Who can knock off Miami? NBA playoff power rankings

61 Comments
This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

If you want to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy — the one that goes to the NBA champions each June — you’re going to have to pry it out of Miami’s cold, dead hands.

Good luck. They are the defending champs. They had the best regular season record in the NBA despite coasting to start the season. They have the best player on the planet in LeBron James. They defend. They have strong role players that fit the system.

Miami is the clear favorite to win the title going into the NBA playoffs this weekend.

So who can beat them? Let’s rank the other 15 teams based on their ability to knock off the Heat.

1. Spurs (58 wins, No. 2 seed in West). If you’re talking about the team with the best chance to dethrone the Heat, the Spurs leapfrog the Thunder to the top spot. There are a few reasons for this — the Spurs have the veterans who will not be rattled by the stage, and they have the size to pound the Heat inside. Most importantly, their system — the ball movement and the player movement off the ball — is the best way to diffuse the Heat’s pressure defense.

San Antonio may well not even make it to the finals, however. They are older, a little banged up (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are not fully healthy) and the Thunder give them all sorts of matchup issues. But if they can get to the Finals it could be interesting.

2. Thunder (60 wins, No. 1 seed in the West). While the holes in their game have been more evident lately, sometimes we overlook this is still a very good basketball team. They defend well and with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook they can score on anybody. Their style of play hasn’t fared well against the Heat — they need better ball movement under pressure — but any team with Westbrook and Durant has a shot.

3. Grizzlies (56 wins, No. 5 seed in the West). Memphis is a dark-horse favorite to come out of the West because they defend well and because they have arguably the best front line in the NBA with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. To beat the Heat you need to defend and pound them inside, two things the Grizzlies can do. The question is in the back court where Mike Conley would struggle against the Heat’s pressure defense for sure. The Heat would be big favorites, but they have a puncher’s chance.

4. Knicks (54 wins, No. 2 seed in the East). The Knicks have had success against the Heat in the regular season, but I’m not a believer in regular season games being predictors of playoff success. The Knicks can score and they would get up points on the Heat, but under pressure will they keep up the ball movement they had during their win streak? And I’m not sold their defense is consistent enough. But they have a puncher’s chance and they will be able to get in the ring with the Heat in the conference finals if they play the way they are capable.

5. Clippers (56 wins, No. 4 seed in West). Chris Paul is the gest point guard in the game and the Clippers have as athletic a front line as there is in the Association with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The questions for the Clippers — both in the playoffs as a whole and in a hypothetical matchup with the Heat — are the two we’ve had about this team since the start of the season: 1) Will they get enough out of DeAndre Jordan at both ends of the court? 2) How well will they defend? Not well enough, I fear.

6. Pacers (49 wins, No. 3 seed in the East). A couple months ago, when you talked about teams that might be the second best in the East and challenge the Heat you talked about Indiana. Their defense is good enough — with potential Defensive Player of the Year Roy Hibbert on the back line they have the best defense in the NBA. They have the size inside with Roy Hibbert and the length to challenge the Heat. But they don’t score enough, and the question is do they score enough to even get to the conference finals?

7. Nuggets (57 wins, No. 3 seed in West). If they were healthy — with Danilo Gallinari, with Kenneth Faried, with Ty Lawson at 100 percent — they’d be higher on this list. They are a favorite dark horse among pundits because of their unselfish play, but in a matchup with Miami their up-and-down style would get them in trouble.

8. Bulls (45 wins, No. 5 seed in East). They are gritty, they will bang you inside and be physical, they have the kind of size in the paint that bothers the Heat with Joakim Noah. It is possible the Bulls will get a shot at the Heat (if the Bulls can beat the Nets in the first round), but without Derrick Rose they are just not going to create and score enough points to win that series.

9. Nets (49 wins, No 4 seed in East). Deron Williams has looked like his old Utah-level self the past month or two, and Brook Lopez is the best scoring center in the league. But the Nets very average defense might have them in trouble in the first round against the Bulls, let alone against the Heat (who they would see in the second round if they get by Chicago)

10. Celtics (41 wins, No. 7 seed in East). The Celtics are going to be a tough out in the playoffs — they defend very well still when Kevin Garnett is on the court. Paul Pierce knows how to score. Jeff Green scores sometimes. They are a gritty, grinding team that will not go easily but will go. Very likely to the Knicks in the first round.

11. Warriors (45-35, No. 6 seed in West). Hey, you make the playoffs for only the second time in a couple decades, enjoy that. You should also enjoy having Stephen Curry and his sweet stroke on the team, and how this is a young and up-and-coming team. There’s a lot to like. But young up-and-coming teams learn hard lessons come the playoffs.

12. Rockets (45 wins, No. 8 seed in West). Kevin McHale deserves a lot of credit for melding a lot of new parts into a team that really works and plays to its strengths in Houston. James Harden has proved he can be a superstar that carries a team, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik have stepped up into key roles. But their running style plays right into the hands of OKC in the first round, and while it will be fun they will be toast.

13. Lakers (45 wins, No. 7 seed in West). Lakers fans got what they wanted — a matchup with the Spurs. And as the Spurs are banged up the Lakers have a better chance than they would against OKC. But the Lakers are not a serious threat to anyone because their defense just isn’t good enough — the Spurs will expose it in the first round and carve it up (sorry Lakers fans, this will not be the flat Spurs team of last Sunday you get to face). Dwight Howard has stepped up in the paint but Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will find a lot less space to operate and be comfortable.

14. Hawks (44 wins, No. 6 seed in East). Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks. They have a strong front line with Al Horford and Josh Smith but they have never been a serious threat with that core and this year teams hoped to face them rather than the Bulls. They will not beat the Pacers, let alone the Heat.

15. Bucks (38 wins, No. 8 seed in East). They get Miami in the first round. There are some people in Milwaukee who think the Bucks have some real matchup advantages with the Heat. They also brew a lot of beer in Milwaukee. These two things are related.

Miami injuries: Goran Dragic tears plantar fascia; Bam Adebayo tweaks shoulder

Leave a comment

The Lakers physically overwhelmed the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals — and it led to some Miami injuries that could dramatically impact the rest of the series.

Heat starters Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo both had to leave the game with injuries, not to return.

Dragic left the game in the first half not to return with what multiple reports have said is a torn plantar fascia. There is nothing official from the team, but this is a bad sign.

As Jeff Stotts wrote at In Street Clothes, it is possible to play through a torn plantar fascia but it is both very painful and limiting.

If he plays again this series, the Dragic that returns would be a shell of the Dragic that used his quickness to tear apart the Boston defense in the Eastern Conference Finals. Dragic’s ability to blow by his man in isolation and get into the paint helped make Miami’s offense a threat, and without this penetration they floundered against the Lakers’ length. Rookie Tyler Herro got the start in the second half for Miami Wednesday, and for the game he was -35 (tying the All-time NBA record for worst +/- with Kobe Bryant from Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals).

Another of the Miami injuries was to starting center Adebayo, who tweaked the shoulder that had bothered him in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami.

There was no update from the team (as of this writing), but Tim Reynold of the Associated Press wrote Adebayo himself expects to play.

Adebayo is crucial for the Heat — he is their best defensive rebounder and the guy they will turn to in the crunch to cover Anthony Davis. He struggled against the length and physicality in

Having Dragic and/or Adebayo out will reduce the already-slim margin for error for Miami in this series to almost zero.

“We’re still expecting to win. We still know that we can,” Jimmy Butler said of the Heat mindset after the game. “Like I said earlier, we want [Dragic] out there with us. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do, but until we can have him back, we got to go out there and we got to fight even harder. We got to try to cover up what he gives us and make up for it. We’re capable of it. We have to be capable of it. Moving forward with or without Goran we better hurry up and tie it up 1-1.”

The NBA continues its fast pace of games in the Bubbe: Game 2 of the NBA Finals is Friday night. Less than 48 hours away

 

Lakers crush Heat with Anthony Davis only center on floor

Lakers star Anthony Davis
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Anthony Davis dislikes playing center.

The Heat let him get away with it.

The Lakers’ victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals turned on the six minutes where Davis was the only center on the floor. No Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris or JaVale McGee for Los Angeles. No Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk or Meyers Leonard for Miami.

The Lakers outscored the Heat by 18 points in those six minutes!

Davis dominated. He scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, blocked dunk-contest champion Derrick Jones Jr. at the rim and passed to a wide-open Alex Caruso for a 3-pointer during that first-half stretch.

Davis wasn’t too shabby the rest of the game, either. He finished with 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks and was a team-high +23.

Davis’ 34 points rank among the among the highest-scoring NBA Finals debuts since the NBA-ABA merger:

  • 48 points by Allen Iverson in 2001
  • 36 points by Michael Jordan in 1991
  • 36 points by Kevin Durant in 2012
  • 34 points by Adrian Dantley in 1988
  • 34 points by Anthony Davis in 2020

Especially deep in the playoffs, teams have mastered using small lineups to flummox lumbering centers. But that’s not Davis. He’s mobile and skilled like a wing. And he still has size advantages at 6-foot-10.

Some shorter players can at least bother Davis, who prefers to avoid banging inside against stronger opponents. See de facto Rockets center P.J. Tucker. But a frontcourt featuring three of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Jimmy Butler, Solomon Hill and Jones lacks the brute force to compensate for its height shortcomings against Davis.

Adebayo’s lingering shoulder injury hangs over Miami’s ability to match up. Though he has size, Olynyk is far from an ideal defender. Leonard, who got a DNP-CD tonight, might have to play in Game 2 Friday.

Lakers go on 75-30 run, blow out Heat in Game 1 of NBA Finals

Leave a comment

All-season long, one of the first things opposing coaches would say after facing the Lakers was, “it was so hard to adjust to their length and physicality.”

The Miami Heat learned that lesson the hard way Wednesday.

The Heat raced out to a 13-point lead early in Game 1 of the NBA Finals as they forced the Lakers to become jump shooters. Then those shots started falling, Miami started missing, the Lakers started running, and everything came apart for the Heat. The Lakers closed the first quarter on a 19-3 run.

That run became 75-30.

“It’s been that way all year long, whenever we start to miss a couple shots, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do on the other end,” Jimmy Butler said.

That was the ballgame.

The Lakers were physically dominant, shot 15-of-38 from three (39.5%), and blew the Heat out of the building in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 116-98. LeBron James finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Anthony Davis added 34 points and added three blocked shots — Miami had no answer for him inside.

The Lakers led by as many as 32 before some good garbage time play from Miami — 18 points from Kendrick Nunn — made the final score look more respectable than the game itself was.

Game 2 of the Lakers vs. Heat Finals is Friday night.

“You know, from that moment when it was 23-10, we started to play to our capabilities,” LeBron said. “We started flying around. We started getting defensive stops. We started sharing the ball a lot better offensively and just got into a really good groove.”

“The Lakers set the tenor, the tone, the force, the physicality for the majority of the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward.

More disturbing for the Heat are the potential injuries to critical players.

Goran Dragic did not come out of the locker room for the second half and had X-rays on his foot. While there is nothing official, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports he tore his plantar fascia. He is officially TBD, but it will be a difficult injury to play through. It’s devastating blow for Miami.

With Dragic out Tyler Herro got the second-half start, and in Game 1 he tied an NBA Finals record being -35 for the game (Kobe Bryant, Game 6 of 2008 Finals against Boston).

In addition, Bam Adebayo went back to the locker room in the third quarter, appearing to have aggravated the shoulder issue he had against Boston. The team said X-rays were negative, but he did not return to the game.

This game turned on Adebayo. On media day Tuesday he said, “You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls.” He knew he couldn’t get in foul trouble, and yet he did, picking up a second foul in the first quarter, sending him to the bench. Up to that point the Heat were up three, but when he went to the bench the Laker run started.

“Our guys are just hustling their tails off, flying around on the defensive end, and then playing effort offense, as well,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ run through the second and third quarters. “Really pushing the tempo on the break, attacking the paint, and crashing the boards. Just the pace of the game really picked up in those two quarters, and obviously, they were the difference makers.”

The Lakers got 13 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and 11 from Danny Green (who hit three from beyond the arc).

Miami’s defensive game plan was to double LeBron when he drove, make him pass out, and dare the other Lakers shooters to beat them. The Lakers role players did and that was a key difference.

Miami got 23 points on 13 shots from Jimmy Butler, but he also tweaked his ankle during the game. Herro had 14 points but on 6-of-18 shooting, and as a team the usually sharp-shooting Heat shot 31.4% from three.

Because of the rapid pace of games in the bubble, the Heat have just two days to regroup and try to make this look more like a series — Game 1 looked like the varsity vs. the JV.

“We talk about how damn near perfect that we have to play, and that was nowhere near it,” Butler said. “There’s nothing to be said. We can watch all the film in the world, we understand, we know what we did not do, what we talked about we were going to do, we didn’t do. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t make them miss any shots, we didn’t get back, all of those things led to the deficit that we put ourselves in.”

Miami guard Goran Dragic doubtful to return to game with foot injury

Goran Dragic injury
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Goran Dragic, like seemingly every member of the Miami Heat, couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half — 3-of-8 shooting, three assists, but some missed defensive assignments as the Heat started to fall behind.

Part of that may have been a foot injury — Dragic did not come out for the second half and his return is doubtful with a left foot injury, the Heat announced.

There are no other details on the injury as of yet.

Tyler Herro started the second half for Miami in his place.

The Heat has struggled with the Lakers length — and Los Angeles can’t miss from three — with that has the Heat down 26 early in the third quarter.