Oct 28, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT
You’re busy, so I’ll save you some time: a championship. They’ve won two straight, basically their entire squad is coming back, and their best guy is the most dynamic and exciting player since Michael Jordan. The Heat have all the tools they need to make a run at a three-peat – but even with them all in place, the bigger question is: who might stop them?
The way I see it, there are 6 teams that could have a chance: 4 longshots and 2 serious threats. Let’s start with the East.
The Bulls: Chicago is a good team without Derrick Rose, and a title contender with (the old) Derrick Rose. But how deep can they go in the postseason? Thing is, Rose’s most recent relevant data points are from 18 months and a horrific knee injury ago. He looked great in the preseason, but it’s far too early to see how his knee will hold up long-term: it’s just been too long since we’ve seen him play a full year. Time will tell, but Rose’s return makes me hesitate – right now, the Bulls are a longshot to stop the Heat.
The Nets: Again, too soon – but for a different reason. The team hinges on Deron Williams and Brook Lopez: a great combo, but Lebron’s supporting cast (Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier – the list goes on) far outstrips its counterparts in Brooklyn. Depth is key, and the Nets don’t have Miami’s lung capacity. As for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, they’re not getting any younger, and I’ll be surprised if their presence tips the scales in the Nets’ favor.
The Pacers: Though summertime roster moves did bolster their bench, Indiana is the only team of these three that remains largely unchanged since nearly beating Miami in the East Finals last year. A missed assignment here, a blown call there, and one or two plays could have made the difference for the Pacers going to the NBA Finals. Paul George and Danny Granger should continue to emerge, Roy Hibbert should continue to dominate (just ask Tyson Chandler), and with C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland the bench is stronger. We’ve actually seen this team play the Heat, and nearly beat them. All in all, in the East the Pacers have the best preseason shot at upending the Heat.
The Spurs: Another team we’ve seen play the Heat and nearly beat them, plus I’ve learned my lesson in the past: never count out Gregg Popovich, and never say Tim Duncan’s too old. Obviously at some point Duncan will be too old, but the man just keeps putting up rock-solid numbers and defense year after year. Besides, he’s not the brains of the operation anyways – Tony Parker’s running point, and Pop’s the reason for the dynasty. History teaches me not to bet against those three pieces, so watch out for the Spurs. (Playoff sweeps are telling – just ask the Grizzlies) Can San Antonio beat the Heat? Maybe – probably not, but they came very close last year and they could likely again be one of the last few standing.
The Rockets: Two words: Dwight Howard. The D’Antoni/Kobe/Dwight circus show was wearing thin in L.A., and it’ll be interesting to see how Dwight fits into the Rocket’s culture. Last year was miserable, and now he’s got a fresh start, a new city, and a great young core with Chandler Parsons and James Harden. But again, we run into a common theme this year: the unknown. Howard alters teams and defenses with his presence, but he’s never played with these guys under this system in this city with this coach and this organization. Signs are positive, but there’s just no way to tell this early – so far it’s all he-said she-said guesswork. Can they beat Miami in seven games? Not right now. So much hype, and to even get there they’d have to move past…
The Thunder: Kevin Durant is a killer, simple as that. He’s the deadliest player not named LeBron James. He has zero conscience from three; he’s Magic Johnson’s awareness with Bob Cousy’s handles and Reggie Miller’s stroke. Durant, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson – their guard play is phenomenal. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins round it out inside, but the key is the guard play. If the Thunder have an advantage over the Heat, it’s depth on the wing. If they can exploit that, throwing bodies at LeBron enough to tire him out and slow him down just enough, OKC could have the best chance to beat the Heat (unless the Pacers get them first, in which case whatever will Sportscenter talk about in June??).
Honorable Mention: Clippers, Warriors. Both electrifying teams, great fun to watch, but missing some pieces. Clippers need a stronger paint presence (DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are a high-flying trapeze act, not game-changing forwards); the Warriors need some time to gel, and for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to play off each other – watch out for Golden State in the next few years.
The Pacers and the Thunder have the best shot at beating the Heat. Indiana nearly beat them last time, and come back this year with more experience and a deeper bench. The Thunder have the guard depth to counter LeBron, but that may not make a difference anyways with the Heat’s top-to-bottom array of weapons.
Bottom line? The Pacers can beat the Heat, as can the Thunder, but it will take each team’s perfect stretch of seven games (because there’s no way the Heat lose in less than seven) to do it. Miami, on the other hand, has the athleticism, depth, leadership, and firepower to win again. That is what to expect from LeBron and the Heat – another championship. They are not a perfect team, and they can be beaten – but in the end, the most likely scenario I see is LeBron & Co. with Miami’s first franchise three-peat.
Mar 11, 2014, 3:20 AM EDT
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while hiding from your cat that scared you so much you called 911…. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. This was as good an offensive performance as Griffin has had in the pros — 37 points on 14-of-16 shooting. After the game Chris Paul said he…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:05 AM EDT
LOS ANGELES — Apparently the Phoenix Suns players didn’t read the scouting report on Blake Griffin and went by last year’s version — he has a jump shot now and if you give him space he will make you pay. Phoenix’s effort was not the kind of defensive performance a team fighting for its playoff…
Mar 11, 2014, 1:18 AM EDT
LOS ANGELES — Before his Suns took on the Los Angeles Clippers Monday night, coach Jeff Hornacek talked about liking his team’s toughness, saying its something he took away from playing under Jerry Sloan in Utah and tried to pass along to this squad. Not sure this is exactly what he meant. Midway through the…
Mar 11, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
With former Utah Jazz teammate of Karl Malone Jeff Hornacek in the building — actually sitting courtside as coach of the Phoenix Suns — Blake Griffin decided to do a little tribute. He threw down the Mailman dunk. (Griffin has spoken of looking up to the Mailman before, it not a coincidence.) Then he threw…
Mar 10, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
LOS ANGELES — Phoenix is in a fight to make the playoffs in the West – it entered Monday night tied with Memphis for the last and final playoff spot in the West — and they could use this: Eric Bledsoe is on track to play Wednesday, coach Jeff Hornacek said Monday night before his…
Mar 10, 2014, 10:03 PM EDT
Serious charge of fun challenge?
Mar 10, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Run, Phil, run
Mar 10, 2014, 8:04 PM EDT
We’ve got a real nice feud brewing. Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard are both tough point guards on contending Western Conference teams. They both overcame long odds to reach the NBA and play with justified pride now that they’re here. And both are unafraid to speak their mind. Lillard lobbed the opening salvo after Houston’s…
Mar 10, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT
Does he mean Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani or J.R. Smith?
Mar 10, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT
Phil Jackson seems destined for New York. I argue that’s a good thing… but only if Jackson has a Jedi mind trick that can keep James Dolan at bay.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
Kansas’ Joel Embiid — potentially the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft — has sought out a second opinion on his back injury. Just a reminder of why he should jump to the NBA rather than stay another year in college.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
As if his season hasn’t been a big enough disappointment, Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett will miss at least 10 games with a knee strain.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT
Nobody thinks Mike D’Antoni is the long term answer for the Lakers, but what is the point of switching out coaches this late in a lost season?
Mar 10, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
All the buzz has Phil Jackson taking a front office job with the Knicks (he’s just deliberate in making decisions like this)… but nobody asked Carmelo what he thought? Really?
Mar 10, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
With a number of top teams stumbling — Oklahoma City, Miami, Indiana — it is the Spurs who have gotten healthy and looked good going 6-0 since the end of the rodeo trip. The West now dominates the top of the rankings, the Sixers are looking to set records at the bottom. 1. Spurs (46-16,…
Mar 10, 2014, 1:49 PM EDT
Bulls fans have taken to chanting “M-V-P” when Joakim Noah heads to the free throw line — and he does not like it one bit.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
“Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up.”
Mar 10, 2014, 12:13 PM EDT
As a member of the Jazz, Al Jefferson once encouraged Utah fans to boo their own team. When he returned to Utah in December as a Charlotte Bobcat, Jazz fans cheered him. Now, another former Utah big man, Paul Millsap, is encouraging Jazz fans to boo him when he returns with the Atlanta Hawks. Paul…
Mar 10, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT
This 15-second sequence tells you all you need to know about the Rockets point guard.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:36 AM EDT
Who held the record previously? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
- Monday NBA grades: Blake Griffin shows off his jumper (and yes, he can still dunk) 0
- Report: Phil Jackson’s camp doesn’t believe agreement with Knicks is close 8
- PBT Extra: Can Phil Jackson help right the ship in New York? 13
- Phil Jackson reportedly close to taking Knicks job, nobody asked Carmelo about it 38
- PBT Power Rankings: Tell me again how the Spurs are too old…. 13