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Who Can Beat The Heat (Part I)?

LeBron James

The beginning of the 2011-12 season is rapidly approaching and we will all have to make the appropriate adjustments to our life schedules. The Miami Heat now begin the second year of the Big 3 era. Dwyane Wade said that if the Heat don’t win the championship, it’s a bust year.

But do the Heat stand a better chance to win the title this year than last? I think so. I’ll explain it in the two-part series "Who Can Beat The Heat?" This installment breaks down Miami’s competition in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago Bulls

The big signing the team with the best regular season last year record made this month was signing Rip Hamilton as the starting two guard. Chicago also waived Keith Bogans, who started all 82 games as the shooting guard. Heat fans remember Hamilton from Miami’s Eastern Conference Finals battles with the Detroit Pistons in 2005 and 2006, but look at those rosters. Rasheed Wallace? Retired. Shaquille O’Neal? Out of the league as well. Hamilton isn’t the same player he was then, running around screens and splashing home mid-range jumpers.

Hamilton shot just 39 percent from the field coming off screens last season, according to Synergy Sports. He also cannot shoot 3s, which shrinks the amount of floor coverage Miami has to do on defense. The addition of Shane Battier could come in handy against the Bulls; Erik Spoelstra can throw James, Wade and Battier – three of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA – at Derrick Rose, Hamilton and Luol Deng.

Perhaps Bulls General Manager Gar Forman knows his team needs another star to win a title, not an aging former star like Hamilton. Although the Bulls aren’t on Dwight Howard’s list of preferred destinations, Chicago would be crazy not to go after Howard when the league’s best center gets back on the market before the trade deadline. They could make a trade and still keep players like Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson to complement Rose and Howard. Hell, Chicago even has a capable backup for Howard in Omer Asik. But unless the Bulls trade for Howard, I don’t see a 34-year-old Hamilton as a guy who swings a playoff series.

Boston Celtics

Jeff Green will miss the entire season after doctors discovered he had an aortic aneurysm and scheduled him for heart surgery next month. It’s saddening to hear that about a player, and I wish him all the best. The Celtics are expected to void his contract, but that still keeps Boston over the luxury tax.

To put it mildly, Boston is in trouble. Ray Allen is 36, Kevin Garnett is 35 and Paul Pierce is 34. Teams will play 66 games in 120 days this season, which can’t work well for those old knees. After the Boston Big 3 and Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have Jermaine O’Neal, Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling and JuJuan Johnson. With an aging core, that isn’t enough. Boston desperately needs an infusion of better, young players, and Doc Rivers almost thought he had David West before the Indiana Pacers stole him. Boston needs to make a big move, but I don’t think offering Rondo for Dwight Howard will get anywhere.

New York Knicks

Congratulations Knicks fans! Your team signed Tyson Chandler, forming the best frontcourt in the league. Two of those players can score 40 points any given night, something the frontcourts of many teams such as Memphis or Chicago cannot say.

Two problems just sneak into the equation here. For one, the Knicks paid Chandler like he’s a star when he’s not one. In fact, he’s a solely defensive player and is prone to fouls and injuries. He had a great year for Dallas in 2010-11, but managed to play in just 51 games last year and just 45 games the year before. Knicks fans, do you think he can withstand 66 games in 120 days?

Two, the Knicks had to waive Chauncey Billups to overpay Chandler, and their point guard rotation now consists of Toney Douglas and the corpse of Mike Bibby. Moreover, Mike D’Antoni thrives with a transition-style offense with a great point guard. Now he has a fantastic frontcourt and a terrible backcourt. One friend of mine who is a Knicks fan predicted that newly hired assistant Mike Woodson will take over at some point this season, and I’m inclined to agree.

Woodson may fit better as a coach with the Knicks’ roster, but his team won’t challenge Miami. With Chris Paul landing with the Clippers, the Knicks are essentially banking on this trio contending for championships. This year, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Chandler will make $49 million. By contrast, Miami’s Big 3 will make $47 million this year.

The Field

The Magic might keep Dwight Howard around for the All-Star Game, which will be in Orlando this year, but General Manager Otis Smith has to send him away before the trade deadline to prevent his team from experiencing a repeat of Shaquille O’Neal leaving the team in free agency, as he did in 1996. The Hawks and Sixers will likely stay in the “good enough to make the playoffs, not good enough to contend” zone for another year. The Pacers will improve from the eighth spot they had last year, but still need to trade for a superstar to enter contention.

Like I said, the Super Friends have a better shot to win the title this year than last. This is why.