Two games into the 2013 NBA Playoffs, the Miami Heat have shown why they are the prohibitive favorites to win the title.
Miami has a 2-0 first-round series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks and seems primed to pull off the sweep. LeBron James has looked dominant, continuing the level of play that will likely win him his fourth MVP award in five years.
Despite more than half of the league reaching the postseason, the online betting Web site Bovada has set their betting odds of winning the title at 5/9.
The Western Conference has a few formidable teams that have a chance of preventing the Heat from taking home the championship. Led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it wouldn’t be much of a shock to many if the Oklahoma City Thunder beat Miami. The San Antonio Spurs could also challenge the Heat after winning 58 games in the regular season.
The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, might not provide much competition for the defending champs. Miami is a 1/5 favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
In 52 conference games, the Heat have lost 16 times, proving that they aren’t unbeatable. Does any team in the East have a legitimate chance to upset James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the playoffs?
With Derrick Rose not likely to return this season, Chicago isn’t expected to make a lot of noise in the playoffs. However, they could be one of the biggest threats to the Heat in the East.
Chicago broke Miami’s 27-game winning streak without an injured Joakim Noah and split the season series 2-2. Tom Thibodeau has proven to be one of the best coaches in the NBA and has the Bulls playing great defense. Chicago can disrupt James’s game by being physical with him and forcing him to take difficult shots.
If the Bulls couldn’t beat the Heat with a healthy Rose two years ago, they probably won’t do it this season. Miami won’t have a cakewalk, though, if they meet Chicago in the second round.
In last year’s playoffs, the Pacers made the Heat sweat in the second round, taking a 2-1 series lead. Miami went on to win the next three games, but Indiana showed that they won’t be intimidated by the favorites.
Like Chicago, Indiana’s defense can frustrate Miami’s explosive offense. In their two regular season wins over the top team in the East, the Pacers held the Heat to 77 and 89 points. James and Wade got their points, but the Central Division champs made sure none of Miami’s supporting cast beat them.
Indiana’s biggest issue is their inability to score. Paul George has emerged as a No.1 option on offense, but the Pacers would be in a lot of trouble if the Heat are able to get out in transition and score in the triple digits.
The Pacers probably don’t have enough offensive firepower to beat the Heat, but they’ve already proven that taking the series to a sixth game isn’t out of the question.
New York Knicks
A few teams in the East could make it difficult for the Heat to advance to the next series, but the Knicks may be the only club with a legitimate shot to defeat Miami.
No team was able to handle Miami in the regular season like New York. They won three out of the four head-to-head meetings, all of which came by at least 12 points. The Heat are 39-4 at home, including the playoffs, but two of those losses came to New York.
Very few players in the NBA have the ability to outperform James in a seven-game series, but Carmelo Anthony is on that short list. He won the scoring title and was arguably the league’s top star in April.
Even if Anthony isn’t outplaying James, the Knicks have the formula to beat the Heat. New York’s supporting cast surrounding Anthony can make three-pointers better than almost anybody.
In their first two wins against the Heat, the Knicks made 37 of their 80 attempts from behind the arc. In their third victory, Anthony scored 50 points.
In a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the No.1 and No.2 seed, the Heat would, rightfully, be heavy favorites. In a seven-game series, it might be tough to expect New York to remain hot from three-point range, and James has proven that he can guard Anthony.
However, if the Knicks play close to their best, they could reach their first NBA Finals in two decades.