Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 5/25/12

In the NBA, three of its final four teams are now set: Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Miami. And while San Antonio and Oklahoma City looks like it’ll be a fantastic series, the eyes of the basketball world follow the Miami Heat. After losing Chris Bosh, the Heat then went down 2-1 in their series with the Indiana Pacers. From the second half of Game 4 where the Heat entered down 8 points, the Heat were carried across the finish line by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to take the series 4-2. After surviving this scare from Indiana, the question becomes can the Heat be beat? Will LeBron James finally land that first coveted ring?

The Big Two. It took a Herculean effort from James and Wade to put away the Pacers, but Miami’s Big Two responded in the absence of Bosh. LeBron was one rebound away from posting a double-double in four of the games. With Miami on the ropes in Game 4, the MVP responded putting up 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists. James combined with Wade to put up 70 points in that Game 4, evening the series at 2. Wade finished off the Pacers in Game 6 putting up 41 points and 10 rebounds. James and Wade killed the Pacers with penetration in Games 4 and 5 with Roy Hibbert in foul trouble. However, even with Hibbert, the biggest player on the floor by far, playing the majority of Game 6, the two adjusted hitting mid-range jumpers and nailing floaters over Hibbert in the lane. James scored 28 or higher in 5 of the 6 games in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals; Wade scored 24 or higher in 5 of the 6 games.

LeBron James combined with Dwayne Wade to put the Miami Heat on his back and take them to the next round. They have to do it again for the Heat to give James' that elusive first ring.

Toughness. James and Wade have shown they can carry Miami to victory, but it’s hard to figure out if Miami is tough enough to go all the way to the title. The Pacers punched Miami in the mouth; the Heat were down 2-1 and double digits in Game 4. If they did get knocked out by the Pacers, they would’ve had a built-in excuse since they lost Chris Bosh. However, the Heat overcame the loss of Bosh to come all the way back to take the series.

In a very physical series, two Miami players got suspended after flagrant fouls. Udonis Haslem, a key player in Game 4, missed Game 6 after thumping Tyler Hansbrough in retaliation for a Hansbrough foul on Wade. Combined with a suspension on Dexter Pittman (who elbowed Lance Stephenson in the head in retaliation for Stephenson making a choke sign when LeBron missed a free throw in Game 3), the Heat getting revenge left their front line thin to the point where Juwan Howard played in Game 6. No harm, no foul with a Game 6 victory, but the Heat aren’t deep enough to have players missing games. Besides the act of Haslem and Pittman, Dwayne Wade sidestepped a possible suspension he could have received in Game 2. Wade, after not receiving a call on the other end, shoved Darren Collison to the floor receiving a flagrant foul. He could’ve easily, and possibly should of, received a suspension for nailing a player without even making a play on the ball, and the Heat can ill afford to lose Wade.

Can the Heat be beat? Chris Bosh will probably at the least miss the beginning of the Eastern Conference Finals. Can Wade and James carry the Heat again? The other Heat need to get involved. After Miami struggled from the perimeter in the series, Shane Battier had a big Game 5 hitting three first quarter three pointers. Mike Miller got in the act in the Game 6 win hitting four three pointers. If the Heat get their inside-out game going, they are incredibly dangerous.

They need help, but the Heat will only go as far as James and Wade takes them. How much did it take out of them to carry the Heat past Indiana? They both went 40+ minutes in every game of a physically demanding series. What if one of the Big Two disappear? In the worst loss of the series for the Heat in Game 3, Wade went 2-of-13 for 5 points. And, the Heat lost by 19. If Bosh doesn’t come back and the Heat make it to the Finals, Miami’s Big Two will have to compete with a Big Three: either Duncan-Parker-and Ginobili or Westbrook-Durant-Hardin. The basketball world wants to know if James can finally get that first ring? James and Wade have to keep putting the team on their shoulders. They are only halfway there; they are going to have continue their Herculean play or the Heat will be beat.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

PLAYERS: LeBron James
TEAMS: Miami Heat
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