Oct 29, 2012, 2:42 PM EDT
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).
Oct 20, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Wesley Johnson is at his best in transition.
Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, C.J. McCollum among those looking to bounce back after underwhelming rookie years
Oct 20, 2014, 12:26 AM EDT
Kobe Bryant reaches, Alec Burks teaches.
Oct 19, 2014, 11:37 PM EDT
Taj Gibson knows how to finish.
Oct 19, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Tom Thibodeau is not the yoga type.
Oct 19, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will take the floor together for the first time since the preseason opener.
Oct 19, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
Experimental preseason game between Nets and Celtics took place Sunday.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Things feel a little different in Miami.
Oct 19, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Parker wants the league to spread out the regular season over more weeks.
Oct 19, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Hollins won’t adjust starters minutes as he coaches the Nets during the experimental game Sunday.
Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
“Akron” celebrates James’ homecoming.
Oct 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
The Knicks star says the biggest issue for players is the amount of consecutive games they play.
Kawhi Leonard to miss remainder of preseason due to infection, availability for opening night in question
Oct 19, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Popovich had legitimate reasons for holding him out.
Oct 19, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Oct 19, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Anthony should have more help than in the recent past, but he’ll need to score plenty in order for his team to have a shot.
Oct 18, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Olajuwon is employed by the Rockets, and has been working with Howard the last two summers.
Spurs’ Gregg Popovich fires back at Suns owner’s apology: ‘I’m just surprised he didn’t do it in a chicken suit’
Oct 18, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Popovich goes deep, referencing an incident that occurred back in 2005.
Oct 18, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Parker is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors.
Oct 18, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Bryant can still get up.
Oct 18, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Celtics have too many guaranteed contracts, and are already set at Bynum’s position.
- NBA’s 44-minute game clocks in at under two hours, players barely notice 1
- Nets coach Hollins on 44-minute game: ‘The change will be for the guys who don’t start’ 9
- Spurs’ Gregg Popovich fires back at Suns owner’s apology: ‘I’m just surprised he didn’t do it in a chicken suit’ 7
- Blake Griffin goes after Trevor Booker following flagrant foul, says he may retaliate in the future (VIDEO) 31
- Suns coach Hornacek says shortening games won’t help teams rest their stars 2
- Lakers coach Byron Scott’s philosophy on three-pointers: ‘I don’t believe it wins championships’ 33
- Accounting for Klay Thompson choosing a contract extension over new-TV-deal money 2
- Kobe Bryant calls ESPN voters who ranked him No. 40 ‘idiots’ 34