3. The Heat have struggled against the three remaining teams
Against the Pacers (1-2), Grizzlies (1-1), and Spurs (2-0), Miami hasn’t been able to taste their typical success. They seem to falter against the strongest opponents, even though they were so ultimately dominant in the Eastern Conference standings. Before they knocked out the Bulls, remaining playoff teams had accounted for nine of their 16 regular season losses.
It’s no coincidence that these teams present extremely dangerous interior defenses. If you can force the issue with the Heat and bully them in the paint, they lose some of the attractiveness that made them consensus championship picks. Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan and Zach Randolph all drool at the chance to bang bodies with Chris Andersen for 48 minutes.
2. Extended rest is a blessing and a curse
We saw what the extended rest between series did for the Heat in round two. After putting away the Bucks in short order in the opening series, following a week-long break, they looked sluggish and rusty in their Game 1 loss against the Bulls.
Unfortunately for Chicago, they weren’t the healthiest bunch during the most important part of the year, so Miami fought past their shortcomings in Game 1 and rallied for four-straight wins. If a better equipped team was able to jump out to an early advantage, the Big Three may find themselves in more trouble than ever before. All of the remaining teams also play extremely well at home, meaning that a 1-0 hole could easily get worse once the series shifts away from Miami.
1. Paul George could cancel out LeBron
George has backed up every bit of praise he received throughout the season. He’s posted an impressive line this postseason, putting up over 18 points per game and proving he can be extremely effective with the ball in his hands. LeBron ran all over George in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year, but the Pacers star’s improvements may be enough to take LeBron out of the picture at times this year.
George’s defense — NBA All-Defensive Second Team — is what may ultimately be the difference maker when these teams meet in the conference finals. If he can frustrate LeBron into making poor decisions, taking a few ugly shots or maybe simply getting into his head, Miami turns into a vulnerable team. Without a need to double-team No. 6, the Pacers would have a much easier time on the defensive end, where they truly excel.
Which team has the best chance of beating Miami?
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