The NBA Playoffs: 2012 Eastern Finals Preview

(2) Miami Heat vs. (4) Boston Celtics
Season Series: Celtics 3-1 

How the HEAT got here: The Miami Heat pounded the shorthanded New York Knicks in 5 games. The tandem of Carmelo and Amare were no match for the Big 3. The Heat were heavily favored in that series and they got more help when the Knicks got hit with more injuries to Shumpert and Davis. In the second round, the shorthanded Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers in 6 games, winning the last 3 in convincing fashion after being down 1-2. The Heat lost Chris Bosh to an injury and he is out indefinitely. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played their best basketball together from Games 4-6 as they dominated the Pacers entire starting lineup, outscoring them 197-184.  

Their Strengths: The best tandem in the NBA is Wade and James. They can take over offensively and defensively. We saw them dominate the Pacers with their array of jumpers and drives. They get everyone involved with their unselfish play and they run the fastbreak close to perfection. Their pick and roll game is unstoppable when D-Wade splits and slices coverages while LeBron barrels his way through defenders. For all their offensive capabilities, the Heat are a very good defensive team.  They were a top 5 defensive team during the regular season and they are second in points allowed (Celtics-1st) during the playoffs. They are able to collapse and rotate defensively because they have smart defenders like Haslem, Battier, Wade, James and Anthony. The Heat forced about 17 turnovers per game during the playoffs while they gave up the ball 13 times on average. We all know what the Heat can do with fast break chances. 

Their Weaknesses:  Even with Bosh, the Heat still lacked a dependable low-post game. Bosh has settled into taking more mid-range jumpers than drives or post-ups. Without him, James and Wade have posted-up more often but that isnt their strength and it's arguable that posting-up takes away from their opportunity to create from the perimeter or from pick and rolls. The Heat lacks size upfront and their 3 losses in the playoffs have them being out-rebounded by their opponent. The Celtics have a great rebounder in Garnett and the Heat need to employ team-rebounding to secure the loose ball. Having their guards stay back to help rebound would limit transition chances for the Heat. Their bench is mostly inconsistent and without their contributions, the Heat would be always playing 2 vs 5 and that isnt a recipe for beating the Celtics.       

X-Factor: Udonis Haslem will see more minutes in this series compared to the previous ones. He will be counted on to play great defense on Garnett plus Haslem needs to make his jumpers to open up the driving and passing lanes for James and Wade. 

How the CELTICS got here: The Celtics are hobbled and old but they are tough and gritty. They beat the Atlanta Hawks in 6 games during the first round even when Rondo got suspended for one game. Pierce and Allen were both playing hurt and they did not have home court advantage but those did not matter. The Celtics were carried by Garnett and Rondo (best player) who are still both playing excellent after the second round. The Celtics outlasted the Sixers in 7 games playing excellent defense while displaying ugly basketball. Their offense still sputtered but their defense was topnotch. 

Their Strengths: The Celtics have an amazing court general in Rajon Rondo who is a threat to get a triple-double every game. His brilliance in the half-court sets allows the old Big 3 to get the ball in spots where they can be effective. Rondo facilitates their offense to the tune of about 11 assists per game. Brandon Bass has become an efficient pick and pop guy which gives more breathing room for the rest of the Big 3. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have decent post games which they incorporate into the flow of the offense. Defensively, the Celtics are the best of the four remaining teams. They know their roles and responsibilities so they are able to contest shots and force tough jumpers. Open shots against the Celtics are rare.  

Their Weaknesses: The Celtics play ugly basketball because they miss a lot of shots and they rarely go out in transition. They have had a hard time scoring in the playoffs.They average 88 points a game which is about 7 points less than Miami who doesnt have the 17-18 points that Bosh averages. They win through their defense and toughness. Their defense is not a big advantage over the Heat because the Heat are just as stingy as the Celtics. Their bench is actually worse than the Heat since they score the least points of all the teams remaining. With Avery Bradley out for the season, Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels will probably get minutes because they lack wing defenders to cover James and Wade. 

X-Factor: Brandon Bass will have tons of opportunities to pick and pop and to cut to the basket. If he averages at least 15 points in the series, the Celtics have a great chance to upset the Heat. Miami cannot send his defender to double team KG at the post or to trap Rondo because Bass can make the open jumpers.  

Key Match-up: Rondo vs. James. Both guys are threats to get triple-doubles each night and both are the best players of their respective teams. Rajon Rondo is motivated to play the Heat again and so is LeBron. Rondo has the advantage against all the point guards of the Heat combined and he is a match-up nightmare for Coach Spo. Expect the Heat to put James on Rondo in clutch situations to limit his chances to dribble penetrate and create for his teammates. 

What will probably happen: The wild West will have all the scoring and offense while the East will feature physical play and excellent defense. The games could be ugly but it will still be exciting. The Heat are rolling and clicking while the Celtics are sputtering and limping to the finish. Rondo will give the Heat so much trouble but if LeBron can contain him, the Celtics suddenly become so limited on offense especially since Allen has not been shooting well and Pierce is somewhat hobbled. Shane Battier and Mike Miller can guard Pierce while James will be on Rondo. D-Wade will have a significant advantage versus Allen and without Bradley's defense, Wade could erupt for at least 35 each game. The Celtics are not getting anything from their bench and any sign of early foul trouble will surely diminish any hopes of an upset for the Celtics. The Heat are starting to make their threes again and if that happens in regularity, the Celtics cannot leave their assignments to help on defense against James/Wade which would give the Heat great advantage when going one-on-one versus their primary defenders. The possibility that Bosh plays in the series is still murky but the Heat have enough weapons to dispose of the Celtics. 

Prediction: Heat in 6.
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