Apr 18, 2013, 8:49 AM EST
If you want to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy — the one that goes to the NBA champions each June — you’re going to have to pry it out of Miami’s cold, dead hands.
Good luck. They are the defending champs. They had the best regular season record in the NBA despite coasting to start the season. They have the best player on the planet in LeBron James. They defend. They have strong role players that fit the system.
Miami is the clear favorite to win the title going into the NBA playoffs this weekend.
So who can beat them? Let’s rank the other 15 teams based on their ability to knock off the Heat.
1. Spurs (58 wins, No. 2 seed in West). If you’re talking about the team with the best chance to dethrone the Heat, the Spurs leapfrog the Thunder to the top spot. There are a few reasons for this — the Spurs have the veterans who will not be rattled by the stage, and they have the size to pound the Heat inside. Most importantly, their system — the ball movement and the player movement off the ball — is the best way to diffuse the Heat’s pressure defense.
San Antonio may well not even make it to the finals, however. They are older, a little banged up (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are not fully healthy) and the Thunder give them all sorts of matchup issues. But if they can get to the Finals it could be interesting.
2. Thunder (60 wins, No. 1 seed in the West). While the holes in their game have been more evident lately, sometimes we overlook this is still a very good basketball team. They defend well and with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook they can score on anybody. Their style of play hasn’t fared well against the Heat — they need better ball movement under pressure — but any team with Westbrook and Durant has a shot.
3. Grizzlies (56 wins, No. 5 seed in the West). Memphis is a dark-horse favorite to come out of the West because they defend well and because they have arguably the best front line in the NBA with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. To beat the Heat you need to defend and pound them inside, two things the Grizzlies can do. The question is in the back court where Mike Conley would struggle against the Heat’s pressure defense for sure. The Heat would be big favorites, but they have a puncher’s chance.
4. Knicks (54 wins, No. 2 seed in the East). The Knicks have had success against the Heat in the regular season, but I’m not a believer in regular season games being predictors of playoff success. The Knicks can score and they would get up points on the Heat, but under pressure will they keep up the ball movement they had during their win streak? And I’m not sold their defense is consistent enough. But they have a puncher’s chance and they will be able to get in the ring with the Heat in the conference finals if they play the way they are capable.
5. Clippers (56 wins, No. 4 seed in West). Chris Paul is the gest point guard in the game and the Clippers have as athletic a front line as there is in the Association with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The questions for the Clippers — both in the playoffs as a whole and in a hypothetical matchup with the Heat — are the two we’ve had about this team since the start of the season: 1) Will they get enough out of DeAndre Jordan at both ends of the court? 2) How well will they defend? Not well enough, I fear.
6. Pacers (49 wins, No. 3 seed in the East). A couple months ago, when you talked about teams that might be the second best in the East and challenge the Heat you talked about Indiana. Their defense is good enough — with potential Defensive Player of the Year Roy Hibbert on the back line they have the best defense in the NBA. They have the size inside with Roy Hibbert and the length to challenge the Heat. But they don’t score enough, and the question is do they score enough to even get to the conference finals?
7. Nuggets (57 wins, No. 3 seed in West). If they were healthy — with Danilo Gallinari, with Kenneth Faried, with Ty Lawson at 100 percent — they’d be higher on this list. They are a favorite dark horse among pundits because of their unselfish play, but in a matchup with Miami their up-and-down style would get them in trouble.
8. Bulls (45 wins, No. 5 seed in East). They are gritty, they will bang you inside and be physical, they have the kind of size in the paint that bothers the Heat with Joakim Noah. It is possible the Bulls will get a shot at the Heat (if the Bulls can beat the Nets in the first round), but without Derrick Rose they are just not going to create and score enough points to win that series.
9. Nets (49 wins, No 4 seed in East). Deron Williams has looked like his old Utah-level self the past month or two, and Brook Lopez is the best scoring center in the league. But the Nets very average defense might have them in trouble in the first round against the Bulls, let alone against the Heat (who they would see in the second round if they get by Chicago)
10. Celtics (41 wins, No. 7 seed in East). The Celtics are going to be a tough out in the playoffs — they defend very well still when Kevin Garnett is on the court. Paul Pierce knows how to score. Jeff Green scores sometimes. They are a gritty, grinding team that will not go easily but will go. Very likely to the Knicks in the first round.
11. Warriors (45-35, No. 6 seed in West). Hey, you make the playoffs for only the second time in a couple decades, enjoy that. You should also enjoy having Stephen Curry and his sweet stroke on the team, and how this is a young and up-and-coming team. There’s a lot to like. But young up-and-coming teams learn hard lessons come the playoffs.
12. Rockets (45 wins, No. 8 seed in West). Kevin McHale deserves a lot of credit for melding a lot of new parts into a team that really works and plays to its strengths in Houston. James Harden has proved he can be a superstar that carries a team, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik have stepped up into key roles. But their running style plays right into the hands of OKC in the first round, and while it will be fun they will be toast.
13. Lakers (45 wins, No. 7 seed in West). Lakers fans got what they wanted — a matchup with the Spurs. And as the Spurs are banged up the Lakers have a better chance than they would against OKC. But the Lakers are not a serious threat to anyone because their defense just isn’t good enough — the Spurs will expose it in the first round and carve it up (sorry Lakers fans, this will not be the flat Spurs team of last Sunday you get to face). Dwight Howard has stepped up in the paint but Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will find a lot less space to operate and be comfortable.
14. Hawks (44 wins, No. 6 seed in East). Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks. They have a strong front line with Al Horford and Josh Smith but they have never been a serious threat with that core and this year teams hoped to face them rather than the Bulls. They will not beat the Pacers, let alone the Heat.
15. Bucks (38 wins, No. 8 seed in East). They get Miami in the first round. There are some people in Milwaukee who think the Bucks have some real matchup advantages with the Heat. They also brew a lot of beer in Milwaukee. These two things are related.
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Earlier this week I gave you a few highlights of my conversation with author Jeff Pearlman, who has a fantastic new book out on the Showtime era Lakers. Now, I bring you our entire conversation. In this latest edition of the PBT podcast myself and Eytan Shander of NBC Sports Radio discuss Phil Jackson and his…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:54 AM EST
The Lakers have lost a lot of games this season (42 to be exact), but the historic 48-point blowout loss to the Clippers Thursday night on national television hit the fan base hard. Many of these fans rooting for them to lose and get a better draft pick were embarrassed at the lack of defensive…
Josh McRoberts with an incredible behind-the-back pass to set up Chris Douglas-Roberts for three (VIDEO)
Mar 8, 2014, 12:02 AM EST
This pass was incredible in two distinct ways. First, the ability shown by Josh McRoberts to recognize that his teammate was wide open behind the three-point line from his position in the paint was fantastic. But the pass? It wasn’t just daring to attempt, but the physical level of skill required to get it there…
Sixers coach Brett Brown on whether we’ll see Nerlens Noel play this year: “It really is, ‘Who Knows?’”
Mar 7, 2014, 10:34 PM EST
Nerlens Noel was selected with the sixth overall pick in last summer’s draft, and the Sixers traded Jrue Holiday for him in order to jumpstart their rebuilding process. But we have yet to see Noel take the floor for Philadelphia this season, in much the same way that Andrew Bynum missed his entire year with…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:05 PM EST
It’s been a frustrating season in Milwaukee, and it’s gotten to the point where the team’s players are taking out those emotions violently against their opponents. Ersan Ilyasova received a suspension for the punch-shove combo he delivered to Reggie Evans, and we can expect the same punishment to be handed down to O.J. Mayo, who…
Mar 7, 2014, 7:55 PM EST
The nationally televised schedule of games that appear on TNT Thursday nights is apparently etched in stone. There’s no other way to explain the network keeping a Clippers-Lakers game on the air when a perfectly good Suns-Thunder matchup — one between two high-scoring playoff teams — was on the slate the very same night. Logistics…
Mar 7, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
Teams keep asking if Phil Jackson wants to come back to coaching. This is a guy who has had both hips and one knee replaced (with the other likely), who has spent too many years on the road sleeping in beds too short for his 6’10” frame, having showerheads hit him in the middle of…
Mar 7, 2014, 5:46 PM EST
According to every reliable source, Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of the final year of his contract this season and look either to re-sign a five-year deal with the Knicks or move on to another team to be part of a contender. If Anthony wants to jump ship and go somewhere like oft-mentioned…
Mar 7, 2014, 4:25 PM EST
You can’t do that. Go ahead and argue that what Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova really did was shove the Kings’ Reggie Evans if you want, you still can’t do that. The two were battling for rebounding position and after the play Ilyasova turned on Evans punch/shoved him and knocked him to the ground. I have checked the NBA…
Mar 7, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
The only time the Timberwolves seemed to take charge in their loss to the Knicks Wednesday night was in the third quarter when Nikola Pekovic took over. It’s not a shock if you’ve watched the Timberwolves this season — he averages 18 points a game on 53.9 percent shooting, the Minnesota offense is 4.7 points…
Woodson says ‘legally, no one can recruit anyone’ in response to Melo-Bulls talk. But that’s not necessarily true.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has enough to worry about, including whether he’ll even be employed by the team next season, before he can begin to think about what Carmelo Anthony may choose to do as a potential free agent this summer. The latest rumor, of course, had Anthony being told by the Bulls’ Joakim…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:11 PM EST
Here’s the real story: Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler are friends. They met as part of Team USA and like each other, text each other, have worked out together at points in the offseason. Like you with your friends, they like to poke fun at each other sometimes. So when Chandler said Love can’t play…
Mar 7, 2014, 1:29 PM EST
This drives some fans crazy. Maybe they live in a mythical world where they think the players their team should share a hatred of their rivals/opponents. They like to believe that kind of hatred used to exist among players, as if Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley didn’t used to hang out and party together. Players…
Mar 7, 2014, 12:46 PM EST
No matter how his NBA head-coaching career unfolds, Brett Brown will always have a first-season losing record on his résumé. His 76ers will finish somewhere between 15-67 and 36-46 – likely much closer to the former. The 76ers struggling was no surprise. In fact, they’ve probably exceeded expectations. So why did Brown put himself in…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
Phil Jackson has always done enough to ensure he remains on the radar for coaching vacancies (and now, front-office positions, too). And why shouldn’t he? Jackson is definitely one of the best coaches of all time, maybe even the best. I’m not convinced he can still physically withstand the rigors of coaching, but every hire…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:37 AM EST
Rudy Gay was inefficient as a Toronto Raptor. This is not up for debate. He attempted 17.6 shots per game in Toronto, making just 42.8 percent of the 2-pointers and 41.1 percent of all attempts. The only remaining question was whether Gay, who’s clearly not too fond of stats, knew he was inefficient as a…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:08 AM EST
Joakim Noah is playing the best basketball of his career the past few weeks and the Bulls are the third best team in the Eastern Conference. With Derrick Rose down and Luol Deng traded Noah has become the fulcrum of the Bulls offense, and it’s working as Noah has had a triple double in two…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Let’s connect the dots. Joakim Noah is reportedly recruiting Carmelo Anthony to the Bulls. Melo has a son named Kiyan, who turns 7 years old today. Happy Birthday, Kiyan! Kyian’s favorite player is reportedly Derrick Rose. The missing dot: Derrick Rose. What does he think about all this? Chris Broussard of ESPN: One source also…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:01 AM EST
Is LeBron done with the mask, or is he just taking a break? Midway through the first quarter of the Heat’s loss to the Spurs, LeBron took his mask off during a timeout. He’d missed his only shot, and Miami trailed by eight. He didn’t exactly light the world on fire after that, shooting 6-for-18…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:33 AM EST
The Clippers beat the Lakers, 142-94, Thursday night – the biggest loss in Lakers history. In the spirit of Lakers schadenfreude, let’s dig a little deeper into the blowout: 48 – Margin of victory/defeat, the largest for the Clippers/Lakers in each franchise’s history 3 – Years since any team has been beaten so badly. The…
- PBT Podcast: Talking Showtime Lakers with author Jeff Pearlman 0
- After Lakers’ 48-point loss, Laker GM Kupchak, owner Buss met with coach D’Antoni 4
- Report: Knicks offer Phil Jackson a front office position 21
- Is Carmelo Anthony’s smart play to opt in and play out contract with Knicks? 16
- LeBron says he has open door policy, would certainly speak to Paul George 28