BUCHER: The hype about Miami is off the charts, so I can understand why anyone would be sucked into the South Beach vortex. But when we get back to the elements that actually win titles, the Celtics will loom over everyone again, as they have for the past three years. No doubt every team wants to beat the Heat -- badly. But that's not because they're considered the most invincible; it's because they, like you, are acting as if they're the team to beat. It's a bit obnoxious, particularly considering what LeBron James and Chris Bosh did -- or didn't do -- the last time we saw them in meaningful games.
It's pretty simple: The Celtics retained the nucleus that went to the wire with the defending champions and added depth and versatility to their bench. The rest of the Eastern Conference sees the Heat's title-contending ability right now as a possibility. The Celtics' championship worthiness is fact.
CB: Boston will definitely be the top competition for the Heat. I'm not writing them off by any means, but I'll take the team with two of the top five players and one of the top five big men in the league. Plus, Miami did a great job of surrounding them with shooters (Mike Miller, Eddie House, James Jones) and rebounding help (Udonis Haslem). They do lack a physical big man at center, but I think their Big Three is enough to overcome that, especially with each member of Boston's Big Three being older, past his prime and a threat to be injured.
RB: The Celtics were supposed to be too old last season. That clearly was an issue during the regular season, but they proved that their collective experience under playoff pressure is more powerful than pure athleticism. The Heat don't have that, and there is no guarantee that they can mesh under the pressure of elimination as well as Boston did.
CB: The Celtics' age as a potential hurdle makes perfect sense. After all, no one defies Father Time. The fact that Boston wasn't too old last season is irrelevant, because guess what? Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are all a year older, so thinking they'll play as well as they did last postseason may be wishful thinking. Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal are over the hill as well, and the injuredKendrick Perkins is an obvious question mark.
RB: For all the relative youth of the Miami Big Three, neither Dwyane Wade nor Bosh has ever played 82 games in his career, much less a 100-game run to the Finals. Even LeBron couldn't get through last season unscathed. The idea that Boston is second to the Heat simply because of the age of its respective stars doesn't make sense. As we've seen more often than not, youth is indeed served in the postseason -- served a plate of go-home-and-try-again-next-year.
CB: Let's be honest, Ric, LeBron gave younger, better Celtics teams all they wanted with second and third options who weren't perennial All-Stars. Now that his teammates include a future HOFer in his prime, a consistent All-Star and some proven veteran role players, you don't think he can upend them? The Celtics won't be able to focus their entire D on shutting down LeBron as they did in past playoff series, because now they'll have to worry about Wade and Bosh. If Bosh pulls KG outside and Zydrunas Ilgauskas takes Shaq or KP out of the paint, who's going to deter LeBron or D-Wade from attacking the rim at will? And I know you're aware of how susceptible Shaq is to the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.
RB: The Celtics accomplished what they did last season with KG at 65 percent; by all accounts he's at least 20 percent better than that. I realize it's a long season and, at Boston's age, getting worn down is a factor. But that's the advantage of their much-improved bench: They can eke out wins during the regular season even if they don't go with KG, Pierce and Allen every night. Although the Heat have to have two of their Big Three on the floor at all times, the Celtics don't, a luxury Boston didn't have a year ago. I'm not looking for Shaq to be a major playoff factor, but he should be able to help win a few games until Perkins is back around the All-Star break.
More than anything, what the Celtics proved is that when it comes to the postseason, they can indeed flip a switch and execute at a playoff level at both ends. They have proved they have the hearts of champions and aren't satisfied with one ring, as so many players are. Maybe LeBron and Bosh will step up to the challenge, but I've seen too many instances, for whatever reason, when they haven't. That is the very essence of why the Heat can't be considered the team to beat: They have exactly one player with the proven mettle to win a championship.
CB: You act as if LeBron and Bosh have been playoff bums just because they don't have rings. LeBron's playoff numbers are actually better than his regular-season ones. His career averages in the regular season are 27.8 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds per game. His career playoff averages are 29.3 points, 7.3 assists and 8.4 rebounds per game. And for the John Hollinger fans, his career player efficiency rating in the regular season is 26.9 compared with 27.1 in the playoffs. Each time LeBron's Cavs lost to Boston, the Celtics were the far more talented team, and anyone who blames him for the 2009 Eastern Conference finals loss to Orlando just wasn't watching the games. (He topped 40 points three times while averaging 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8 assists.) And although Bosh hasn't had much playoff experience, his play when he's there has been as strong as during the regular season. (His career numbers are 20 points and nine rebounds per game for both the regular and postseason.)
RB: My eyes glazed over when you started reciting all those numbers to demonstrate that LeBron and Bosh have championship clutchness. (Yes, I'm creating my own lexicon.) Because we both know stats and averages have nothing to do with realizing the moment and making the most of it.
CB: To act as though one playoff series, game or play is indicative of a player's ability or inability to ever produce with a ring on the line is just wrong. When Isiah Thomas threw away the pass, the game and likely the series on the steal by Larry Bird in the '87 playoffs, it would have been easy to say Zeke just didn't have it in the clutch. That would've been wrong. In '07, when Kobe scored just three points against Phoenix in the second half of Game 7, it would have been easy to say he can't lead a team to a title, and that he needs to be second to a guy like Shaq. That would've been wrong. When Magic Johnson performed so poorly in the 1984 Finals that he was being called "Tragic" Johnson, some could've said he'd never again lead a team to a title. Again, wrong. Heck, KG was known for playoff failure before going to Boston, and Pierce's reputation was far from that of a winner before 2008.
My point is that you don't have nearly enough evidence or proof -- or any, really -- that LeBron and Bosh can't get it done in the clutch to keep harping on that as the Heat's Achilles' heel.
RB: The problem with comparing LeBron and Bosh to Magic, Isiah and Kobe is that we already knew the latter three guys could stand and deliver before they had those poor performances. They'd already proved they could lead a team or make the big play that clinched a series. LeBron and Bosh have not proved they can deliver when it matters most. In fact, they've proved the opposite -- not once but multiple times.
The reason I give the Heat a chance at winning a title is Wade has proved he can take another team's best shot and deliver a better one. But that's one guy. Pierce, KG, Allen, Rondo -- all have shown they can be that guy who will step up to win, or help win, the crucial game in a series. More importantly, the Celtics collectively understand what it takes and know they're capable of delivering it. Maybe Miami will figure that out. If it does, then it will be the team to beat. But not until then.
CB: LeBron's only playoff fumble was last year against Boston. And although Bosh is not as good as KG was in Minny, his record is at least comparable to that of pre-Boston KG, when he failed to get the Timberwolves to the playoffs his last three years with the team. And although you prop up each member of the Celtics' Big Three as killers in the clutch, you can't honestly believe that any one of them could carry a team to the title as the only star of his team, as LeBron and Bosh were the past seven years.
RB: You didn't really suggest LeBron has failed to show up only once, did you? He disappeared multiple times last season. And what about Game 6 in Orlando in '09? Or Games 1, 2 and 6 versus Boston in '08? Even the series he won in Cleveland, go back and look at the close-out games, and you'll see he was rarely the one shutting the door.
CB: KG and Pierce couldn't even make the playoffs as the lone star, let alone have the league's best record and go deep into the playoffs as LeBron did. And Allen had never been past the conference finals, even with two other stars in Milwaukee.
When put together in Boston, the pressure on each individual star eased a bit, and collectively, they got it done. That can happen in Miami as well. LeBron won't have the heat on him as much as he did in Cleveland, ditto with Bosh and D-Wade (who hasn't gone deep into the playoffs since Shaq left his side). With other weapons next to them, each of Miami's stars will be even better than before, just as it was in Boston in '08. And we all know how that ended -- with a ring.
RB: We're not debating whether Miami is capable of winning a ring; of course it is, in light of both the Celtics' and Lakers' age and injury history. But are the Heat certifiably the best team in the East aka the team to beat? No. You keep telling me they are because of what they could do. And I'm telling you the Celtics still wear that crown because of what they've done.
Chris Broussard and Ric Bucher are senior writers for ESPN The Magazine.