wade.
One thing holding the Bulls back is Derrick Rose’s absence. The Bulls have gotten by in the regular season with an offensive spark off the bench from Nate Robinson, who has at times been their offensive trigger. He makes defenders pay with his quickness and shooting ability.
If Rajon Rondo was playing, the Boston Celtics could have earned higher than the No. 7 seed. Even though the Celtics still have Paul Pierce and Garnett, there is only so much they can provide. The Celtics’ younger players will have to step up if they want to succeed in the postseason.
Jeff Green and Jason Terry will have to pick up the offensive slack, matching up against some of the best in the East. Avery Bradley is a solid point guard that can control the ball and knock down open shots.
The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the most athletic backcourts in the league. Despite their athleticism, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis can be erratic at times. In order to compete with the defending champions in the first round, both Jennings and Ellis have to score efficiently and get their teammates involved.
The Bucks do not have a defensive stopper who can guard James or Wade. Ersan Ilyasova might contain James for a quarter or two, but their defensive plans should contain double teams and traps.
J.J. Redick needs to be a consistent 3-point scorer and Larry Sanders must grab rebounds and become a presence down in the paint. Things could get extremely sour for the Bucks against Miami in the first round.