The Miami Heat have three straight Finals appearances and two back-to-back titles since the “Big three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in the summer of 2010. With a target on their back going into next season, do the Heat have what it takes to win it all again? Here are a few teams that could pose a threat to Miami’s championship hopes in 2013-14.
7. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors raised a lot of eyebrows by eliminating the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2013 playoffs and pushed the San Antonio Spurs to six games in the second round. While young stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson proved to be more than capable scorers during the postseason, the Warriors will miss the bench production of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack. With the addition of Andre Iguodala though, the Warriors have a defensive presence the team lacked last season. Whether or not that will be enough to take them past the second round next season remains to be seen, but they will definitely make some noise in the Western Conference.
6. Houston Rockets
The Rockets were a good team last season with James Harden leading the way. Now with the signing of Dwight Howard, they can potentially shift the balance of power out West. While Howard is arguably one of the best centers in the game, he doesn’t always live up to expectations. However, in spite of not being 100 percent last season, he averaged over 17 points and 12 rebounds per contest. If he can produce those numbers when he isn’t completely healthy, it will be scary to see what he will be able to do without injuries holding him back.
5. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets finished with the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Despite having home court advantage, they fell to an injury-riddled Chicago Bulls team in seven games. Adding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to their starting lineup alongside Deron Williams and Brook Lopez should give Brooklyn some additional firepower, thus making them a legitimate threat in the East next season.
4. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have not made significant changes to their roster and their brand of basketball is not one that brings fans to their feet. However, the Spurs were 12 minutes away from knocking off the Heat in Game 6 of the Finals. While they don’t have a lot of flash to their game, they have been one of the most successful franchises over the past 15 years, which has resulted in four titles during that time span. That said, you can never count them out of the conversation when it comes to championship-caliber teams.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder notched the top seed in the West last year, but things went south once Russell Westbrook went down with an injury in the first-round against the Houston Rockets. As a result, the Thunder fizzled out in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies. With Westbrook back in the fold next season, the Thunder will be looking to challenge the Heat for NBA supremacy once again after coming up short in 2012.
2. Chicago Bulls
As a follower of this team for a number of years, it is difficult not to place them at the top of the list, but I have my reasons. While the return of Derrick Rose will instantly make the Bulls a better team, I cannot say with great certainty that they are the biggest threat to the Heat’s championship hopes at this point in time.
A lot of their success will hinge on multiple factors. How long before Rose returns to form? Will Luol Deng bounce back from one of the worst shooting percentages of his career? Will Jimmy Butler prove that he can produce consistently as a starter over the course of a full season? Most importantly, can the team remain healthy when it counts the most—in the postseason? These questions are why I’m placing Chicago at the number two spot.
1. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers finished with the third best record in the conference last season despite the absence of Danny Granger and pushed the Heat to a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals. With Granger back in the lineup, along with the acquisition of Luis Scola who has respectable career averages of 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest, the Pacers will more than likely prove to be the biggest obstacle for two-time defending champion Heat.