I'm not going to look over out West at the Lakers, or the Thunder, or whoever else might emerge from that conference. I'm squaring my eyes on our Eastern conference and looking right at the Heat. They are the early favorites to win the 2013 NBA championship.
They had a good offseason and improved their roster -- but so did we. Ainge somehow worked his magic to keep the core of Garnett, Pierce, and Rajon together, and surround them with good veteran talent, as well as young pieces who can make an impact sooner or later.
I wanted to stack us up side by side with the Heat and see where we stand from a roster standpoint.
Here's what may be the active 12-man roster for both teams:
MIA: Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole
BOS: Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry
MIA: Dwayne Wade, Ray Allen
BOS: Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee
MIA: Lebron James, Shane Battier, Mike Miller
BOS: Paul PIerce, Jeff Green
MIA: Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis
BOS: Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Jared Sullinger
MIA: Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman
BOS: Kevin Garnett, Darko Milicic, Jared Collins
PG Battle: We clearly win the PG battle. Not only does Rajon trump Chalmers, but Jason Terry also beats out Norris Cole. I remember Eric Spoelstra saying its difficult to game plan against Rondo because he's so hard to contain and figure out. Well, I expect Rajon to give Spoelstra more headaches this season with the added weapons Ainge has surrounded Rondo with.
Shooting Guard Battle: At the 2 guard, of course the Heat have the edge, since D-Wade is still regarded as an upper echelon star player (possibly still a superstar). But Avery Bradley guards Wade as well as any defensive individual can, so I'd like to see how this match up plays out. Ray Allen is the primary backup for Wade, but he is basically a 3 point specialist, and can be hot or cold. At this moment, we just have Courtney Lee, but he is a 2 dimensional player who can play both offense and defense (and he's a good three point shooter as well). Miami has the edge at the starting 2, while we have the better backup.
Small Forward Battle: Again, the Heat have the edge here. Lebron James is arguably the best player in the NBA, and will go down as a top 10 player of all-time. We have Paul Pierce, who, in his own right, is also a big time player, but Lebron wins the matchup overall. At the backup, they send out Battier and Miller, who again are limited players who mostly have specific roles (Battier more for his defense, Miller more for his 3 pointers). On the other hand, we send out Jeff Green, who can do a bit of everything -- a jack of all trades. Again, the Heat win the starting battle, while we win the backup battle.
Power Forward Battle: Chris Bosh vs. Brandon Bass. By name recognition, Bosh wins hands down. But the battle is not as lopsided as one may think. Yes, Bosh still gives the Heat the edge, but Brandon emerged in last year's playoffs, and will continue to look to leave his mark and make a name for himself. Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem round out the backups, and I think its a wash when we counter them with Chris Wilcox and Jared Sullinger (yep, I'm throwing Sullinger out there to the wolves, and know he'll survive). But overall, the edge goes to the Heat.
Center Battle: Kevin Garnett has re-energized his career (or at least is prolonging retirement) with the move to Center. He wins the battle over Joel Anthony any day of the week, and is arguably one of the top 5 Centers in the NBA (if he continues to play like he did in last year's playoffs, where he averaged 19 ppg, 10.3 rpg, and a steal and a block per game). MIA doesn't have much depth at the 5, with possible youngster Dexter Pittman backing up Anthony. We may not have big time players either, but Darko Milicic (who I think will have a surprising year) and Jared Collins give us better depth.
We are stronger at the Point and Center, while they are stronger at SG, SF, and PF. But we have better depth and talent off the bench, and this might prove to be the difference maker.
The Heat will rely heavily on their Big 3, and fortunately for them, their Big 3 might be able to shoulder the load and carry the team to another title, as long as their bench gives just enough to help out.
For us, our shot at the title will be a total team effort. Garnett, Pierce, and Rajon will not be able to carry the team. But Ainge did a magnificent job of reinforcing the foundation, and building up solid support beams for us to have a good shot at contending this season.
We may not be Las Vegas' choice to upset the Heat, but as the regular season plays out, I think we will prove ourselves as a true contending team, and a legitimate threat to take Miami down.
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