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Four teams that could head off a Lakers vs. Heat NBA final

Oct 29, 2012, 2:42 PM EST

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett AP

It’s the consensus of prognosticators (and me as well) — the NBA finals will be the Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James. You can already sense David Stern drooling like a Pavlovian dog thinking about the television ratings.

What teams could destroy David Stern’s dream?

There are four. While we could argue that each of these four need a little luck or for the Heat/Lakers to come back to them, we could say the same for the Heat and Lakers. Fact is you don’t win an NBA title without some breaks going your way.

So here are the four most likely teams to get in the way, two West and two East.

Oklahoma City Thunder. They remain the next best team in the West, even after the James Harden trade. (I think they take a step back after trading away a key playmaker, the Sixth Man of the Year and an Olympian and trying to fill his minutes with Kevin Martin. Long term with the picks and Jeremy Lamb we can debate the trade impacts, but the Thunder did not get instantly better Saturday night with this move.)

The Thunder have improved each year because their players have improved and gotten more experienced. That will happen again. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are going to take steps forward after their Olympic experience — and the Lakers will struggle to stop Durant, even with Dwight Howard in the paint. OKC gets Eric Maynor back and that gives them depth at the point guard spot and another playmaker. They have Kendrick Perkins to match up with Dwight Howard and Serge Ibaka to slow Pau Gasol. Westbrook can hamper Steve Nash.

The Thunder are not as good a team without Harden, but they are still very good and still match up with the Lakers as well as anyone.

Los Angeles Clippers. You can argue the San Antonio Spurs should fit here, but the last couple seasons showed me that while they are awesome in the regular season you can scheme for their weaknesses come the playoffs. The Clippers are a team on the rise. They have the single best pure point guard in the game in Chris Paul, and he is in a contract year so expect big things. They added some depth with Jamal Crawford, and while I’m not his biggest fan he is an upgrade over what they had. Eric Bledsoe is coming into his own off the bench. They have solid veterans like Caron Butler and — once he gets in shape — Lamar Odom. Oh, an they have the force of nature that is Blake Griffin. Paul is just figuring out how to use all those pieces.

The key for the Clippers in the playoffs is DeAndre Jordan. Last season he got benched for Reggie Evans when the going got tough. That’s not good. The Clippers need Jordan to take a huge step forward because they need his athleticism to combat Howard if they face the Lakers. If Jordan is in foul trouble or just plain old ineffective, the Lakers would run them over without slowing. But Jordan and his growth — scoring and putting pressure on Howard on both ends of the floor — changes the dynamic. He makes it possible. But it’s asking a lot of him to make that leap.

Boston Celtics. They came within a game of getting the Heat last season, and while they racked up a 3-2 lead in the series with Chris Bosh out it still shows they were close. Then Boston got better this summer — Jason Terry is better right now than Ray Allen. Not over their careers, maybe not now as a pure shooter, but Terry brings far more shot creation and versatility to the Celtics. Boston also gets Jeff Green back and he gives them real depth off the bench. Jared Sullinger should let Kevin Garnett rest more.

Boston must have a healthy and rested Garnett to have a shot at the Heat — he is the heart of their defense has to play as well or better than last year to have a shot. Rajon Rondo has to step up his game and get his squad more easy looks offensively against a swarming Heat defense. Boston cannot show their age. The good news for Celtics fans is Boston matches up well with Miami considering its defense, Paul Pierce and his ability to score, and now some punch off the bench. It’s not easy, but the Celtics have a puncher’s chance in a series with Miami.

Indiana Pacers. If you’re going to beat the Heat, the best way to do it is with size — Indiana has that in Roy Hibbert. One of the key turning points in the playoffs last season was when the Heat fell behind the Pacers because of the play of Hibbert and they had to adjust their style and step up their play. The Heat had that other gear.

To best the Heat Pacers need George Hill and Paul George to take steps forward with their game (both would be key in the finals, particularly on defense), David West to keep being himself, Granger to be steady in the big moments and Hibbert to become a dominating force. The Pacers lack the kind of superstar player the Heat have two (or three) of, but they have great balance, good depth and the size that could give the Heat fits. They just have to play nearly flawless basketball (and hope the Heat do not).

  1. 1972wasalongtimeago - Oct 29, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    Took care of the Jets yesterday, Celtics up next tomorrow. Lots of ugly green uni’s up in here.

  2. bucrightoff - Oct 29, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    Hmm, so the Spurs anihilate (and that is the proper word) the Clippers in the playoffs last year, neither team gets appreciably better (or worse), and now the Clips will be the ones challenging the Lakers….logical conclusion there…

    • llfreedman - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:18 PM

      @ bucrightoff Have to disagree with you. The Clips add Crawford, Butler, and Billups- all weren’t there in that series…That’s two former all-stars, a finals MVP, and sixth-man of the year. The Clippers were never as good last year after just Billups went down.

      The narrative on the Spurs is two of their three best players are just too old now. I think it’s pretty logical.

      • llfreedman - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:22 PM

        *meant Odom, not Butler. Butler had come back but wasn’t really healthy

      • bucrightoff - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:28 PM

        Take away OKC’s best 4-game run of the season last year and San Antonio is probably champs. They’ve actually gotten much younger, are the deepest team in the league and have the best coach. Go ahead and count them out, just be sure to have the kudos and compliments ready for when they’re still playing and most other teams are not.

      • llfreedman - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:42 PM

        @ burcrightoff

        Hard to argue with that. However, OKC had their 4 game run against them because they have superior talent at this point. Lebron was playing pretty spectacularly at the end too- so can’t definitely say anything about them being the champs.

      • mdisptch11 - Oct 30, 2012 at 8:41 PM

        Billups is no spring chicken either. You seem to forget that Manu was hurt a good part of the season and Duncan minutes have been cut. Seems logical that the players that replaced them when they are not in the game are a big reason they are a good team. One that needs to be reckoned with.

    • zerole00 - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:19 PM

      The Spurs just don’t get the credit they deserve. Sure, they’re an aging team, but can anyone name a team that’s more disciplined than them? Don’t forget Pop manages their minutes like he’s a Korean playing Starcraft.

  3. sasquash20 - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    10-9-8-76ERS!

    With Bynum joining and the frustrating overrated Iggy gone Boston will get pimp slapped by Philly this year.

    • zerole00 - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:21 PM

      Bynum’s knees. That’s all.

      • sasquash20 - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:35 PM

        I hear you but Boston is very old and just as likely to break down.

      • jjordannba - Oct 29, 2012 at 4:15 PM

        The Celtics are not as old as you think, the only key players over 30 are KG, Pierce, and Jason Terry. But even with adding Terry it only made them younger, because Ray is 38 Terry is 35. The C’s got younger from last year not older

      • pantsfreezone - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:10 PM

        So, in other words, only the Celtics “good” players are old.

      • bozosforall - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:12 PM

        Only old players KG, Pierce and Terry? Too bad those are key players whose inevitable decline this season and beyond will end up making them worse than last year and even worse as the next few years go by. Delusional
        losers like jordandmf get disappointed yet again.

      • jjordannba - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:54 PM

        well pantsfreezone if you are just a casual fan like yourself and evreybody who liked your comment then yes all the C’s big name players are old. But if you were an actual fan of the NBA then you would know that its not just the big name players that make a team good. The C’s have valuable young players such as Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, and Jared Sullinger. Every player on a team can contribute not just the stars little one.

      • jjordannba - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:58 PM

        And ok Bozo, you always comment on everybody else’s team, and call everybody else delusional who is your team? and how do you think they will fare this season?

      • borderline1988 - Oct 29, 2012 at 7:54 PM

        Everyone’s talking about Garnett slowing down..I think the real worry is with Pierce. He clearly seemed a step slow last season. It’s only gonna get worse, especially since Pierce is not a small guy, nor has he ever been in tremendous shape. His defense especially will suffer.
        And while the Celtics are extremely deep at the 2 and 4 positions, they really don’t have many options at the 3. They better hope Green can play effectively at that position, b/c I have a feeling Pierce will not be able to play big minutes, even in the playoffs.

        I think Garnett still has a couple of seasons left. The way he plays the game, athletiscm isn’t that important. As long as he can shuffle his feet, he can be a key contributor. Even on offense, with his ability to shoot over the top.

      • bozosforall - Oct 29, 2012 at 10:18 PM

        @jordandmf

        My team is the Lakers…and Kurt hit the nail on the head. Lakers and Heat in the Finals. Your team gets passed by the Sixers this season.

  4. jjordannba - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    I’m telling yall don’t sleep on the Celtics, It shouldn’t be much of a surprise if they knock the Heat out this year.

    • jmclarkent - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:49 PM

      I don’t feel great about this Celtics team. I think that if they are going to do as advised above, Rondo (who I love) will need to have a MVP caliber season. The front court doesn’t move me, their 2-guard stable is full of little guys (Terry, Bradley and Barbosa).

      I hope they are fast; they might struggle in the half court.

      • jjordannba - Oct 29, 2012 at 4:13 PM

        Courtney Lee is also one of their 2 guards, who isn’t a little guy and the starter

      • bozosforall - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:14 PM

        Delusion runs rampant within the Puh C fan base once again.

    • pantsfreezone - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:14 PM

      The Celtics have zero chance at winning the East. They will be lucky if they make the postseason in a weak Eastern Conference. They have one big that can play in KG who is their superstar and is nearly as old as the sun and worn down by last year’s fluke deep run. After gimpy Pierce and uneven Rondo they have guys that played on other team’s benches and rookies. The Celtics run is done.

      • jjordannba - Oct 29, 2012 at 7:04 PM

        alright Pantsfreezone and Bozo everybody has their own opinion, just like my opinion is different from yours. The thing is you probably say this about the Celtics every year but yet every year they surprise people and get farther then expected. But that’s fine just make sure you 2 come back to one of the comment boards in may so we can discuss how you 2 were wrong once again.

      • pantsfreezone - Oct 29, 2012 at 8:30 PM

        And every year not counting 2008 they fall short of the main goal. Look, the original big 3 came out and wer awesome, but they didn’t meet expectations and even as a Celtics fan you have to admit that their lone title is a disappointment.

        And now, they are just an old, brittle shell of their former selves.

      • bozosforall - Oct 29, 2012 at 10:23 PM

        You nailed it, pantsfreezone. Jordandmf is dreaming.

      • cibolomatt - Oct 29, 2012 at 10:27 PM

        pantsfreeone, the C’s will be lucky to make the postseason?? Your basketball knowledge is limited at best. They are better equiped to challenge the Heat this year and will no doubt be in the playoffs. By the way, the Celtics run has been over for 3 years, at least that’s what they say.

      • infectorman - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:44 AM

        a title is a title is a title, by any other name is still a title.
        Stern and the corrupt inept corrupt gave the Fakers the title in 2010 in game 7.

        Fakers in the finals? KoMe starts the season as a GTD and we’re the ones who are delusional…right.

        Have at it, Toolshed, couldn’t keep away could ya?

  5. miamatt - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    Key word “could”…

  6. paleihe - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    “They have the single best pure point guard in the game in Chris Paul, and he is in a contract year so expect big things.”

    Regardless of whether it’s contract time or not, he’s gonna show up. And, every team with space will gladly sign him to a max deal. His contract situation is irrelevant.

  7. rickyspanish - Oct 29, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    zerole00

    That Starcraft line is good.

  8. paintman34 - Oct 29, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    pretty sure Wade would be guarding Kobe and the media would just make it about lebron guarding him

  9. thundersandpackers - Oct 29, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    I see it as a finals repeat. spurs is better than the clippers hands down. if the ref could call some real fouls and not give them superstar fouls I believe okc comes out on top.

    • eventhorizon04 - Oct 30, 2012 at 1:09 AM

      Yeah, OKC led the league last year in made-free throws, so clearly, they get screwed by the refs all the time.

  10. Mr. Wright 212 - Oct 29, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    Knicks.

    • Iraelite - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:24 PM

      If Melo doesn’t hog the ball and they play DEFENSE (everybody not just Shumpert and Chandler) they can beat the Heat… they are talented enough, but are they smart enough?

  11. pastabelly - Oct 29, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    Hard to believe, but the Celtics look better this year.

    • bozosforall - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:17 PM

      Yet another delusional New Englnd sports fan.

  12. ge915 - Oct 29, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    Vick’s time in Philly should be done Finally. First of all the Eagles should have never brought him in. They were just trying to get him in “game shape” to pony him off for a draft pick or two. When that failed they decided to go with him. And he has been a turn over machine once the league caught up to him! Good Bye Michael!

    • Iraelite - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:25 PM

      Who cares about the Sheaglets????

  13. savvybynature - Oct 29, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    “It’s the consensus of prognosticators (and me as well) — the NBA finals will be the Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers.”

    What? A few articles back you said you’d have to wait for the first of the year to really have a sense of how much of a threat they are?

    Kurt, you have more hedges than a landscape crew.

  14. abasketballthing - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:09 PM

    The Spurs destroyed the Clippers last season, IN THE PLAYOFFS. They haven’t improved enough, and CP3 being in a contract year means absolutely nothing because he is going to get a max contract even if he plays like Raymond Felton this season. Lamar Odom is out of shape, and non-stars who start the season out of shape rarely, if ever, become consistent contributors later in the season. Jamal Crawford is certainly an upgrade, but not enough to make the Clippers go from being completely dominated by the Spurs to beating them.

    • savvybynature - Oct 29, 2012 at 7:03 PM

      Kurt and pundits love athleticism. A rare few love the game of basketball.

      Call me when Griffin develops an effective back to the basket post game and a consistent mid-range jumper. CP3 is great, but point guards don’t win championships by themselves. Also, Vinny del Negro.

  15. amehta256 - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    Boston is not a threat to Miami, they a year older, lost Allen and they can’t beat a team like the heat in a 7 game series anymore. It’s typical NBA where you can already predict 3/4 conf finalists now… 1) Miami 2) Indiana 3) Lakers 4) OKC

    • savvybynature - Oct 29, 2012 at 7:09 PM

      The problem with the LA v. Thunder scenario (or any scenario) is it assumes that the seeding would work out for such a WCF matchup.

      The Spurs, like it or not, are a regular season machine. I’d pencil them in for a top 2 seed before I would the Lakers, who have yet to develop on court chemistry and are still learning a new offense. Duncan is no more of an injury risk than Nash and Kobe and Dwight have their own injury histories as well.

      The Lakers may well end up as a 3-5 seed, and play the Thunder in the semis.

  16. paulhargis53 - Oct 29, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    Same cast of idiots predicting the demise of the Celtics with their cracked crystal balls. It’s a bunch of scared Heat fans and one very dumb Lakers fan.

    Bozo, you do realize that the Lakers roster is older on average than the Celtics roster, right?
    Wait. Why would you? You know nothing about basketball. Your schtick is throwing out lame insults about New England sports teams, changing peoples screen names and speaking nothing of basketball whatsoever.
    Now that lakerluver is gone, you are officially the biggest dumbass on the site, congrats!!

    • hehateme2 - Oct 30, 2012 at 9:54 AM

      I guess you missed the celts get rolled by the Heat the past two years…. not gonna change either.

    • infectorman - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:46 AM

      B. the Clown stands behind no one in that ranking, ph53.
      surely you jest

  17. phillynac - Oct 29, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    It isn’t an opinion that the Celtics best players got older. Unless KG and Paul Pierce age backwards, they are older. That isn’t to say that they aren’t just as good as ever but history and common sense suggests that the end is near. Sixers – young…. Celtics – old …. Fact, not opinion.

    • bozosforall - Oct 29, 2012 at 10:21 PM

      Agreed. The Sixers will pass the Puh C’s this year.

  18. jerdogthompson - Oct 29, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    I can see some skepticism about the Clippers but there are far too many omissions for me to remain silent.

    First, both BG, caron &CP3 were playing injured period during the Playoffs. Not to mention CB will be back very soon.

    Second, DJ has matured this off season and will bring a different element to both the offense and defense.

    Third, Ryan Hollins is a very serviceable back up not available last year.

    Fourth, EB has matured immensely and could challenge CP3 for most steals this year.

    Fifth, Crawford has shown he wants another 6 man award.

    Sixth, Matt Barnes will have a positive impact on both sides of the floor.

    Seventh, given the three deep at every position we don’t need to play the starting 5 for extended minutes every night.

    In conclusion, saying the Spurs swept us last year is accurate in a vacuum. Given all the changes and current status I don’t see a problem handling them this year. Oh yeah, we beat OKC 3 outta 4 games last year in convincing style. Only team in the NBA to do so.

    I know it’s easy to live in the PAST and just dismiss the Clippers. I would suggest to avoid further embarrassment to update your knowledge base or be laughed off the board. That is all.…

    • tcclark - Oct 30, 2012 at 1:10 AM

      Do Clippers fans know the names of their players or just the first and last initial?

    • mdisptch11 - Oct 30, 2012 at 8:52 PM

      You say not to live in the past and then you bring up what the Clippers did last year? Matt Barnes with his 7.3 PPG during the regular season and 6.2 PPG during the playoffs is a positive impact? Three deep at every position doesn’t actually mean that you have good players after the starters, only that there are three players for every position.

  19. necr0philia - Oct 29, 2012 at 10:31 PM

    Josh Smith MVP 2012-13. Joe Johnson and that other guy retires after this season.

  20. jerdogthompson - Oct 30, 2012 at 12:30 AM

    Yo allbozo, I will guarantee this much. When May rolls around and your team Viagra is clinging to a 7-8 seed you’re not going to come back to this board and man up. What’s that you got 16 right? Yeah, cause you’ve been around for five maybe less of them. Fact of the matter is Lakers have looked like warmed over dog doo so far and you’d better hope and pray something BIG happens for the better or else you will have to sit and cry in your parents basement contemplating how to end it all. Yeah………..

  21. mazblast - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    If Stern doesn’t get the Lakers-Heat matchup he so clearly wants this year, heads will roll in the league offices. His henchmen will make sure he gets his going-away present.

  22. mat9844 - Oct 30, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    As a big Cllippers fan I’ve always believed we had the talent to take it all the way; it’s nice to know that others believe it, too.

  23. paulhargis53 - Oct 30, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    infectorman: Bozo is a one trick pony, and only mildly annoying. Head on over to the lakers blogs, lakerluver is the most over the top know nothing you ever want to see.

    It goes like this:
    Lakerluver- no one even comes close to this fool.
    hehateme2- Does nothing but bash the Celts and praise the Heat, has no reasoning for what he says- basically a child.
    bozo- hates all new England teams, thinks its the height of comedy to type Puh-c over and over and make homoerotic names for other posters.

    Lakerluver hands down.

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