NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs: Who Can Beat The Heat?

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Who can stop the Miami Heat from winning back to back NBA Championships? Will the NY Knicks be the team to upset the reigning NBA Champions or will the challenge come from elesewhere? With the NBA playoff schedule now set, today on the blog Adam Digby shares his thoughts on the opening round of Eastern Conference matchups.

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In other sports, a team can get on a hot streak or, as the NFL has shown time and time again, one single play can decide a game. The NBA however, is a very different animal. Its playoff system, pitting each team against another in a best-of-seven series means that the best team wins almost every time, and the team left standing is, without exception, the best in the world.

Experts, fans and players everywhere seem to accept that the Miami Heat will sweep all before them, and ease their way to yet another Finals appearance without breaking a sweat. Given their breathtaking unbeaten run, the amazing season enjoyed by LeBron James, and even a marked improvement by those around him, it is difficult to argue against that notion.

NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Standings And NBA Championship Odds

RankTeamWin-LossOdds To Win Eastern ConferenceOdds To Win NBA Championship
1 Miami Heat 66-16 1.23 1.83
2 New York Knicks 54-28 10.00 19.00
3 Indiana Pacers 49-32 13.00 26.00
4 Brooklyn Nets 49-33 34.00 81.00
5 Chicago Bulls 45-37 26.00 51.00
6 Atlanta Hawks 44-38 67.00 151.00
7 Boston Celtics 41-40 34.00 67.00
8 Milwaukee Bucks 38-44 251.00 501.00

Yet, if the league were to adopt a motto for this year’s Eastern Conference Playoffs, they need look no further than the greatest player of all time. Michael Jordan once said he “can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying,” and that might be the ideal approach for opponents who face the daunting prospect of trying to stop Miami. No team can match them in terms of talent and Eric Spoelstra deserves huge credit for moulding that raw ability into an excellent team, but no team should be prepared to meekly surrender.

Eastern Conference First Round Playoff Schedule

(1) Miami Heat v (8) Milwaukee Bucks

The draw nobody wanted was the Heat in Round One but, as Washington, Philadelphia and Toronto sit home watching on TV, the Bucks will be the ones happy to have made the Playoffs, even if it is against a team who have broken almost every franchise record possible. The Milwaukee backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings will look to cause problems, but their lack of inside presence plays into the hands of Miami, who will look to trap those guards and force turnovers.

Expect a sweep and plenty of highlight reel fast breaks as Dwyane Wade and James have their way with a clearly overmatched opponent. I see Miami advancing comfortably, 4-0

(2) New York Knicks v (7) Boston Celtics

This might, a stubborn showing from Chicago aside, almost be the battle for the right to face the Heat in the Conference Finals. While both have had poor spells this season, two of the NBA’s oldest line-ups may have the experience needed to cause problems for Miami.

First, they must face each other however and, while the Knicks will rightly dread facing Paul Pierce once again, Carmelo Anthony must surely lead a team past the first round this year. With his scoring title tucked away, Melo must now overcome Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and the inconsistent Rajon Rondo-less Celtics. If they spread the floor well and keep making their shots, New York should comfortably progress here, 4-1.

(3) Indiana Pacers v (6) Atlanta Hawks

A series that very few people outside those respective cities will want to watch or take more than a passing interest in should see a team who boast the league’s best defence in terms of both opponent shooting percentage (41.9%) and defensive efficiency (0.960) grind out the win.

It may well be the last few games of Al Horford’s time in a Hawks jersey which might be the only watchable part of the match up. Indiana will move on to the next round, 4-1.

(4) Brooklyn Nets v (5) Chicago Bulls

With the Bulls finally getting players healthy once again (no, not HIM, but everyone else) this matchup probably provides Chicago’s best chance of a series win but means they will meet the Heat in the second round. They match up extremely well against a Nets side who will rely on Brook Lopez and Deron Williams to lead them against a side who beat them 3-1 in the season series.

With Tom Thibodeau’s intelligent planning and perimeter defenders like Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler, the Bulls should overcome Brooklyn 4 games to 2.

So Who Can Beat The Miami Heat?

With the Knicks and Celtics all in the other side of the draw, the Heat’s path to the Conference Finals is almost as open as can be, although Chicago split the season series with them and ended that incredible 27 game winning streak.

Beyond that, whichever other team stands against them will have momentum and must believe they can find a way to win with Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers are among the best coaches in the league. They will relish the challenge of planning a way past Miami and into the Finals.

I will return in a few weeks time to take a look at the Conference Finals.

 

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You can follow Adam on Twitter: @Adz77

And read more of his work at ESPN.com

Italian Football Correspondent for ESPN also contributing to In Bed With Maradona, Sports Illustrated, The Independent, WhoScored.com whilst offering insight here at bettingexpert on both Serie A and NBA Basketball