Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
As well as they’re playing, can anyone beat the Heat?
Steve Aschburner: The Heat aren’t without flaws — protecting the rim and reclaiming shots, most notably — but they have the game’s best player — check that, an all-timer at the peak of his powers — and two more All-Stars to trump most opponents’ talent pool. They know themselves and their game better than when they won last year, they have more confidence and less pressure and they can expect the sort of superstar calls and non-calls, home and road, that can swing any playoff series. Only an injury of some duration to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or maybe Udonis Haslem — LeBron James is excluded because he’s indestructible — can derail these guys.
Fran Blinebury: The Knicks and Pacers are both 2-0 against the Heat this season, so I think both would show up for a playoff series. So, too, I suspect would OKC, despite losing twice. And the Spurs’ deep scrubs — remember Pop-Gate? — nearly took out the Heat. There is little chance that the commissioner’s office will cancel the playoffs and go straight to the parade in Miami.
Jeff Caplan: Yes. Oklahoma City can. But, it has to be near-flawless to do so. Miami has done a great job defensively against the Thunder going back to the final four games of The Finals. They, like every other team, know Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are going to handle the ball nearly every possession and that they have to score a lot of points for OKC to be successful. The Heat are one of the few teams with perimeter defenders with the size and speed to contest, pressure and trap, and generally make life very difficult. OKC coach Scott Brooks has resisted going to a smaller lineup against the Heat’s smaller lineup, but after Miami’s blitzing at OKC before the All-Star break, he might finally have to re-think his strategy and limit Kendrick Perkins‘ court time.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Sure. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago people were asking about Miami’s issues? It’s not crazy to think the Thunder or Spurs can win the title, or that the Clippers, while yet to prove themselves at the same level, are in the discussion as well. The Heat advantage is clearly being the best team in their conference, making their path easier than anyone in the West will have to win the final game in June.
John Schuhmann: They’ve always been my pick to win the championship, but I’m not going to guarantee anything at this point. Three reasons. 1. They’re 0-5 against Chicago, Indiana and New York. 2. The Spurs are really, really good. 3. We haven’t reached the trade deadline just yet, and there’s a contender or two who could get better in the next 24 hours.
Sekou Smith: It’s impossible to ignore what the Heat did to the Thunder and several others before the break, serving notice that they have no intention of surrendering the throne to any challengers. That said, I do believe the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers all posses the raw materials to compete with the Heat in The Finals. All three of those teams could end up with home-court advantage, as well, which would be necessary for any team trying to dethrone the Heat. I don’t know if there is an Eastern Conference team capable of dethroning the Heat. The Knicks, Pacers and Bulls (with Derrick Rose) would appear to be the only teams with a chance of making the Heat sweat a little bit on their way to The Finals. But all of these teams are going to be hard-pressed to unseat the Heat.