We are nearing the beginning of a new season, and the teams of the NBA are gearing themselves up for another run at a ring. Although most of the teams don’t have a legitimate chance, there are some who will be heavily involved in the mix. Here’s a look at the 5 major threats to unseat the Heat’s reign at the top.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder – At the end of the 2012 NBA Finals, we looked at the Thunder as a team that would be in the NBA Finals for years to come, serving as a viable threat to the Heat. They had the amazing Kevin Durant, the dynamic Russell Westbrook, and the smooth James Harden, all of which were under the age of 24. Things seemed to change when Harden was traded to the Rockets, and the core was broken up before they could reach their primes. Thanks to a historic season from Durant and a more efficient Westbrook, the Thunder were able to reach the top seed in the West, but suffered a setback when Westbrook tore his meniscus. With a driven Durant and Westbrook, in addition to the expected growth from Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, the Thunder could be back in the NBA Finals.
4. Chicago Bulls – The Chicago Bulls don’t like the Miami Heat. This is a known fact. Their tough, defensive-minded style is a great contrast to the fast-paced, finesse game of the Heat. They’ve owned the Heat through the regular seasons since 2011, winning 6 of 10 games. However, come playoff time, the Heat have returned the favor when it matters, winning 8 of 10. Outside of Taj Gibson, and possibly Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls won’t have enough firepower to truly threaten the Heat. Although I don’t count on it, the return of Derrick Rose can truly help the Bulls give the Heat a run for their money.
3. San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs were 28 seconds away from defeating the Heat in the NBA Finals, and causing the Heat to look in the mirror and answer many questions. However, the Spurs melted down and ended up in the losing locker room when it was all said and done. Even though the team is a year older, the team is pretty much intact and even added an extra shooter in Marco Belinelli. If the Spurs can get one more solid season out of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, there is no reason the Spurs can’t end up representing the West in the Finals again.
2. Indiana Pacers – The Pacers beat the Heat down during the Eastern Conference Finals. They force-fed David West and Roy Hibbert and took the Heat out of their comfort zone. Paul George emerged as a player on the rise and the Pacers took Miami to 7 games. The additions of scorers CJ Watson and Chris Copeland should bolster the Pacers bench, and the return of Danny Granger should make the starting lineup better as well. If they can show the same growth, and continuity with the new pieces, they could be unseating the Heat as the kings of the Eastern Conference.
1. Miami Heat – The Heat serve as the biggest threat to their current reign as the best team in the NBA. The entire lineup will remain the same and the only way the Heat don’t return to the NBA Finals is if they get in their own way, primarily with injuries. Healthy, or even slightly healthy, we know what the Heat can accomplish. At this point, complacency is their biggest threat.