It’s not a foregone conclusion, but we’re going to assume the Miami Heat represent the Eastern Conference in the 2013 NBA Finals. The New York Knicks may have something to say, but as of now, the smart money is still on the Heat to win the Eastern Conference. What Western Conference foes stack up best against them and could shock them in the 2013 NBA Finals?
First, we have to consider how the Heat can be beaten. Shockingly, the Heat give up more points per game (100.2) than the Sacramento Kings (100.1). A prolific offensive team can certainly take liberties with the suddenly-shoddy Heat defense.
Center hasn’t been a huge problem, or so the Heat would have you believe. Their three losses have come against the New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers. All have sizable front courts who can take advantage of the smaller Heat.
An offensive-minded team with a strong frontcourt would definitely give the Heat fits. Adding in a defensive specialist to deal with LeBron James is a plus. What Western Conference teams fit the profile?
All statistics accurate as of games completed on November 16, 2012. Stats retrieved from basketball-reference.com.
No. 5: Minnesota Timberwolves
Even without Love and Rubio, the Timberwolves have held opposing frontcourts to a minuscule 45.7 points per game, which is best in the NBA by 3.2 points. They’ve had to rely heavily on some relatively-unknown players, like Dante Cunningham and Greg Stiemsma, to pick up the slack.
When Love returns, the trio of Andrei Kirilenko, Love and Nikola Pekovic will provide a bit of everything. Pekovic is the concrete block anchoring the paint, Love is the MVP who can score and rebound and Kirilenko is the do-it-all who will be tasked with guarding LeBron James.
A deep team like the Timberwolves who have firepower in multiple positions can give the Heat fits in a series. Chris Bosh might be able to neutralize Pekovic or Love, but not both.
No. 4: Denver Nuggets
Offense is usually a major strength for the Denver Nuggets, although they’ve started a bit slowly due to some poor shooting performances. Once they get that sorted out, they’ll be back to their elite offensive attack that gives teams nightmares.
Despite shooting 43.6 percent from the field as a team, 30 percent from the three-point line and 64.7 percent from the free-throw line, the Nuggets are No. 12 in the NBA in scoring (98.4). The reason is that they’re relentless on the offensive glass. They lead the NBA in offensive rebound percentage, at 36.2 percent.
The Nuggets are athletic enough and deep enough that they can crash the offensive glass and still beat the other team back to play defense. Big, lumbering, slow players can’t get away with that. JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari are as athletic of a front line as any in the NBA.
The Heat won in Denver 98-93 on Thursday night, in a game where they got thrashed on the glass 48-29, while giving up 21 offensive rebounds. Lawson scored zero points in the game, which won’t happen again.