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Enemy: Miami Heat3SOB Forecast*: 62-20
Photo: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images
What’s the story in South Beach?
The biggest move that Miami made last summer was sign Ray Allen away from the Celtics… well, looks like that one paid off. If you’re brand new to this NBA thing, or had been in exile during the Finals — two members of the very limited selection of legitimate ways to have possibly missed his acts of basketball heroism — take the 58 seconds to watch this video.
Allen, or Jesus Shuttlesworth as he is oftentimes affectionately called for his role in the Spike Lee flick “He Got Game,” delivered the 2012-13 Heat from beyond the grave with a prayer of a three-point bucket in the waning seconds of Game Six. With that, the Heat executed the comeback that led to their ultimate crowning as champions for the second straight season.
In the age of information, it is no secret that a vociferous many may be growing weary of the media blast that is coverage of LeBron James, but at some point you just have to tune out, give it up, and take the time to appreciate what is standing before you. As a reformed sipper of the LeBron “haterade,” I officially reached a conclusion about midway through last season that I don’t want to be the guy twenty years from now reflecting on the career of one of the greatest players to lace them up with contempt, all because I was tired of hearing about how great he is. I would be far happier to be the one telling stories to the younger generations of what a pleasure it was to watch this physical marvel in his prime.
The 2012-13 campaign was his best as a pro by far, as he logged career highs in overall shooting percentages (TS% 64.0, FG% 56.5), three point percentage (40.5), rebound rate (13.1), nearly matched his career high assist ratio (23.3), and oh yeah, took home League MVP honors for the fourth time in five years.
In the world of “me-first” basketball, the greatest heat that LeBron ever takes is that for a player as talented as he is, he is too willing to give up the platform to his teammates to make a big play. So what about those teammates? After losing a quick crusade to get his team’s luxury tax penalties mitigated, Pat Riley went ahead and used the tools already at his disposal to do so, by amnestying Mike Miller. Time will tell, but we hope to owe him a thank you for that one, Grizz fans.
Aside from that, the Miami off-season was solely highlighted by winning the bidding to give the surgically reconstructed knees of Greg Oden a chance. Rather quiet for their standards, but Riley will reportedly be looking to “cannibalize” whatever is left of the market between now and when the season tips off.
Who are they cooking with?
PG: Mario ChalmersSG: Dwyane WadeSF: LeBron JamesPF: Udonis HaslemC : Chris Bosh6 : Ray Allen
As we have seen, there is not much to discuss regarding how the Heat roster will change. The thing is, when you’re the world champion, there is not much that you need to do besides tweak out some of the kinks.
As far as overall team projections are concerned, Miami ranked unsurprisingly at the top of the league. The Heat bested the competition with a league leading offensive efficiency rating of 110.3 points per 100 possessions, while maintaining a top ten defensive efficiency of 100.5 points per 100 possessions. In other words, for every 100 possessions, the Heat outscored the opposition by nearly 10 points on average; a mark only eclipsed by Oklahoma City’s 11.
In terms of their play style, they utilize a myriad snipers (heck, even Chris Bosh is extending his range to the three point line), competent ball handlers (James, Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade), and superior ball movement, to result in a ruthless offensive attack. In addition, they trap and pressure the ball to generate 8.7 turnovers per game (3rd in the league), resulting in a number of fast-break opportunities.
So, we get it — the Heat are good. But that does not mean that they can simply rest on their laurels going forward, because while it may seem in retrospect like they coasted through the season, the perception is only half right.
It holds true that the regular season provided absolutely no challenge to Miami, who compiled a monumental 27 game winning streak over its course, but in the playoffs the team from South Beach was put to the test. From a shocking Game One upset loss in the Conference Semis against Nate Robinson’s Bulls, to a seven game grinder against Roy Hibbert and the Pacers, to the aforementioned return from the dead in a seven game war against Tim Duncan’s Spurs, there is some semblance of hope for the rest of the league that this team is in fact mortal.
Miami’s ability to match up against the teams effectively built around towers in the paint can be a tad worrisome for the residents and fans of South Beach, and the reality that the plan to do so is heavily reliant on the perpetually banged up duo of Oden and Chris “the Birdman” Andersen does not help matters. If healthy, they can be a daunting presence to the layup aspirations of anybody who may enter, but may still struggle playing man-to-man on large post players with refined skillsets. Shane Battier is still a phenomenally crafty defensive player, but at 6’8 cannot guard those types on a nightly basis.
The biggest question mark for Miami will be the declining physical condition of Wade, who will be an integral piece of not only the team’s success, but in keeping LeBron happy.
How do the good guys stack up?
Photo: Nikki Boertman / Commercial Appeal
Lee Eric Smith:
I have a buddy from South Florida. Not only does he routinely tell me how great the Heat are (and he’s right), he also tells me that my Grizzlies team “ain’t gonna make it” (and he’s wrong). Ever since Miami brought LeBron James and Chris Bosh in to create an amazing Big Three, they’ve dominated the league for stretches at a time. But lost in all the hype is this: this Miami team has ALWAYS found a tough matchup against the Grizzlies, who are 3-2 over the Heat since 2010 — that includes the Rudy Gay buzzer beater (W), the Ellington Eruption of last season (W) and the battle of the winning streaks last March, which the Grizz lost in a nail biter in Miami.
This season, the matchup dynamics are roughly the same: The Grizz don’t have two perimeter-oriented Finals MVPs on their roster (Wade & LBJ); The Heat don’t have two multifaceted bigs like Gasol & Z-Bo. Yet, both teams have shored up weaknesses: Memphis adds shooting in Mike Miller, beefed up the bench with Kosta Koufos, and we’ll see what Nick Calathes brings to the table. If Greg Oden’s knees can hold up, he can help defend Marc & Zach. So there’s no reason to believe that this matchup will disappoint this season. I say we’ll see a series split, both teams winning at home.
Brad Graham (BUCKETS Magazine):
The Miami Heat are starting to appear like carbon copies of the late 90s Chicago Bulls. In short, they have the best player on the planet, a stellar support cast and a coach who has figured out when to hold ’em and when to fold ‘em. Last season — November 11 at the FedEx Forum and then March 1 at the AmericanAirlines Arena — both Dwyane Wade and King James each shot below 43% (James: .424; Wade: .387) against the Grizz and neither tallied large point averages (James: 19ppg; Wade: 15ppg) which suggests Memphis certainly has the defensive walls to contain LeBron and Co.. More so, the Grizz held LeBron to his worst shooting night of the 2012-13 season (4 – 14 FG; 18 points in 42 minutes) which gets double-points after the M.V.P connected on an incredible 64% of his attempts throughout February.
Digging deeper, when the two faced off in mid-November, it was a picnic for the Grizz. Rudy Gay’s 21-8-5-4 line neutralised LeBron’s 20-10-6 effort as the Blue Bears ran out 18 point winners. On that night, Wayne Ellington also nailed seven triples to swing the contest in Memphis’ favour. Best believe the Heat won’t let that happen again. D-Wade also shot a horrible three from 15 from the floor to finish with a Plus / Minus of -21. However, when they danced again, he netted 22 points, hit nine of his 16 shots and ended with a Plus / Minus of +14. The point being: Wade remembers those who kick dust in his face, even when he gets himself dirty first.
Given his 2013 Playoff showing, Mike Conley (who has the clear advantage over Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole) could prove problematic for the Heat but with LeBron able to switch and guard anyone 1 through 4, the damage should be minimal. More so, the Heat won’t mind if Conley does dominate his match-up and thus, he keeps attacking with the ball in his hand over finding easy paint points for others — and as far as the Heat are concerned, M.C the scorer isn’t as dangerous as M.C the distributor.
Former / reunited Blue Bear Mike Miller should have fun against his previous employers but with Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless, Miller mightn’t get a heap of minutes, let alone make a Finals style impact, then again, he has been written off plenty of times before, so who knows. Likewise, should new Heat signee Greg Oden be healthy (when late March rolls around), his ability to clog the lane, deter Randolph and Gasol or even deny Conley at the cup might be enough to swing the advantage back towards the Heat. Equally, Tayshaun Prince has the length to annoy LeBron and D-Wade which is again off-set by Udonis Haslem’s toughness and speed to stay with Randolph — should the rugged forward see extended minutes… but what this contest boils downtoo isn’t whether the Heat can stand tall with the Grizz but can the Blue Bears get out and run with James and Co. (especially when James plays the four).
Working for the Grizz, Dwyane Wade’s ongoing knee issues may keep him from making an impact late in the season, especially if Erik Spoelstra wants to rest his ageing superstar. The insurance policy however is Ray Allen, who’s more than capable of providing microwaved assistance. Should Wade be M.I.A, the Grizz will have the upper-hand but no team should be counting on injuries as their best chance at victory. The Heat play the Grizz tough and have two Chris’ (Andersen and Bosh) as well as Joel Anthony, Haslem and now gentle giant Greg Oden to try and combat the Grizzlies’ imposing, two-way frontline.
The most interesting aspect of their tussle however is how each squad is powered by a big three with Randolph and Bosh being the only overlapping match-up, meaning both outfits are able to exploit the other’s weaknesses (Conley and Gasol in the pick-n-roll, Wade and James as the ultimate wing threats). With two of top Head Coaches in the game also devising strategies, the Heat vs. Grizz boils down to execution with the x-factor being the Heat’s shooting. Speaking of which, the Bears have contained kids around an open flame in the past but there’s little they can do against a forest fire. Just pray King James doesn’t signal for the latter.
Post play and rebounding heavily favors Memphis but Miami are the two-time defending champs, so it’s hard to see them stopping all the sunbathing that has been going on in South Beach. Set a dozen iPhone reminders when these two first match-up on Friday, March 21, it’s going to be war… and if the Grizz don’t win then, they’ll see Miami again at the death of the regular season, just three nights after battling their 2013 W.C.F foes, San Antonio.
When and Where do they square off?
March 21st: 6:30PM at American Airlines ArenaApril 9th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
For more Heat content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Heat Index.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.
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