HEAT WILL MAKE THE FINALS
ONLY IF THE CELTICS LET THEM.
BY GUEST WRITER STEVE HAN
The formation of the Miami Heat’s three-headed monster already has basketball fans anticipating their NBA Finals match-up against the Los Angeles Lakers next summer.
It would certainly make for an enticing match-up as only the thought of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, two of the league’s most exciting players, challenging the legacy of Kobe Bryant is already enough for a mouth-watering Finals showdown.
It’s safe to say that the Heat, in all likelihood, will be a dominant ball club for years to come. The initial concern about possible chemistry problems between Wade and James is nothing to worry about, as they are simply too good to not find a way to co-exist. They will run the show down in South Beach, and do it extremely well.
Even with two of the NBA’s best players, however, this dominance will only occur in the regular season. It won’t go further into May, let alone June because of one team that will stand in the Heat’s way — the Boston Celtics. In other words, it’s not likely that the so called “Super Team” will even have a chance at preventing Bryant from getting his sixth ring, and the Lakers from winning three straight titles.
What raises skepticism in Miami’s quest for a title in the upcoming season is the team’s lack of depth in the low post. While the game out in the perimeter can still be dominated by individuals, the current scarcity of dominant big men in the NBA has forced a paradigm shift, and the battle in the paint is now won with depth.
Since the conclusion of the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs dynasty in 2007, the teams that have lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the last three seasons had a solid three- or four-man rotation at the power forward and center positions. The Celtics’ rotation in 2008 consisted of Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, and PJ Brown. The Los Angeles Lakers won the next two championships with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom patrolling the painted area.
If Dwight Howard, the game’s most dominant big man, succumbed to the pressure of taking on the Celtics’ deep frontcourt, how will Chris Bosh, who is evidently softer and less defensively intimidating, survive a seven-game series against the same frontcourt that got even better and deeper over the summer? The Celtics more than compensated themselves for Rasheed Wallace’s retirement with free-agent signings of Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal, both of whom have more left in the tank than Wallace did at the dawn of last season.
The Celtics against Bosh will only have to do what they did to Howard and the Orlando Magic last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. Howard, with no support, was helplessly forced to crumble against the depth of his opponents. Amazingly, the Celtics were able to contain Howard and win the series rather comfortably without any of their big guys putting up great numbers individually.
Even Bosh, the best post presence on this team, has conspicuous flaws to his game and needs role players who specialize in traditional post defense. While the natural talent and skills are evident, the former Toronto Raptor is sub-par defensively and relies excessively on playing away from the rim offensively. Had the Heat acquired a top notch defensive big man in the mold of Marcus Camby or Brandon Haywood, the prospect of making the Finals would’ve been far better, but general manager Pat Riley had to settle for free-agent Zydrunas Ilgauskas and re-signing Udonis Haslem.
Granted, Haslem’s toughness and Ilgauskas’ skills are resourceful attributes respectively. Neither of them, however, are proven commodities in a playoff match-up situation against the league’s cream of the crop. Haslem, with his championship experience from 2006, might be the closest thing to what this team needs, but playing alongside an unorthodox big man in Bosh against a rugged Celtics’ frontline is a different ball game compared to having (Shaquille) O’Neal who’s a prototypical center while playing against Dirk Nowitzky and the Dallas Mavericks, a team that was famously nicknamed a “soft cake” by Charles Barkley.
Now add to that every championship contending team this season each having at least one All-Star caliber player who can neutralize Bosh and cancel him out of the equation. Not to mention the Celtics, in particular, have two legitimate players on the wing in Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to match up against Wade and LeBron. For the Celtics, making up for the departure of Tony Allen who has been a pesky defender against the league’s top perimeter players will be no small feat, but keep in mind that the “Super Team,” in return, has absolutely no answer for Rajon Rondo.
All this brings to a conclusion that the Heat will not make the Finals, unless the Celtics let them. Joel Anthony is not talented enough to be a solid role player on a championship caliber team despite having the defensive trait which his team desperately needs. Dexter Pittman has built his reputation of being a solidified defensive big man during his years in college, but will need a few years until he realizes his promise.
The Heat will have to sign or trade for a first class defensive center at some point to be the clear-cut favorites in the Eastern Conference. This, of course, is assuming that Riley isn’t patient enough to wait a couple of years until the Celtics’ veteran roster is completely washed out.
Steve Han is an L.A.-native sports journalist writing for the Korea-based Xportsnews. He also writes for a collaborative soccer journalism on Footkorean.net as well as freelancing for Goal.com.