Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eastern Conference Finals Prediction: Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics

Philadelphia had a nice run, but it will be the Celtics that will fly to Miami to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Fortunately for Boston, Miami will be without Dexter Pittman for the first two games of the series, so the Heat will have to rely more on LeBron James and D-Wade to carry the load.

In all seriousness, the status of Chris Bosh could potentially be a factor in the series.  Without him, many thought the Heat would struggle to get by Indiana.

As it turns out, just when many were ready to pronounce Miami dead, LeBron and Wade stepped up their game, and showed why they have been the favorite to win the NBA Championship all year.  The third quarter of Game Four was about as flawless as a duo can play.  It may as well have been two on five out there, and that still wasn't enough to stop them.  The key to their success was that they were not just playing isolation basketball, they were playing together and they were taking it to the basket, rather than settling for a contested mid-range jumper or a deep three with the shot clock winding down.

Boston has played like typical Boston this year.

When it matters, they still have it in them to turn it on, and they know what it takes to win a championship.  Still, they are getting too old to play that kind of ball night after night.  They struggled mightily on offensive against Philadelphia, and it's not going to get any easier against Miami, whose athleticism is a tremendous asset in helping them play real lockdown defense.  The biggest question for Boston will be if they can score enough to stay in games this series.

Historically, LeBron James has struggled with the Celtics, but recent history (last year's playoff series), tells a different story than a few years ago.  LeBron was awesome and played outstanding in the fourth quarter of those games, helping his team to get by Boston pretty easily in five games.

This year, I believe it will be more of the same.  Boston has showed resiliency to get back to the Conference Finals, and it's clear that this group wants to make another run at a title, but they are simply overmatched.  In a seven-game series, the better team is usually going to win, and Miami is simply the better team.

It's easy to lose sight of how good the Heat are because the expectations are so high.  They haven't challenged Jordan's Bulls' 70-win season, they fell behind two games to one in the second round of the playoffs against Indiana, a team with no real stars.  But at the end of the day, the first year they got together, they made the NBA Finals (knocking off the Celtics and MVP-led Bulls) and came up just short.  In this, their second year, they're back in the conference finals, and pretty heavy favorites to reach the NBA Finals once again.

LeBron is the best player on the planet, and regardless of who surrounds him, and whether you like him or not, his team is going to be among the contenders to win it all for years to come.  They made the Finals last year, and I believe they're going back again this year.  I don't expect the Eastern Conference Finals to be as close as the Western Finals.  I like Miami to jump out to a 2-0 series lead, then likely split in Boston, and close it out at home.

So I'm picking the Heat to win in 5 and set up a highly anticipated matchup with either the Spurs or Thunder (see my pick in that series).

Prediction: Miami in five games

[Editor's note: This post is by John Trifone (@JohnnyT0122), who also contributes at our NFL site: Eat, Drink and Sleep Football (see John's archives).]

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