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2012-13 NBA Preview: Miami Heat vs. The Good, the Bad and the Wild Card
There is a swarming question in the NBA involving the most-hated, most-Hollywood – outside of California – franchise in the country. No matter what moves are made this same question rings in every front office, over every executive dinner and in every lockerroom.
“Have we improved enough to beat the Miami Heat?”
Every NBA franchise in the league has made moves in the offseason but not with the simple standards of getting better. Of course the Charlotte Bobcats are a far ways off of even considering being mentioned in the same thought process as South Beach, but convincing Ramon Sessions that North Carolina is better suited for him than Los Angeles Lakers took some mighty inspiration.
Improving beyond Miami’s caliber is the primary goal for teams in the NBA because while their championship may lie in last season, the hype and the talent that got them there is still riding the wave.
Instead of choking on the exhaust from the Heat’s bandwagon, franchises, namely the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, have stepped up to give the Heat more of what they have been waiting for – a true test in the postseason. The Indiana Pacers won that right by default and an unfortunate early series injury to Chris Bosh.
The Celtics received the residual award from that injury and took an early advantage. 100% healthy Miami Heat? Teams had zero chance.
Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Steve Nash are healthy acquisitions to already contending franchises on either side of the nation and are possibly numerations in the equation that will ultimately derail the Miami Heat from cruise control. Knocking the Heat from their throne takes synchronicity, the free agency, the NBA Draft and star effort from veteran players already rooted in the system.
There is a franchise in the league that is in prime position to execute these principles, a team who is in over their head and another team that could punch through the expected and become the NBA’s wild card.
Best Position: Boston Celtics
Your average fan would assume that the Los Angeles Lakers were in the best position to deflower Miami’s majestic 2011-12 season, or at least the best individual season by a player since Michael Jordan.
The Lakers are the last step in another triumph for the Heat.
What’s better: Allowing the Heat their third consecutive entry into the NBA Finals or creating parity in the Eastern Conference by shutting down the notion of a dynasty in South Beach?
The latter of the two would suffice for smaller market teams being consistently ignored in light of super teams being formed by towering brands. Plainly stated, keeping Miami out of a position to win two consecutive championships would be a utopian experience for those waiting for the moment to tell Miami “stans”, “I told you so.”
The Celtics brought in Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph from the 2012 NBA Draft and signed Jason Terry and Courtney Lee in free agency. The loss of Ray Allen to the Miami Heat would have hurt a lot more if their roster had not improved significantly in his absence.
Allen was a master at his craft, but the connoisseur was undoubtedly dwindling in performance and without much of a strong defense and a taste for injury, the Celtics had no choice but to deter his role. Becoming a backup when Allen was seen as a part of the foundation in Boston was unfathomable and as a result the Celtics parted ways with the shooting guard only to see a huge boost on the perimeter from big FA names like Terry and Lee.
Avery Bradley’s questionable status for the beginning of the season is no longer an issue with Lee speculated to recover those duties.
The ceiling for the former Houston Rocket is not as high as Bradley’s, but the right here-right now attitude is all over the Boston franchise. The injury to Bradley and the uncertainty of the timetable for his return opens the door for both Lee and Terry, Terry being the more valued of the two.
The Celtics re-signed Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett, after he had a re-breakout-ish season, and the lack of youth on the squad seems to be a timid problem – for now.
The Celtics know the Miami Heat like the back of their hand, especially their new guard addition which leaves the Boston with the best chance to reroute Miami Heat on their way back to the big show.
Over-their-Head: Indiana Pacers
Don’t confuse the second round of the 2012 Eastern Conference Playoffs for reality. It was the diminished quality of a championship caliber team missing a 17.5-million dollar player (Bosh’s due salary for 2012-13).
Going into a fresh season, there are still some huge questions surrounding the Pacers even though they matched an outlandish offer from the Portland Trailblazers for their All Star-center, Roy Hibbert. The center position has never been a question for Indiana, but moving forward how they handle their on-court leadership is.
It’s time for coach Frank Vogel to figure out another frontman for the franchise because Danny Granger isn’t cutting it and hasn’t for a while now. While waiting on him to cross that threshold from being important to the team to be ‘that guy’ for his teammates, Vogel has passed up on the opportunity to wrangle a hold on a pivotal series in last year’s playoffs.
In Game 3 against the Miami Heat, the offense was run through Hibbert and the Pacers were able to take advantage of a Bosh-less lineup that forced South Beach to play even smaller than they are used to. Instead of continuing to thrive off of that game plan Granger stepped up and showed out to lead to a Game 4, 5 and 6 Miami smackdown.
If only to give them bulletin board material and a moral reason for victory, Granger got into the faces of top of the best basketball players in the world and rallied them from a rugged performance all the way to the NBA Championship.
Granger is the mouth of the organization on the court, but with the personality of a pitbull and the influence of a Chihuahua, his bark is beginning to fervently outshine his bite.
Letting go of both Leandro Barbosa and Darren Collison will prove to be strongly stated reminders of Indiana’s mistakes this offseason. The good thing about the Pacers is that they still have David West to operate offensively in the middle and the potential of Gerald Green’s burst off of the bench is appeasing.
There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the way the Pacers play the game and if they can combine their old school fundamentals with some new age athleticism and out-gaming they can make more of a splash.
Paul George was supposed to have a breakout season but continues to come up for air just when it seems as if things are getting hot for him. He was a disappointment outside of the All-Star weekend and the faith in his potential is waning.
Guesses are that the Pacers are too unseasoned to compete against the Miami Heat and last season’s near fatality for South Beach provided a false confidence.
Wild Card: Oklahoma City Thunder
The wild card is usually the surprise. Poll the general public and ask whether or not they would be surprised if the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed past the Los Angeles Lakers. You may not think so but a probably three out of five basketball fans look at the numbers and have predetermined that LA is a shoe-in for the 2013 NBA Finals.
Even though the Thunder made it last year it was against a Lakers team without Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and the dedication of their big men. Howard seems to have a renewed purpose in a new, shiny uniform and Kobe Bryant is in his last days in the league, putting the pressure on him to win and match that of his idol Michael Jordan.
The Thunder are much more experienced than their ages tell and coming back after such a disappointing end to a promising season may have the exact affect it did over the Miami Heat.
Remember, the Heat came back and used much of the pain from last season to push past adversity through the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Oklahoma City is fresh off of the same type of pain, with Kevin Durant becoming outwardly emotional as soon as he saw his mother waiting for him as he exited the court.
The sight of those banners and the roar of the crowd as the Miami Heat were crowned with a championship are still in his mind. Don’t let the thrall of the Team USA’s gold throw you for a second. Things are going to get brutal in the Western Conference and the Thunder are in a crucial position to make a statement against a franchise poised to take over the West for the next few seasons.
Russell Westbrook is seen as a bit of a liability and that is fair. He makes a lot of mental mistakes on the court and often reverts back to his role of a shooting guard, sometimes stepping on Durant’s toes.
On the flip side, Westbrook is also the same man that stepped up and scored 43 PTS, approximately 43.9 of his team’s offense in Game 4 of the Finals. After a slew of bad passes and missed baskets from his teammates, Westbrook took on that alpha male personality he is so often criticized for and gave the Thunder a chance to swing things back in their favor.
Had he been offered some help, things might have gone differently, but again he was blamed for dropping the ball on his point guard duties and shooting too much. He’s grown as a player and with improved point guard play mixed with his insane athleticism, speed and agility he has worked himself into being one of the top five point guards in the league.
Serge Ibaka broke out offensively in last year’s playoffs and while James Harden sputtered there is no denying that he rightfully earned the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Thabo Sefolosha as the Thunder’s second best defender shut down Tony Parker in the series against the San Antonio Spurs and had a huge hand in Oklahoma City winning four straight outings to head to the Finals.
Eric Maynor expects to return to his role in the Thunder’s game plan after rehabbing over the summer on a season-ending injury (torn ACL).
Things are looking up for the Thunder with their major components returning and a spiked respect for themselves as a unit. They’re young, athletic and an offensive juggernaut.
What part of that doesn’t scream unpredictable?
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