In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
What can be said about the Miami Heat that hasn’t been written in hyperbole? It’s like taking a frontpage ad in the New York Times telling people that Columbus arrived in America. It’s world changing news, but it’s 500 years too late.
If you haven’t heard by now and do not own a television, computer, radio, ipod, cell phone, landline phone, never been in a sports bar, don’t have at least one friend with half a brain, never watched half a second of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN U, ESPN Classic, ESPN Does Las Vegas, or just came out of your bomb shelter from 1963, this guy named LeBron, formerly of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who is kind of good at basketball took his talents to South Beach. Not only did he go to South Beach but he took his friend Chris Bosh, formerly of the Toronto Raptors, there, too, while Dwyane Wade re-signed with Miami. Add in Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and a handful of veterans past their prime that are chasing for a ring and you have a very happy Pat Riley.
This is the kind of “Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If This Could Really Happen” team that immature guys like myself make in NBA2K11. But then it really happened. Kudos to Pat Riley for pulling it off. I’m now convinced Pat Riley could sell high fructose corn syrup to a diabetic. I’m sure in another life Pat Riley was a used car salesman – and a damn good one, too.
Call me delusional. Call me crazy. Call me a homer. But the Jazz can match up against Miami. Don’t believe me? Look at this:
Let’s first focus on this strictly in a defensive point of view. Deron Williams has quietly put himself in the discussion as one of the best perimeter defenders at his position. We have seen him shut down Brandon Roy, Chris Paul, and other good perimeter players. He plays big for his position. He offensively can compete with Dwyane Wade on most nights. While he is not as explosive as a scorer he is a smart point guard who can get the Jazz’s offense humming like a well oiled machine of back doors and cuts. Dwyane Wade can take over a game offensively. We saw it in the Boston series in last season’s playoffs. But with Williams guarding him as well as Raja Bell don’t count on it happening.
Bosh is a top 5 PF in this league. He is long. He is quick. He has a silky smooth midrange game too. Unfortunately for Bosh he will be facing another top 5 PF when he faces up against Al Jefferson. If Al Jefferson wasn’t playing for the Toyota Timberwolves the last two seasons he would be in a discussion as a top 3 PF. Bosh is facing a guy who outweighs him by 45 pounds. If you don’t think that is a big weight disparity then go to your local gym, pick up a 45 pound weight, throw it at your friend, and then see how he fares. Jefferson may be outhustled a couple times in transition but Jefferson is going to love coming off a screen to an isolation that leaves just him and Bosh down low.
This is the matchup that the Jazz will focus on all night. If Deron Williams and Al Jefferson are focused and on their game, LeBron can become their main concern. The key will be making LeBron feel like he has to do it by himself. Andrei Kirilenko has put more weight on this year and looks to be in better condition but LeBron is still LeBron. He’s the reigning MVP and can go into God-mode at any stage of the game. Kirilenko’s job will be pestering him, causing turnovers, and preventing LeBron from getting his teammates involved. Turn this game into LeBron vs. Utah. If he is able to get Dwayne Wade & Chris Bosh to work in complete harmony then they will have formed Voltron. Game Over.
This daunting matchup is not as bad as it would seem. Yes, this is still 3 of the 5 starting U.S.A. dream team players vs Utah but don’t forget that D-Will was part of that Dream Team, Kirilenko led his Russian team to Euro gold, and Al Jefferson might be given a long look by the U.S. team after this season.
Which leads us to …
This is where this game will be won. If the Jazz starters can play sound defensively then it’ll be up to the starters to play assassins to the Heat’s aging bench. Allow me to list those on the Jazz bench who’ll be fighting for minutes:
Now let’s compare that to those who’ll be fighting for minutes on Miami’s bench:
You know when you watch The Discovery Channel and they have a documentary on how lions hunt? Let me give you a quick summation:
Lions don’t hunt alone. They work in a group known as a pride. They are very patient hunters. They lack the stamina for a long drawn out attack. So they must wait for the perfect time to attack. Say they are hunting zebra. They will follow the herd and make a target on their weakest herd members. Who are the weak members of the zebra herd? The newborns and the old frail elders. This pride of lions will follow the zebra until the strongest of this herd are tired and need rest. So when the leaders of the herd of zebra come to a pond of water to get their much needed rest that’s when the pride of lions attack. They go for the weak of the herd and make them dinner. It’s an unforeseen attack. Most of the pride are hidden in the brush. They work in an ambush.
What does The Discovery Channel have to do with basketball? The Jazz’s bench will be Utah’s pride of lions. The Jazz will wait patiently and weather the storm of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh until they will inevitably have to get their rest. Miami will then have to send out their young bucks and frail elders. That’s when the Jazz will unleash their pride of lions on Miami’s weak, their newborns and frail old veterans.
If Utah’s bench comes ready to attack then they can put their team in a position late in the game to win it.
The Miami Heat are the antithesis of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz. Instead of patient building through the draft they struck gold in Free Agency with LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. They have one goal and that’s to win a ring and many rings.
With a potential lockout looming, a new collective bargaining agreement around the corner, and the possibility of a hard cap the Heat’s window is surprisingly small. Next year’s new CBA could limit the Heat’s flexibility to build around the three headed monster of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. Crazy as it seems but the Heat’s window for winning a championship could be limited to the next 3 years. After that it could be very possible that the Heat would have to trade one of their core pieces just to allow for flexibility with their roster. The greatest enemy to Miami’s future success might not wear an L.A., Boston, or Orlando jersey, but a suit and tie.
[Author's Note: I'm not saying this is the coming reality but it is a plausible outcome of the upcoming labor talks. The owners want a hard cap. They also don't want to face the crisis of losing their franchise's superstar a la LeBron James. LeBron's decision to leave Cleveland, and to a lesser extent Bosh's decision to leave Toronto, will have a profound effect on how owners go into labor talks this offseason. Owners will want a way to keep their stars home, especially small market teams. The Miami Heat are good for the NBA this year but super teams cannot become the norm. We have seen what the lack in parity has done to baseball.]
The Heat will be a fast break nightmare. They want to get out and use their gazelles, LeBron/Wade/Bosh, to beat you. With LeBron running the point they will try to force matchup problems with the opposing team. Their goal is to get the opposing team’s players to defend out of their normal position. This is a super team. Make no mistake. Opposing teams only hope will be to disrupt the Heat’s offense early with deflections, slow down the fast break, take advantage of the Heat’s weak bench, and hope that by the end of the game that they are in a position to possibly win it.
Utah leads the series 28-19 all-time; 1-1 last season.
Two seasons ago the Utah Jazz were coming off a Western Conference Finals appearance. They were picked as that year’s darlings to challenge for the top spot in the West. Then disaster struck. Injuries plagued everyone from Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, and beyond. Then slowly they started getting healthy again. They traded for Kyle Korver and after the All-Star Break they went on a winning streak of epic proportions. It seemed the Jazz were back on track and looking like the darlings the media thought they were. Then the Jazz went on their last East coast roadtrip. They easily handled Indiana and Toronto, lost a close game to Atlanta, and were preparing for the Miami Heat 3 days after that.
Starting to sound familiar? It should.
Because in that Miami Heat game the Jazz destroyed the Miami Heat for 47 minutes and 5 seconds. Then in what Deron Williams would later say, “We did a how-to on how to lose a basketball game,” Miami overcame the Jazz’s 7 point lead in 55 seconds. The game went into 3 overtimes and the Heat beat the Jazz with Wade scoring 50 points. The Jazz never recovered. They went on to finish the season 10-13 dropping to the 8th seed in the playoffs and having a forgettable 1st round exit against the Lakers. In that one game the Heat created a mental ceiling for that young Jazz squad and they never mentally got past that – not that season nor the next.
Don’t think for a moment Deron Williams has forgotten that.
Erik Spoelstra will be coaching against a guy who could actually be his grandpa.
In the year Erik Spoelstra was born, 1970, Jerry Sloan averaged 18 pts, 8 reb, and 3 ast for the season with the Chicago Bulls. While Spoelstra was soiling a diaper, Sloan was making guys soil their pants while he defended them.
Voltron has been formed. This team will contend for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals this year. If the Heat can stay healthy (right now that’s a big if) then they will be a force to be reckoned with. Not many teams can match up defensively to guard them and this is one experiment I’m excited to witness. They are one of the elite teams in the NBA without question. The Jazz have a chance to steal a win in Miami on if the Heat are still nursing injuries and getting in rhythm with each other. That said, the Jazz will finish the season series with the Heat 0-2. I said the Jazz can matchup against them but to beat them it has to be a perfect storm.Follow Mychal on Twitter!