Who can stop the Miami Heat this season?
Prior to the new NBA season getting under-way last month, there were numerous questions that fans were eagerly awaiting the answers to.
Would the Miami Heat ‘three-peat’, or could the Indiana Pacers topple them? How would Derrick Rose’s return affect the landscape in the Eastern Conference? Could the San Antonio Spurs bounce back from last year’s disappointment?
In the second part of their series, and with ten games gone in the season thus far, fanatix NBA experts Sumeet Paul and Scott Hazlewood discuss who are the genuine contenders from the Eastern Conference.
Read what they had to say about the Western Conference, by clicking here.
Scott Hazlewood: There has been plenty of talk around the Indiana Pacers this season, in your mind have they lived up to the hype and what are the dangers facing them moving forward?
Sumeet Paul: Thus far, I would say they have lived up to the hype. Paul George is developing into a superstar and a genuine MVP candidate, while Roy Hibbert is a front-runner for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Frank Vogel has a solid unit with the likes of David West and Lance Stephenson, and they will undoubtedly be a threat moving forward.
However, complacency and arrogance are two fears I have for Indiana, as there has been a lot of talk coming out of that camp very early. They have the pieces, they need to continue to focus on what they’re after, and that’s an NBA championship.
SH: The other team getting plenty of headlines out East, which is to be expected, are the Miami Heat. Winning three titles in a row, historically, is one of the hardest things to do in the NBA, can the Heat three-peat and if so, why?
SP: For me, they can’t. That’s no disrespect to them as they have proven over the last two years what an incredible team and organisation they are. As you said though, winning three consecutive titles is a tough ask, and it will take its toll emotionally and physically on the players.
I expect Indiana to test them again in the Eastern Conference, and that is where I see the road ending this time round. Having said that, if Dwyane Wade continues to play at the level he has started at and Erik Spoelstra can get production from his bench combined with the brilliance of LeBron James, you would never write them off.
SH: Just as a quick side-note to this season, will LeBron ‘keep his talent’ in South Beach when he hits free-agency?
SP: I think so. He’s settled, he could win a third consecutive championship and has built, and continues to build, a legacy at the franchise. Given that Wade and Chris Bosh could leave, there is the possibility that the Heat could build around him moving forward to create another superstar roster in the years ahead.
SH: Derrick Rose has finally hit the court again, and as a basketball fan I am happy to see it as he’s a lot of fun to watch. But with him back on the court can the Bulls be in the running for the East this season?
SP: Prior to the season, I would of said yes. However, Derrick Rose alone can’t win you an NBA championship. It is still early and he has struggled for the most part to get going, and the signs are worrying as the Bulls still lack consistent shooting options.
While the likes of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer can bully you on the defensive end and provide presence in offense, can the Bulls beat the likes of Miami and Indiana over a seven-game series with that same tactic and little off the bench? I have my doubts.
SH: Arguably the biggest disappointments this season to date across both conferences are the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets. What’s gone wrong with both teams and can they turn it around?
SP: The Knicks’ problem is simple, defense. Coupled with the injury suffered by Tyson Chandler, they have no solidity and Carmelo Anthony hasn’t been shy to insist that the effort isn’t there. Meanwhile, Brooklyn have yet to really find their identity and rhythm with so many big-name arrivals, and now injuries are likely to hamper that further.
Both will undoubtedly climb the Eastern Conference and make it to the post-season with the talent that they have, but looking at the familiarity, togetherness and all-round solidity of Miami, Chicago and Indiana, I don’t see either going any further than last year.
SH: Who has been the biggest surprise player and team for you in the East so far this season and why?
SP: In terms of teams, there are a few. Honourable mentions for Orlando Magic and the Charlotte Bobcats, but I have to go with the Philadelphia 76ers. Few expected them to reach double figures in terms of wins this season, and they’re already at 5-6. While I expect them to fall off, rookie point guard Michael Carter Williams started the season on fire, and for all the “tanking” speculation at various franchises ahead of next year’s draft, he will want to continue to impress.