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|Wondering how anyone can beat LeBron James and the Heat? Our experts have you covered.|
What's on your mind? We took to Twitter and let you ask your best NBA questions.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: You have a Mike D'Antoni-coached team with Steve Nash starting at point guard. They both made names for themselves playing a certain style that has been impossible with two big men in the paint and Kobe Bryant needing the ball for long stretches. One way or another, I have to believe the shift, while Bryant is out, will be more Nash creating with high screen/rolls, which would put Dwight Howard in the Amar'e Stoudemire role.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: We were going to see more from Dwight with or without Kobe. Kobe was already looking tired -- that effort to win the overtime game in Toronto seemed particularly draining. Meanwhile, Howard is healthier and cleared a major psychological hurdle now that the Orlando return is over.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Definitely. Even if Bryant plays in the next game or two, the Lakers are unlikely to call all of those isolation plays for him. With a bum wheel, Kobe (and Nash, for that matter) will need good, hard screens from Dwight to get rolling. We may not see a dramatic uptick in his post touches, but Howard will need to be involved in as many plays as possible.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Of course. To quote James Belushi's character in the underrated "About Last Night" -- "more everything." More Nash. More Clark. More Meeks and more Peace. And Dwight will be at the center of it all, literally, as those guys cannot generate shots the way Kobe can, so throwing the ball inside will become a must more than it has been.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Yes. But I'm not sure even a couple of monster games from Dwight will be enough to get the Lakers over the hump without Kobe. Then again, I'm not so sure I believe Kobe will miss a significant amount of games, either. When was the last time you remember Kobe missing extended games with any sort of injury?
Abbott: This could hardly be more closely matched, and they'll probably face each other in the first round. One thing to watch: Denver always has one of the NBA's best records at home, thanks to altitude and a strategy of playing hard and fast to wear out visitors. So if the Nuggets win the fourth spot, that's a significant advantage.
Adande: Memphis. The Grizzlies don't need to play fast or play at home -- although the Grizzlies wouldn't mind snagging the No. 2 seed and guaranteed home-court advantage in the second round. Denver has a shot at home-court in the first round if the Clippers keep sliding, but sooner or later the Nuggets' road record (currently 15-19) will catch up with them.
Mason: Memphis is literally the bigger threat -- that front line is large and nasty! They also play a grinding style that is more typical of playoff hoops, though I think this Nuggets team is more prepared than past editions to impose its tempo come the playoffs. But it's advantage Memphis, the team more likely to have home-court advantage in the first round.
Thorpe: It depends on if Denver can get to the 4 spot and thus have home-court advantage. Still, I see this as a push. Both teams can pull off at least two series wins, and possibly three. Memphis is sharing the ball better than it ever has, and typically makes an opponent's offense look amateurish. Denver is pulverizing defenses in the paint and has multiple weapons on both ends.
Wallace: Denver. Only because its depth and home-court advantage are more formidable. But both teams are similar in that they overwhelm you with their style and systems, and that neither has a consistent go-to scorer in crunch time. On top of that, it wouldn't stun me if either made the conference finals or was eliminated in the first round.
Abbott: With all due respect to [Derrick] Rose, a former MVP, I'd take [Kyrie] Irving because of age, if you could promise he'd be 100 percent healthy for a decade. I don't know that he's the best of this legendary bunch, but I do know he's incredibly young, amazing already, and the kind of guy free agents will want to play with. Meanwhile, back in reality, you have to worry about injuries. And with that factored in, how can you not take [Russell] Westbrook, who has never missed a game?
Adande: Derrick Rose. For one thing, I like buying stocks when they're low, and all of a sudden people are down on Rose and questioning his toughness. That's nonsense. I'll still take the youngest MVP in league history who made one of the greatest statistical playoff debuts we've ever seen. Don't get too caught up in the now to forget how good Rose is when he's on the court.
Mason: It's worth considering that, unlike Irving and Rose, Westbrook hasn't missed a game due to injury going all the way back to his high school career. But I'll stick with Irving's combination of slick handle and accurate shooting, which not only makes him a great lead player, but also allows him to complement just about any imaginable second star.
Thorpe: It's a question that is based on taste and surrounding personnel. I prefer my point guards to be gifted shooters, so I'll take Irving. That does not mean someone errs when they chose Westbrook or D-Rose. Irving assures that, no matter what, an offense has a great ball handler and shooter on the court. Rose is the best one-on-one guy, Westbrook is the best athlete.
Wallace: Westbrook. All things considered -- and by all things, I mean durability and health -- this is much more of a no-brainer than many would like to admit. Irving is the best and smoothest offensive player of the three and Rose is closer to being a pure point guard. But Westbrook, despite some obvious warts in his game, can do it all on both ends.
Abbott: Tony Parker was the first name that came to mind, even though Gregg Popovich thinks that's way too low for him. [James] Harden, [Dwyane] Wade, Bryant ... there are many good names to choose from. A year ago, Dwight Howard would have been that guy -- if he's really healthy again, maybe he re-enters that conversation.
Adande: We all know who No. 1 is, and right now LeBron James' teammate is making a strong case for No. 4. Since the beginning of February, Wade is shooting 55 percent and averaging more than 23 points per game. He seems to be back in full stride after offseason knee surgery, and with him providing this type of support to LeBron, the Heat have been practically unbeatable.
Mason: After Paul, Durant and James, I'll take Dwyane Wade -- by the tiniest margin -- over Kobe Bryant and James Harden (!). All three have been superb on offense, with Wade the slightly more efficient, but also slightly less productive, option. The tiebreaker for me is Wade's defensive impact. Harden and Bryant tend to tune out on that end, and though Wade will spend too much time arguing a call, when he locks in he's still incredibly disruptive and versatile.
Thorpe: I see an even matchup of D-Wade and Tony Parker, but with Parker down right now and Wade part of the defending world champs and a 20-game win streak, I'll lean to Wade. He is still an incredible playmaker and shot-maker, and his willingness to admit that LeBron is the BPOE (best player on earth) has gone a long way toward building the kind of championship chemistry that they have in Miami.
Wallace: Cliff Paul's twin brother. Chris Paul falls in line behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. After that, there's no other player more vital to his team's success than Paul. He comes in ahead of Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook and Paul George to round out my top 10.
Abbott: Nothing more than solid play and some luck, like how Greece beat Team USA a few summers ago by hitting crazy shots. Remember, the most likely thing is that every team loses regularly. Nothing special has to happen. The Sixers almost beat them. The recipe there was to catch the Heat bedraggled and low on energy, while hitting lots of shots. A layup here, a 3 there and it would have worked.
Adande: For the streak, hope that they've had enough and decide to go back into wait-until-the-playoffs mode. In the playoffs, you have to punish the Heat inside. Use big men to overwhelm Shane Battier if the Heat use him as a power forward. Limit turnovers so they can't get out on the fast break.
Mason: Three-step guide to beating the Heat: (1) Keep turnovers down to control tempo; (2) Don't dribble! Swing the ball around the perimeter and shoot 3s to exploit their swarming defense; (3) Keep big bodies in front of the rim on defense. That last one's tricky with Bosh and Battier floating to the perimeter, but the Spurs appear to be the team with the best chance of pulling off all three.
Thorpe: Other than injuries, the recipe to beat Miami is simple: Shoot great from the perimeter, and get them to devolve back into playing isolation-based basketball on offense. If Miami's studs focus on "me" instead of "we," they are a beatable team. But, that's a big "if" because Miami is enjoying playing the kind of basketball most players dream of playing -- great passing on a team of great scorers is an amazing formula.
Wallace: Two things potentially stand between the Heat and a repeat: Injuries and a healthy group of San Antonio Spurs. We saw how vulnerable Chris Bosh's ab strain and Dwyane Wade's bad knee made the Heat in the playoffs last season. Once they overcame that, they couldn't be stopped. Stylistically, the Spurs pose the biggest threat of any team.