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5 teams that could prevent the Miami Heat from winning the 2014 NBA title

Oct 29, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT

Chicago Bulls v Washington Wizards - NBA Global Games Rio 2013 Getty Images

The Miami Heat will open the 2013-14 NBA season at home against the Bulls on Tuesday, after receiving their championship rings and raising a banner to the rafters for the second straight season.

They’ll also open the year as the favorites to win a third straight title, but history has not been kind to teams that have previously been in this envious position.

The Heat may have won back-to-back championships, but they’ve been to the Finals three years in a row. And the last team to make it to the Finals four straight seasons was the Boston Celtics, who did so from 1984-87.

So, despite the fact that the best player in the game in his prime plays for Miami, it’s going to be tough for the team to play into June for the fourth straight season. Here’s a countdown looking at the five teams with the best shot of taking down the defending champs.

5. Los Angeles Clippers: Obviously, for the Clips to have a chance at this, they’d need to make it out of a daunting Western Conference, and the Heat would have to similarly emerge from a much-improved East to buck the odds and get back to the Finals once again. But if this matchup happens, you’d have to think L.A. would have a very real shot.

If the Clippers get to the Finals, it means that all of the team’s potential heading into the season has been realized. Chris Paul turned in an MVP season, J.J. Redick lit it up from three-point distance, and DeAndre Jordan evolved into a Kevin Garnett-like defender, but one even more athletic who was able to wholly alter the opponent’s game plan on a nightly basis. It also means that Doc Rivers has gotten maximum production out of his role players, and gotten the team to buy into the notion that they are legitimate championship contenders.

A lot of ifs? No doubt. But if the Clippers get this far, you’d have to like their chances.

4. Brooklyn Nets: This could be too low for Brooklyn on this list, but for the most part I like to see new collections of talent prove themselves first before going out on a limb and handing them a top-shelf prediction.

There’s no question that the Nets are going to be formidable this season. The team features maybe the most feared starting lineup in the league one through five, and the acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett should bring the culture change on the defensive end and a championship mentality that may have been missing from the team’s stars still in place from last season.

But Jason Kidd in his first year as head coach is troublesome, even though he has a more-than-solid group of tenured assistants in place to provide guidance. Coaching in the playoffs when the game slows down and every possession becomes critical requires experience, and we’ll have to wait and see if Kidd will gain enough of it during his first 82 games on the job to be successful.

That one area aside, this Nets team is deep and experienced. A healthy Deron Williams could be the key to whether or not Brooklyn has enough to get by the champs in a seven game series.

3. San Antonio Spurs: Much like the Clippers, if the Spurs get to this point, you’d have to like their chances. San Antonio came within 28 seconds of knocking off the Heat in the Finals last season; remember the yellow rope? Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker are plenty good enough and experienced enough to take care of business a year later should they get another shot.

The question for the Spurs becomes whether or not they can get out of the West to get the chance.

An improved Rockets team, along with the Clippers, Thunder and Warriors make the playoffs insanely difficult to predict, which is why it’s a safer bet to tag a couple of Eastern Conference teams as the ones most likely to send the Heat’s season to its unexpected end.

2. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose being back at full strength and playing as well or better than he did during his MVP season would be plenty to give the Heat nightmares in a seven game series. As is the case with most teams, the health of guys like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng come playoff time will be paramount to the Bulls’ chances for success. But the way this team defends under Tom Thibodeau and with the way Rose is capable of taking games over, Chicago has to be considered one of the teams best-suited to end the Heat’s run in the East.

1. Indiana Pacers: Indiana gets top billing in these rankings for one simple reason: They proved they were capable of hanging last season by taking the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference Finals. Add an additional year of experience along with a fortified bench unit featuring the likes of Luis Scola and (possibly) Danny Granger to the equation, and the Pacers are the team that seems most poised to make the leap to championship contender by taking out the team that’s worn the crown for the last two seasons.

  1. jbeagles23 - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    Good list. I think the heat lose tonight and it’ll start from game one that people will say the heat are over rated However this heat team isn’t playing o be the best regular season team and will prevail when it really matters

    • Gary - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:03 PM

      I agree. If Miami does lose tonight you can bet sure people will say Chicago is going to win it all based off that one game.

      • chicitybulls - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:21 PM

        Probably. But I also think that if the heat win you can be sure that some people will say “see the Bulls can’t beat the heat”. I dont think any knowledgeable fans will believe that based off of one game either way.

      • iambusyascrapdonotrespondtomyposts - Oct 29, 2013 at 1:01 PM

        I think if the Bulls are winning by more than 8 in the second quarter, the vast majority of Heat fans will exit the building to go hit up the club or get a tan or whatever the hell. After becoming familiar with the re-entry rules during the Finals last season, they will not attempt to get back in when the Heat pull within 4.

    • mikeevergreen - Oct 29, 2013 at 5:15 PM

      Last time the Heat played the Bulls in the season opener after winning the championship:

      Chicago 108, Miami 66. On “Ring Night” the Bulls wrung their necks.

  2. connorchew - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Really upset to not see the 76’ers on this list

    • stephenolszewski - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      I was thinking the same thing about the Bobcats

    • rayvid - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:17 PM

      No way!!! Terrible teams!!!! You guys are NUTS!!!

      Go Phoenix!!!

  3. lastdukestreetking - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    Brooklyn is not good enough.

    • johngalt1783 - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:56 AM

      The team is built for the playoffs. If all five starters are healthy come playoff time they could win it all.

  4. johngalt1783 - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    Forget about the Clippers and Spurs.

    Clippers are built for offense. Defense wins in the playoffs
    No way Duncan and Parker come close to last season’s performances.

    • cruzan80 - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      “No way Duncan and Parker come close to last season’s performances.”

      …..you hope.

      • mikeevergreen - Oct 29, 2013 at 5:16 PM

        Famous. Last. Words.

  5. qadrir - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    I’m not a Heat fan. But to me this list looks like a wish list. None of the 5 teams are not even remotely close to the level and state where Heat will be tonight and moving forward.

    Clippers # 5:
    If idiot who authored this list thinks just barely adding a coach “Doc Rivers” will push Clippers to the elite dethroning Heat, must be smoking some bad weed.

    Nets: # 4

    This is the team of Grand Pops with a single gran son as in Deron Williams. At some point the granny’s will have prostate and hernia issues.

    Spurs: # 3 Manu not 100% and pretty much done will be a factor.
    Bulls: # 2 May be I agree have a legit shot but lack the depth. If Rose or Noah are done so will any hope for BULLS.
    Pacers: # 1 legit most likely only team in the East to challenge Heat but again will not be able to overcome sheer determination of LeBron James. Pacers don’y have a single player with determination and passion to challenge LeBron.

    So here’s my list in correct order:

    1) ROCKETS 2) THUNDERS 3) BULLS 4) PACERS 5) SPURS

  6. rayvid - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    I can understand the Rockets not being mentioned directly as a threat and only as a side note to how difficult the West will be. I think people are underestimating the Rockets because they were good but not great last year and gave OKC all they wanted. Now, without subtracting players, they had arguably the best center currently playing. This will be a team that is going to make a lot of noise in the playoffs and could find themselves in the West Finals. Spurs are still the team to beat…..for now.

    Regardless, after the West beats up on each other, the winner will probably be to exhausted to do anything against the East. I think the title comes down to the winner of the Pacers/Heat East Finals.

    • miamatt - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:41 PM

      You make a lot of good points, I only disagree in the notion of “the West beats up on each other”… the top 4 in the East is as good or better than the West’s top 4, and, assuming the 5th seed is the Knicks (possibly the Nets), that’s a tough top 5.

      The West has a bit more depth, but the 7-8 seeds, at least, will get knocked out in the first round anyway, so it’s kind of a moot point. The thinking that the East is a cakewalk and the West is a minefield is probably the most overstated misconception about today’s NBA.

    • qadrir - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:32 PM

      I kind of agree with you. But my logic is very simple. Rockets have the best two guard in the NBA as in James harden, they have the best center and the best post defender as in D12. Another factor I like about Rockets is Parsons. Plus they are playing loose a good decent coach and tremendous team chemistry. All in all all factors favor Rockets. I agree SPURS and their experience will be a big hurdle to overcome but I see Rockets pulling off and taking the Western Conference title probably facing Heat. I just don’t see any team rising up to beat LeBron. I am not going to pick the Champion I am just saying and just remember who said it first. It will be Rockets vs. Heat 2013-14 NBA Finals.

  7. blkdoggy421 - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    I’ll give you the Bulls, Pacers, maybe Spurs. Don’t think that Clippers or Brooklyn would do it. Let’s see mid-season, but then again the Heat crank the game up in the playoffs.

  8. rodge1 - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Take the Bulls off of this list.

    • chicitybulls - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      That’s that man’s list. How can you tell him who to take off of it. You put up your list. It probably is similar to drewz below.

  9. drewzducks - Oct 29, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    As much as it pains me to say it, there is only one team that can prevent the Heat from winning the title: The Miami Heat.

  10. antistratfordian - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    “Indiana gets top billing in these rankings for one simple reason: They proved they were capable of hanging last season by taking the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference Finals.”

    History tells us that this is one of the worst reasons possible to give a team that honor. There is no shortage of examples of inferior teams taking superior teams to 7 games only to never get close to that again – the latest example of that was the 2012 Boston Celtics.

    If anything, Miami has only become more familiar with Indiana and more confident that they can win any game they want just by truly applying themselves – whereas the Pacers must have lost some confidence by completely disappearing in their biggest game of their season for the 2nd year in a row.

    • qadrir - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:34 PM

      I agree, I just don’t see any single player with emotion and determination needed to upset a team and players like LeBron & D’Wade. You need to have tons of heart, talent plus a team leader. Pacers have talent, heart but no leader.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 29, 2013 at 3:09 PM

        Right, and their talent level… to put it bluntly – it’s just not high enough.

        None of them have ever won a big game or a big series either so they still don’t know how. Obviously LeBron and Wade… they live for winning those games… they are experts at it. They’re historically great at it. How can the Pacers compete with that? Hope that Hibbert turns into Shaq? That’s not going to happen.

    • bougin89 - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      The Heat currently have Lebron James. He is the best player, no question. The Pacers core is improving and matches up really well with the Heat. They didn’t win last year and the Heat definitely deserved to win but you keep repeating the same comment over and over. The Heat are far from the most dominant back to back championship team ever. Don’t worry though, we know you’ll post more biased comments. Good job, good effort.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 29, 2013 at 3:18 PM

        It’s needs repeating, bougin, because people are hard headed. There is nothing more obvious than the fact that the Pacers cannot keep up with the Heat in a must-win game – no team can, really. The closest anyone came was the Spurs – who did so because they’re a group of hall of famers who have many years of championship experience – and they couldn’t even hold on to do it!

        (The Pacers and the Celtics both pushed the Heat into a must win game situation and both just got obliterated in those games.)

        So to think that guys like Roy Hibbert and Paul George can compete with what I’m talking about… it’s bordering on delusional, if not just outright so.

      • bougin89 - Oct 29, 2013 at 5:31 PM

        The Celtics had the lead to start the 4th quarter of that game 7. They hardly got obliterated. Beat, yes. Obliterated, no.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 29, 2013 at 5:58 PM

        The Celtics lost that series in Game 6 (total annihilation) – just like the Spurs did. But the Spurs got closer, obviously.

      • bougin89 - Oct 30, 2013 at 9:34 AM

        In 2012 the Eastern Conference Finals didn’t go to 7 games? Maybe you should fact check. Did the Celtics have the lead after 3 quarters in said game 7? Yes.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:16 PM

        “Did the Celtics have the lead after 3 quarters in said game 7? Yes.”

        No, the game was tied 73-73 at the start of the fourth. Boston only scored 15 points in the 4th – Miami scored 28. The Heat were up by 12 with three minutes to go and they won by 13. It really wasn’t close.

        (LeBron had10 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in the first 8 minutes of the 4th and that was all she wrote.)

        But just like with the Spurs, the 7th game was obligatory. Both series were decided after crushing Game 6 losses for the Spurs and Celtics – neither team was going to win a Game 7 on the road against King James.

  11. cruzan80 - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    Clippers dont belong on this list. My order would be:

    1. Spurs (they choked the Finals away more than the Heat won it)
    2. Bulls (minus Luol Deng & Derrick Rose this team still won a game againts the heat in the playoffs)
    3. Pacers (Their strong at every position that the Heat are weak)
    4. Nets (Same as the Pacers, only better…but health will be a concern)
    5. Thunder (Revenge + Hunger + Talent)

    • arrondior - Oct 29, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      1. Nets : This team has a lot of questions, but they also have legit floor generals and enough talent to send the Heat home early. But can they stay healthy?
      2. Bulls : I feel like the Bulls are a close second to the Nets. I give the Nets the edge for the experience they have but Rose will be on a mission to get MVP this season.
      3 Spurs : The West is so tough but I have to give them the edge for what they did last year. Period.
      4. Rockets : This is a championship caliber team on paper and probably more talented than the Spurs. But can the coaching staff make it work this season?
      5. Thunder: These guys will be tough to get past if they are healthy.

      To me, the Western Conference is just ridiculous and I feel like a lot of teams could give the Heat a tough series (like the Clippers or Warriors). I haven’t been this excited for an NBA season in a long time. The talent is fantastic this season all over.

    • kavika6 - Nov 1, 2013 at 8:46 AM

      “Spurs (they choked the Finals away more than the Heat won it)”

      Exactly.

  12. asublimeday - Oct 29, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    The two seasons the heat won the title they didn’t have to go through Derrick Rose. He’s better, he’s healthy, we’re bringing it.

    Bulls blowout the heat tonight.

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