The Miami Heat have had one of the most impressive seasons to date. They finished with the best record in the NBA at 66-16, clinched home court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs, and had a jaw-dropping 27-game winning streak to boot. It already seems like the defending champions are ready to take the NBA by storm once again. Can anybody take down LeBron James and company this season?
Looking at the NBA Eastern Conference, the Heat don't have much standing in their way. Their first-round opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks, finished the season 38-44 and are 20th in the NBA in points allowed per game (100.4 ppg). There's not much else in terms of competition for Miami, too. The Boston Celtics lost Ray Allen last offseason (ironically enough, he went to the Heat) and are an aging team. The Chicago Bulls don't even know when their star point guard Derrick Rose is going to return and he gives Chicago the best chance to upend the Heat. The Atlanta Hawks are great at distributing the ball around, but aren't an outstanding rebound team. The Brooklyn Nets don't have enough bench depth to keep up with the Heat. So what about the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers?
Well, the good news for both of these teams is that the Knicks and Pacers are a combined 5-2 this season against Miami. The bad news is that these two teams will likely have to face other in the conference quarterfinals. So who wins here? The Knicks have a lot of scoring, especially with Carmelo Anthony averaging 28.7 points per game this season. As a team, New York averages 100 points a game. However, they are a weak rebounding team that heavily relies on the three-ball to score. Fortunately for the Knicks, they were tied for fourth in 3-point shooting percentage at .376, but they ranked 18th in field goal percentage at .448. The Pacers, on the other hand, may not score a lot. But they'll make sure that you won't score many points, either. They allowed the second-fewest points in the NBA this season (90.7 ppg allowed) and also topped the NBA in rebounds per game at 45.9 rpg. That's why Indiana's the biggest threat to the Miami Heat. If they can get Roy Hibbert involved as much as possible if they play the Heat, the Pacers could give Miami a run for their money.
Which brings me to my next point. Just because nobody can beat the Heat doesn't mean that the Heat are perfect. Miami was dead last in team rebounds per game with 38.6 rpg. Yes, they might be able to score points in bunches. But they have to be on key every time they take a shot or else they'll give opponents a chance to make a run. They also ranked 16th in free throw percentage with a .754 free throw percentage, so opponents will likely take a chance on getting the Heat to the foul line as much as possible.
There isn't much competition out west, either. San Antonio's getting older, Oklahoma City doesn't have James Harden anymore, Memphis doesn't score enough points in spite of having the best defense in the NBA, and the Nuggets can't defend and make a free throw. Stopping the Heat from repeating looks to be unlikely barring a freak injury, but teams should gear up and prepare for the Heat in the next few years. It'll be interesting to see who steps up to the plate, but it's apparent that there's a "Heat Wave" going through the NBA right now.