SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine …
Which playoff team is built best to beat the Miami Heat?
Lee Jenkins: Pacers. I'm going to be the last one off the Indiana bandwagon. Before the Pacers decomposed, they were the best and really the only candidate in the East to knock off Miami. They still are, provided the confidence they gain from a first-round victory over Atlanta starts to snowball. There are no guarantees the Pacers get past the Wizards (and Game 1 provided plenty of concerns), but if they do, they will rally for the Heat. Indiana has wanted Miami for the better part of two years. The Pacers finally have home-court advantage. And Roy Hibbert, who may have been a liability against the Hawks, presents a fundamental matchup problem at the rim for the Heat. Nothing seems to capture Indiana's attention anymore -- except Miami.
Chris Mannix: Spurs. Come on, really? Are we forgetting that the Spurs were one Ray Allen missed three-pointer from beating Miami in six games in the 2013 NBA Finals? San Antonio is every bit as strong as it was last year, perhaps stronger when you factor in the development of Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs are big, deep, have defensive stoppers at key positions and are extremely good on the road. Don’t let that seven-game series with Dallas skew your feelings for San Antonio. The Spurs are the best in the West until someone proves otherwise and are easily the biggest threat to beat the Heat.
Phil Taylor: Trail Blazers. The Blazers probably aren’t the first team that comes to mind, but consider what has traditionally given the Heat problems: quick, penetrating point guards (hello, Damian Lillard) and athletic, versatile low-post scorers (introducing LaMarcus Aldridge). Portland also has enough legitimate three-point threats, including Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright, to make Miami pay for sending a second defender at Aldridge or Lillard. Defensively, no one really matches up well against LeBron James, but the Blazers at least have a number of athletic wings to throw at him. Portland doesn’t have the experience of teams like the Spurs or Nets, who would pose problems for Miami as well, but it is better equipped athletically to challenge the Heat.
Ben Golliver: Spurs. Who can stop Miami? Nobody in the East, that's for sure. Although the Thunder entered the postseason as my pick to emerge from the West, they looked shaky at times against the Grizzlies and they got rocked by the Clippers in Game 1 on Monday. Even if they are able to recover against L.A. and keep advancing, the repeated no-shows from their key bench guys, the grinding on offense, and Kevin Durant's less-than-totally-superhuman play leads me to believe that the Heat would be able to handle them in a Finals match-up. San Antonio didn't play a perfect first-round series against Dallas, but we do know they have the personnel -- stars and role players alike -- and the strategic wrinkles to push Miami to the max. One takeaway from the West's awesome slate of first-round match-ups? Any of the four victors -- the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Blazers -- would make for a compelling Finals partner for the Heat.
Rob Mahoney: Spurs. Even elite defense can only go so far against Miami. James and Dwyane Wade will eventually break through any coverage, while Chris Bosh is positioned to feed off their progress with spot-up shooting. Challenging the Heat, then, is as much about keeping up offensively as it is slowing those three stars. I trust the Spurs in that regard more than any other team on the board -- not due to any specific positional advantage, but because San Antonio's team-wide ball movement is such an effective tool in escaping Miami's defensive pressure. Through that vehicle come the open threes on the weak side of the floor that tend to cause the Heat's undoing, to say nothing of the havoc Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan wreak.
On the other end of the floor, San Antonio holds its ground by way of Leonard (who is one of the best on-ball options against James), Danny Green (who is long and predictive enough to play credible D on Wade) and the terrific help tandem of Duncan and Tiago Splitter. No other great offensive team boasts defenders of that caliber at such crucial positions and no other great defensive team can match San Antonio's ability to circumvent Miami's ball pressure.
Matt Dollinger: Nets. Oh, how quickly we forget. Brooklyn was the only team Miami didn't beat during the regular season and pulled off a miraculous four-game sweep of the two-time defending champions. And this wasn't a case of the Nets catching the Heat on an off night. Each of the four games was tightly contested and James logged 41.7 minutes -- the most he averaged against any team in the league this season. Paul Pierce's and Kevin Garnett's Celtics success against LeBron is well-documented and you can expect the wily veterans to bust out every trick in the book against their longtime rival. Brooklyn doesn't jump out on paper as the obvious answer to this question, but it boasted top-six units in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season, making it one of the NBA's most balanced teams.
Chris Johnson: Nets. The Nets assembled the most expensive roster in NBA history in hopes of beating the Heat en route to a championship. Adding Pierce and Garnett wasn't the team's only significant Heat-related transaction. Brooklyn also tabbed another player who’s had success against LeBron and the Heat in the postseason: Jason Kidd. The Nets' first-year coach played a key role in helping the Mavericks upset the Heat in six games in the 2011 Finals. In fact, Kidd, 38, even defended James at times. Of course, LeBron has improved leaps and bounds since that inglorious playoff exit, winning two titles and cementing his reputation as the best player in the league. But that doesn’t mean Kidd’s close interactions with him won’t serve the Nets well in preparing for this series. Here’s my closing salvo: Brooklyn is the only team since the formation of the Big Three to pull off a 4-0 sweep of the Heat during the regular season.