NBA Playoffs 2013 Preview: MIAMI JUGGERNAUT

As long as LeBron James suits up for the Heat, Miami is a lock to come out of the East. The West has contenders in every bracket.

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It’s been a while since the NBA had one of those physically unfair players. I wasn’t around to see Wilt Chamberlain play, but I heard he was a terror. His numbers were Herculean. Shaquille O’Neal stormed the scene in 1992, made a mockery of the league in his prime, then slowed considerably during his later years.

Those two were inside players who shed double teams like gnats in summertime. The NBA has a current behemoth who plays in Miami. He’s ripping defenses up with assassin-like precision. LeBron James is even worse than Wilt and Shaq. Although James doesn’t possess the strength of those two, he’s still a load. Try stopping him in the open floor. Wilt and Shaq never brought the ball up the court, bombed three-pointers and posed a threat to put a triple-double every night (well, Wilt did lead the league in total assists one season; there was also a game in which he scored 78 points and grabbed 43 rebounds).

LeBron, the certified King of the league (in 2012 he was MVP, won the title and led the Olympic team to gold), had eye-popping stats of 26.8 points, eight rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. The Heat also got dangerously close to the Lakers seemingly unbeatable 33-game winning streak. Miami came up short at 27 wins. Then again, who would have thought any team would win like that in the modern era. Certainly some NBA team would have a guy go off for 30 or 40 points and bust that streak up. Eventually, the Chicago Bulls did, but you gotta remember, the Heat have only lost twice since the All-Star break. That was in the middle of February.

Nobody expected the Heat to bust a black eye on the entire NBA. Maybe Oklahoma City could get a revenge win in the Finals. The should-have-been-powerful Lakers had the size to disrupt them, but not the chemistry. New York had the Heat’s number this season, winning three of four contests (two of them by 20 points). That could be interesting if both teams meet in the Eastern Conference finals.

Whenever the King puts on a uniform that team has a chance to win. I remember that was the case with Shaq. I bet some players were legitimately intimidated by the Diesel. Some players might be afraid of the King. I wouldn’t blame them.

No. 1 Miami Heat (66-14) vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)

As solid a lock as it gets. This matchup might as well be a bye. The Bucks got in simply because the East needed eight teams. One team finished under .500 and is just happy to be here. The other team is the defending champion and had a 27-game win streak this season.

The pick: Heat in four.

No. 2 New York Knicks (54-28 ) vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics (41-40)

If this were the old days, Carmelo Anthony’s fist would meet Kevin Garnett’s face for that Honey Nut Cheerios comment. At least a clothesline would be imminent. We might see some technicals, but the in the end, the Knicks have the NBA’s top scorer while the C’s are old and don’t have Rajon Rondo.

The pick: Knicks in five.

No. 3 Indiana Pacers (49-32) vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks (44-38)

The Pacers are one of the stingiest defensive teams, however, they don’t have the stuff to make it to the Finals. Luckily, they’ll get a free pass to the semifinals thanks to the Hawks. Seriously, the Hawks are a first-round stepping stone. They never win. The best they can hope for is to make the series interesting.

The pick: Pacers in five.

No. 4 Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls (45-37)

What a war this will be. The Nets have the talent in Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Chicago counters with toughness and defense. Someone like Derrick Rose would definitely swing the momentum in this series. He’s been cleared since February to play. It’s the end of April, what’s he waiting for, Christmas?

The pick: Bulls in six.

No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22) vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets (45-37)

James Harden has proven himself as a legitimate NBA stud. His team is young and scores a lot of points. The Thunder has Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, which is too much for most NBA teams. Harden has a lot to prove, but he won’t get his revenge tale against OKC.

The pick: Thunder in five.

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)

Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the playoffs, the Spurs will be favored, however, this Lakers squad will be a problem. Without Kobe Bryant’s ballhogging and defensive lapses, L.A. is now a team that will lean on Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to get easy buckets and find open shooters. The Spurs are banged up and that championship experience they want to claim, it goes back to 2007, a hell of a long time ago in NBA circles. This series could go either way.

The pick: Spurs in seven.

No. 3 Denver Nuggets (57-25) vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors (47-35)

Stephen Curry is a gunner and David Lee beasts inside. Golden State can match the Nuggets’ speedy pace. They’re young, energetic, and, oh, yeah, inexperienced. Time for them to grow up. And that means growing pains. Denver is deep, determined and has an incredible home record (38-3).

The pick: Denver in six.

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)

A rematch from last year’s grinder, L.A. will win simply because it has Chris Paul. He’s the best player in the series. It won’t be easy. Memphis will try to establish dominance down low with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Don’t be surprised if both teams win games on each other’s home floors. The action will be back and forth, each game more fierce than the previous one. Like a “Rocky” fight in which knockout blows are exchanged more often than humanely possible.

The pick: Clippers in seven.

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