Can the Heat bounce back? How are they going to plug the hole in the middle with Bosh injured? Is their bench good enough? They are never going to advance if Wade keeps playing like this. Can LeBron come up big in the 4th quarter for once?
We all want to know how and when the Miami Heat are going to stumble. Any chance critics get to point out a flaw they are quick to hypothesize over the demise of the team. This team, understandably, is analyzed and picked apart like no other in the league. I’ll admit that I’m one of the biggest offenders; any chance I get to rip on LeBron James and company I will take it.
But it is time for all of us to realize one thing: this team, as much as us haters loathe admitting it, has proven time and again that it can bounce back from almost anything.
Believe you me, I want to see them fail just as much as the next person, but their track record shows that this team is at its best when its doubters have the most ammunition.
You need not look further than the Heat’s first round matchup with the Indiana Pacers. After Chris Bosh went down in Miami’s Game 1 victory, they dropped two in a row to fall back 2-1. Not only that, but the way they dropped Game 3 (which Original NBA predicted) by giving up 38 points in the paint and making Roy Hibbert (19 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 blocks) look like the franchise player he never will be, while getting only 5 points out of Dwyane Wade had the doubters in full force. Wade was injured beyond repair, the Miami bench was quite possibly the worst in these playoffs, and the Heat absolutely could not replace Chris Bosh in the middle.
However, Miami shut us all up real quick. They reeled off five straight wins to knock the Pacers out of the playoffs and go up 2-0 against the Celtics. In fact, since that game Wade has put up 26 points a game and played some of the best ball of his life. Miami has had huge games from their non-star players, including Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem. Haslem and Joel Anthony have at times filled in admirably for Bosh, who will in all likelihood be back for Game 5 against the Celtics.
Earlier in the season, when Miami lost three games in a row in January to the Warriors, Clippers, and Nuggets, critics across the country were telling us all the reasons why the Heat should be concerned in the long term. What did they do to respond? They put up 20 wins over their next 23 games. Hell, that run included a nine game winning streak and Wade even sat out six out of those 23 games.
And speaking of Wade, during the 14 games he missed due to injury, when Miami was supposed to be relegated to a two-man team incapable of running with the big boys without their leader, the Heat went 13-1.
The long and short of it is this: any time the Heat have faced significant adversity this season, they have bounced back to play some of their best basketball.
So now that they have dropped two in a row inBoston, how ever will the Heat rebound and get back on track? They will do the same thing they have done all season long and battle through the questions and just play basketball. Getting Bosh back is certainly going to help ease the pain, but even without him back in the fold, my money would be on the Heat to make a big statement against the Celtics tonight. Instead of overreacting as I and countless others have done after things don’t go Miami’s way, I instead expect them to respond to their previous two defeats in a big way. After how they responded to adversity throughout this season, I would be a fool not to expect their best tonight.
Game 2 of the Indiana-Miami series showed just how important Chris Bosh is to the Heat’s chances of contending for a title this season. Without their best big man, Miami lost gave up its +12 advantage it had scoring in the paint in Game 1 and the rebounding margin was +10 in favor of the Pacers. Clearly, the Heat ought to be worried about their glaring disadvantage in the frontcourt.
However, more than anything else, Miami ought to fear the theory of “Mean Reversion.” This theory states that a statistic’s high and low values are only temporary and that over a longer period of time, these statistics are bound to move towards the average. In basketball terms, it’s simple really: no player or team will stay cold or hot forever; they are bound to return to normalcy.
So far in the playoffs the Pacers have not played up to their regular season standards and, more than likely, their production will return to normal sooner rather than later.
Offensively, the Pacers numbers are down across the board when compared to their regular season output. During the regular season Indiana scored 97.7 points a game on 43.8% shooting from the field and a 6th best mark of 36.8% from behind the 3-point line. In the playoffs, Indiana’s scoring is down to 91.0 points per contest while shooting only 29.3% on three-pointers. If the Pacers shot that poorly during the regular season, it would have been the worst percentage in the entire league.
Individually, several players are bound to break through. Shooting percentages for many of the Pacers’ key players have plummeted. Danny Granger shot 41.6% from the field during the regular season, but is only shooting 38.0% in these playoffs. Paul George has regressed from 44.0% to 39.0%. David West’s 48.7% conversion rate has dropped to 43.9% in the playoffs.
Roy Hibbert, who shot three out of his six field goal attempts in the first two minutes of Game 2, is bound to perform better against lesser competition. You would have to imagine that he will outperform his Game 2 numbers of 8 points on 2-6 shooting from the field. His 8.7 attempts per game are 1.6 less than he averaged during the regular season.
The theory of mean reversion would indicate that all these areas in which the Pacers are under-performing will eventually return to normal. It is highly unlikely that a very good three-point shooting team will continue to struggle in that category and that a player will shoot well below his season average.
Long story short: at some point Indiana is going to start making their threes, Granger, George, and West will step it up, and Hibbert is going to take advantage of the obvious advantage he has in the post. When all of that happens, how will the Heat respond? Certainly their defense has been a factor in keeping some of these numbers down, but a team that shoots the ball from distance as well as the Pacers do is bound to regain its form. Especially when you consider that Miami was tied for 25th worst in the league in opponents’ 3-point percentage.
Miami has to pray for a speedy recovery for Chris Bosh and that Indiana’s reversion to the mean does not happen any time soon.
5. Rose vs His Body
Well, this matchup has already been decided. The main concern for the Bulls during the post-season was going to be keeping their star player healthy in an effort to maintain their title hopes. Unfortunately for Chicago fans those hopes were all but dashed last night when Rose tore his ACL while driving into the lane. In spite of their recent success without Rose it is highly unlikely that the Bulls will make it far in the absence of their best player.
4. Roy Hibbert vs Glen Davis
Without Dwight Howard the Magic have a distinct size disadvantage in this series and Roy Hibbert will look to exploit that. Both Davis and Hibbert were pretty inefficient offensively last night going a combined 11 for 31, but the discrepancy becomes immediately apparent when you look further into Hibbert’s stat line. The Pacers’ big man grabbed 13 boards and swatted away 9 shots giving Indiana an inside presence that will pay off in this series, even if it did not carry them to victory in the first game.
3. Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson
If the Hawks want to make it past the surging Celtics they will need Joe Johnson keyed in on both sides of the court. Johnson finished the last 4 games of the season shooting 61.67% and averaging 23.8 points, numbers he will need to continue to put up against the 2nd best defensive team in the league. His task on defense is to impede Paul Pierce, a man who has averaged 21.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 110 career playoff games, not to mention one of the most clutch shooters in the league as evidenced here. Good luck to the both of them
2. Luol Deng vs Andre Iguodala
Both Deng and Iguodala are underrated players who excel on the defensive end and contribute in multiple ways offensively. Iguodala has taken a dip in scoring in favor of a more team-oriented style of play for the Sixers but continues to spread the ball around (5.5 assists per game) crash the boards (6.1 rebounds per game) and pick pockets (1.7 steals per game). Deng, on the other hand, now becomes the Bulls most important offensive player with Rose out for the rest of the playoffs. With Rose attracting most of the defense’s attention Deng contributed 17 points on 8-14 shooting last night, but the game will be completely different with Iguodala focusing all of his efforts on Deng.
1. LeBron James vs Carmelo Anthony
After Game 1 it’s already advantage LeBron. Last night was a perfect example of a worst-case scenario for this matchup. Carmelo couldn’t get his shot going (3-15 from the field) and LeBron was aggressive on offense going 10-14 from the field and 11-14 from the line. Carmelo is going to need to continue shooting an exorbitant amount if the Knicks are going to have a chance against the championship hopeful Heat. He’s already shown he can be an efficient scorer (29.1 points per game over 16 games since 3/26) but LeBron’s DPOY candidacy can and will effectively stop both him and the Knicks.
Now that the playoff field is set, let’s take a look at how teams stack up in their chances to win a title. Below are my rankings of the each team’s chances to win the NBA Championship this postseason:
16. Orlando Magic
With Dwight Howard ruled out for the entire playoffs, this team has to turn to Ryan Andeson, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, and JJ Redick as their primary scorers. There is absolutely no way this team, without Howard can knock off any team here in a 7-game series. And to be quite honest, I don’t think they would be much higher on the list even if Howard were playing.
15. Utah Jazz
Yes, they made an incredible run to the playoffs. The team should be commended for being able to rebuild and win all at the same time, something very few teams in the past couple years have been able to do. But no, they are not getting out of the first round.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
Despite busting out of the gate at 20-9 the Sixers managed to go a mere 14-21 since then. This team relies on its superior defense, which is 2nd in the league in opponents’ points per game, and team play, with 8 players playing over 24 minutes per game and averaging at least 8 points per game. Unfortunately their defense will only get them so far against a healthy Bulls team or the star-studded Miami Heat. Expect this offense to struggle against the playoff-level intensity their opponents’ defenses are likely to impose.
13. Atlanta Hawks
After a season that saw teams play 66 games in roughly 120 days, depth is going to be big come playoff time. That’s bad news for a team without arguably its best player, Al Horford, and a terrible second unit.
12. New York Knicks
I just don’t see it with this team and I don’t think I ever will. Amare Stoudemire is not the player he once was. JR Smith drives me crazy every time he touches the ball. Carmelo is playing out of his mind right now, but he will come back to Earth sooner rather than later. However, with Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense and Steve Novak and Smith able to knock down threes, they can give any team a run for their money…just not a run at a title.
11. Denver Nuggets
This team will certainly cause its first-round opponent some headaches with its depth and blistering pace of play. Ty Lawson has been playing great all year, Arron Afflalo is firing on all cylinders right now, and Danilo Gallinari is finally healthy again. Although their model of star by committee is unprecedented, letting whoever is the hot hand take over in crunch time, it is also unproven. That and the fact that they give up 101.2 points a game, second-worst in the league, truly hinder their chances at making a deep playoff run.
10. Indiana Pacers
I love this team, absolutely love them. They roll 10 deep and play great team basketball. They don’t lean on any one player too much, so any guy can be their lead scorer any night and even if Danny Granger is cold, they can win. But this team is still a couple years away from being a title contender. They simply do not have that one player who can take over at the ends of games. Every other team ahead of them has what they don’t: a player who will take over in the fourth quarter and carry them to wins. Until they have that superstar, they will continue to simply be a good team, nothing more.
9. LA Lakers
Metta World Peace. It’s all been said, he’s clearly not sane. Fortunately for the Lakers, despite the impressive April World Peace was having, their playoff hopes do not rest on the far from level head of that man. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they have plenty other problems, their lack of depth chief among them. Also, their 3-7 record against the five teams above them in the standings (Oklahoma City,San Antonio,Chicago,Miami, andIndiana) is disconcerting. Having said all that, anything is possible with Kobe Bryant leading your team. And don’t forget they haven’t lost any of that length that gave them an advantage over every team they played en route to winning titles in 2009 and 2010.
8. LA Clippers
I know the Clippers haven’t been to the post-season in a long time, but the fact still remains: they have Blake Griffin, and more importantly, Chris Paul. If you’ve already forgotten what Chris Paul did to the Lakers last year in the playoffs please reintroduce yourself. He took the series to 6 games on his own, averaging 22 points, 11.5 assists, and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 47.4% from the three and 54.5% from the field, utilizing his tear drop in the lane to perfection. Just imagine what he will do with another legitimate star and some solid role players (Jordan, Butler, Foye, Young, and Martin). They have a shot at making a deep run, but that inexperience certainly knocks them down on our list.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
Everyone is scared to play this team in the playoffs and they should be. They have the most complete roster out of any team here with players who contribute in big ways at every position. On any given night they can kill you with their size (Marc Gasol), their speed (Mike Conley), or their perimeter length (Rudy Gay). If Zach Randolph, their best player from last year’s run, can get back to his old ways, this team is downright scary.
6. Dallas Mavericks
Sure, I am going out on a limb here putting the Mavericks this high. Most likely, they are going to face the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and more than likely they will be knocked out in the first round. However, there remains a sliver of hope here that I see as greater than any of the teams I have already mentioned. Dirk Nowitzki, as he proved last postseason, has the ability to absolutely dominate a playoff series and that cannot be overlooked. If Dirk can catch fire, do not be surprised if the Mavericks shock the world again and make a run at the finals.
5. Boston Celtics
Everything about this team reads old. Old stars, old school, and, most importantly, old swagger. That’s right, this team has that hop in their step that they did back when they won the title in 2008. Their defense has been great all season long, currently ranking as the third best in the league limiting opponents to 89.6 points per game. But it has been their offensive output lately that has them thinking about a title. Avery Bradley has emerged as a reliable threat, Rondo has been playing out of his mind, KG is showing flashes of his former self, and Paul Pierce still has the ability to take over games. Their biggest issue right now is their rebounding. They currently rank No. 28 in the league in rebound differential at -4.4 a game. This team’s ability to corral crucial defensive boards at the end of games will be instrumental in any run they make.
4. Chicago Bulls
I want to put the Bulls higher on this list (read No. 1), but I just can’t do it until I see more out of Derrick Rose. Yes, I know, the team has played great basketball with Rose out of the lineup. But there is no way this team can compete with the elite in the NBA without their superstar. They cannot possibly expect Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, and Joakim Noah to hold their own over a 7-game series with the Heat. If Rose plays like the MVP he was last season, it is a completely different story. If that were to happen, the Bulls become my favorite to win it all with one of the three players most capable of taking over a game and a stingy defense.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
No, I do not think the blow to James Harden’s head knocks them down on this list at all. I am hopeful that he is going to bounce back just fine from the injury. However, OKC has other issues. Russell Westbrook is playing just poorly enough recently to make us all think that he might not be the best partner to pair with Kevin Durant again. In the month of April, Westbrook is shooting 38% from the floor. In the last five games he is 25-82 (30.5%) from the floor. Not exactly the numbers you want to see from your second option, especially when his shot selection indicates a first option mentality. Having said all of that, the Thunder have maybe the most talented roster top to bottom. They certainly have grown over the past couple years. Something just tells me that they are still a year away from knocking down the next two teams on our list…
2.San Antonio Spurs
It is shocking to me that the ole reliable Spurs have come to the forefront of the Western Conference. Just like every other year, I counted them out at the beginning of the season and said that this would be the year it all fell apart. But thanks to great moves by the front office, this is the deepest team in the playoffs. After an exhausting regular season, that depth may be more important than ever. And don’t you for one minute forget about Tim Duncan. The man is still a force to be reckoned with in the paint. Don’t let his numbers fool you, they are down because he is playing a career low 28.2 minutes a game. Yes, he is getting old, but he gives this team an inside presence that can cause huge matchup problems for lots of teams. And I haven’t even mentioned that Tony Parker is playing like he is 22 again, Manu Ginobili is bouncing back slowly but surely, and they’re second in the league in scoring at 103.5 points a game and first in three-point shooting (39.5%). Be afraid, be very afraid.
1. Miami Heat
I hate to say it, but to me the Heat are the favorites to win it all. You can talk about LeBron James’ inability to close out games all you want (and believe me, that is one of my favorite talking points) but the fact remains that this team simply has the most talent of any in the playoffs. They are certainly far from perfect, as I have my own doubts about their bench. But quite honestly, they are better than they were last year in all aspects and I do not see a team out East that can contend with them in a 7-game series. Try to name one team that can match up with this group. It’s not possible. LeBron James is a matchup nightmare all by himself. The one knock on the guy continues to be his performance when it matters most. I truly hope that storyline never dies, but right now, the odds say this is the year he overcomes that obstacle and claims a ring.