You can’t beat the Heat at their own game

By: Mark Bergin

LeBron's newfound post-up skills have made the Heat an even tougher out. (US Presswire)

It’s no secret that the NBA is a copycat league.  For years, teams have tried to follow a proven championship model in an effort to win a title of their own.

But trying to replicate the small-ball success of the Miami Heat will only take a team so far. This is especially true considering the slim chances of another NBA team at beating the Heat at their own up-tempo game. LeBron James has led the NBA in fast break points each of the past two seasons. James, Dwyane Wade, and company are breathtaking in transition.

Kudos to the Heat for putting LeBron at the power forward position at times last year, because he was able to make up for the deficiencies Miami lacks down low. The Heat won last year’s championship without a formidable center. Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf, and the ghost of Juwan Howard got considerable minutes for Miami during last year’s playoff run.

It should also be noted that the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers gave Miami fits at times during last season’s playoffs. Boston actually led Miami 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, but a transcendent James performance in Game 6 helped Miami stave off elimination. It was not long ago when it appeared the Heat would fall short of a title for the second straight season acquiring their own “Big 3.”

Much of this can be attributed to the Celtics and Pacers’ frontcourt play and their ability to protect the rim. Boston finished first in the league during the regular season in opponent field goal percentage and second opponent points per game. Indiana finished sixth in opponent field goal percentage and 10th in opponent points per game.

The injury to Chris Bosh also contributed to Miami’s inconsistency in the playoffs, as he represents the team’s only reputable big man. His true value was magnified when he was not on the floor. Bosh’s is even more valuable when you consider Miami’s complete lack of an interior presence. (Eddy Curry was on their roster for Pete’s sake!)

Despite all of this, the Heat still won the title in convincing fashion over the Oklahoma City Thunder and big men Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.  Their Finals performance was a true testament to their capabilities as a team.

It's never a good sign when this man is on the court for your team. (Getty Images)

Enter former all-stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and the Heat appear to be vastly improved. Allen and Lewis will improve Miami’s floor spacing, which opens up even more lanes for LeBron and Wade to get to the rim.

While the Heat may have begun a trend in the NBA abandoning the need for a traditional big man, acquiring a team of athletic swingmen and hybrid post players will not help other teams beat the team that does it best.

It is not inconceivable that the Oklahoma City Thunder can win the NBA title this season, as they were a few possessions from totally swinging the series in their favor last May. But Oklahoma City doesn’t match up favorably with Miami.

Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are defensive oriented players. Ibaka did not even start on the Spanish national team in the Olympics this summer, and some of this can be attributed to his inconsistent offensive game that is still developing.

Playing both Ibaka and Perkins on the floor at the same time is the reason the Thunder struggled in the NBA Finals. Neither are world-beaters from an offensive standpoint in the low post. NBA teams must learn to assert themselves offensively against Miami is weakest, their frontcourt.

This is why the Los Angeles Lakers are the most improved team in the NBA, not because of the talent they assembled in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, but because of the matchup nightmares they create with Howard on the floor at the same time with Pau Gasol.

If the Lakers are able to gel together as a team, they pose the greatest threat to Miami solely from the amount of talent general manager Mitch Kupchak has assembled.

Howard's presence could cause big problems for the Heat down low. (Getty)

Howard is considered by many to be top five player in the NBA. It just so happens that he plays the position where the Heat are most vulnerable. The Lakers are doing what they have done in the past. That is, rebuild and go big (Shaq-Kobe era in the early 2000s. Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom won two titles. Now it’s Howard, Gasol, and Antawn Jamison).

When the Heat won the NBA Championship, too much praise was given to James for  developing a post up game at the power forward position. At 27 years of age, there was not an earth shattering transformation in LeBron’s game. However, this is the story that people tend to gravitate to. Rather it put James in a position to attack the rim more often.

Putting James at power forward exploited the limited talent of frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference. Miami found a discrepancy in the league, and was able to exploit it.

Unless injuries become a factor, the Heat will continue to thrive until another team does it better, or masters a different style of play.

Just don’t expect that to happen this year.

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