The 5 Players Standing in the Way of a Miami Heat Title
Though they currently trail the Chicago Bulls for the top spot in the East, Miami has shown that they're much improved from last season.
With the team gelling together and LeBron James no longer playing the role of a villain, the Heat are poised to bring an NBA Championship back to Miami.
They'll face a whirl of competition along the way but have proven their worth among the best in the NBA.
Here are five players who could prevent the Miami Heat from winning an NBA Championship in 2012.
If the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat continue playing a high caliber of basketball, they'll undoubtedly meet in the Eastern Conference Finals this spring.
The Bulls currently sit atop the East while the Heat hold the No. 2 spot, just like it was last year when these two teams met in the Conference Finals.
After going 3-0 against Miami during the 2011 regular season and winning the first game of the playoff series, Chicago was ousted 4-1 by the Heat in the Conference Finals.
2011 reigning MVP Derrick Rose has missed some time due to injury this season, but is still the best player on the Bulls and a top player in the NBA.
Rose is currently averaging 22.8 points and 8 assists a game. During last year's playoffs, Rose averaged 27.1 points, 7.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds.
Chicago, as a team, is a lot scarier than last season, and it seems the Bulls and Heat are on a collision course to meet in the Conference Finals.
If they do, look for Rose to give it his all for fear of losing to the Heat on the brink of the NBA Finals two seasons in a row.
Now that Dwight Howard will be staying in Orlando, the Magic could be a roadblock for the Heat in their pursuit of an NBA title.
Assuming the Heat and Magic win their respected series, they would see each other in Conference Semifinals.
As usual, D-12 is averaging a double-double this season, with 21 points and 14.8 rebounds. During last year's playoffs, Howard averaged 27 points and 15.5 rebounds in six postseason games.
Miami has shown time and time again that they're susceptible to opposing big men, especially Howard. In four games this season, he's averaging 19.8 points and 18.8 rebounds against Miami.
Although they're 2-2 against the Magic this season, I don't think Miami would lose to the Magic in a seven game series during the playoffs. What Miami lacks in big men they make up for in the play of the Big Three.
But still, facing Howard in a seven game series to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals is no picnic.
Again, were the NBA playoffs to begin tomorrow, Miami would play the Boston Celtics in the first round.
Last season, these two teams faced off in the Conference Semifinals, with Miami beating Boston by a 4-1 mark.
While I don't think Miami would have any trouble sweeping the Celtics in the first round, I do think Paul Piece would put up one heck of a fight.
Though he's aging, and it shows, Pierce is still the leading scorer for the Celtics averaging 18.3 points.
During the 2011 postseason, he averaged 20.8 points and shot a career-best 44-percent from beyond the arc. He also put together two, back-to-back 27-point performances against the Heat in last year's Conference Semifinals.
Pierce is a seasoned vet with extensive playoff experience and a ring to show for it. His team may not be the toughest out, but he sure is.
Although the Los Angeles Lakers don't look as dominant as we're accustomed to seeing, they still have a very legitimate chance of reaching the NBA Finals, and so do the Heat.
It's everyone's dream matchup. Kobe vs. LeBron. The Black Mamba vs. The King.
Nike and their puppet commercials would resurface and the NBA Finals would set records for views.
And I'm not even going to get into the fact that Dwyane Wade broke Bryant's nose in the All-Star game.
If the Heat and Lakers take care of business in their respected conferences, they could meet in the NBA Finals this season.
Those saying Kobe has lost a step clearly haven't watched the Lakers play this season. Despite shooting poorly, Bryant is averaging 28.7 points and, along with Andrew Bynum, is keeping the Lakers afloat in the West.
The Lakers would probably have to ultimately go through the young and exciting Oklahoma City Thunder to get to the NBA Finals, but it's more than possible.
The inexperience of the Thunder is what may hurt them come playoff time, and Bryant and Co. certainly possess playoff experience.
I'll be praying for these two teams to clash in the Finals.
I'd love to see LeBron win a championship against Kobe and the Lakers.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been favored by many to win the Western Conference and make it to the NBA Finals in 2012.
If the Miami Heat were to find themselves representing the Eastern Conference in the finals, we'd see the two best small forwards in the game fighting it out in a seven game, fight to the death series to take home basketball's most coveted trophy.
At just 23 years old, Kevin Durant is undoubtedly the leader of the Thunder.
The former Rookie of the Year and two-time scoring champ is averaging 27.7 points and 7.9 rebounds, ranking him second in the NBA in scoring behind Kobe Bryant.
With a young trio of stars that includes Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Oklahoma City is a team to be reckoned with.
They currently hold the No. 1 spot in the West, sporting a 34-11 record and a four game lead over the competition.
After losing 4-1 to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals last season, KD and the Thunder are out to prove their worth in the West and win an NBA Championship.
Durant is one of, if not the best, pure scorers in the NBA. If the Thunder and Heat were to square off in the finals, he'd be Miami's biggest challenge to bringing a championship home.
Follow Pete Schauer on Twitter @Pete_Schauer