Miami Heat: Ranking Top 5 Teams That Could Keep Heat from Back-to-Back Titles

Eric Johnson@<a href="" class="twitter-follow-button" data-show-count="false">Follow @EJisLegend</a> <script>!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src="//platCorrespondent IIIJuly 10, 2012

Miami Heat: Ranking Top 5 Teams That Could Keep Heat from Back-to-Back Titles

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    Miami overcame a lot in the 2011-12 NBA playoffs to win their first NBA championship, but the competition could get a little more stiff in the upcoming year. While there is not a large list of likely teams that could contend with the Heat at this point, a few do remain that should not be forgotten.

    The Heat learned a lot from their 2010-11 NBA Finals defeat to the Dallas Mavericks. Not only did they take away the fact it takes more than talent to win a championship, but they learned chemistry is the key to everything.

    With the chemistry and trust continuing to build, is there a legit list of teams that can hang with the South Beach Heat?

    This list consists of teams who have been there before and look to get back, along with a potential team that needs to learn the lesson Miami did a few years back.

    Take a look and see the Top Five threats to stop Miami from going back-to-back.

5. New York Knicks

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    Past the top three choices, I don't see a huge shot of anyone knocking off the Miami Heat this year. So instead of going with the best five teams in the league, let's go with potential.

    Carmelo Anthony hasn't had the results he was aiming for in his short career in a Knicks jersey. A lot of it has to do with the horrible chemistry between him and forward Amar'e Stoudemire. While Anthony is a dominant scorer, his massive amount of shots has limited the play of the big man.

    This is why they signed veteran point guard Jason Kidd.

    No, Kidd isn't at the peak of his career anymore, but he remains a solid choice for New York to lead the team at the point guard position. He recently won his first NBA championship and remains a nice option when it comes to a distributing guard who can fit in with the team.

    With Tyson Chandler questionably winning the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award last season, New York should continue to build defensively around him to have production on both ends of the floor.

    The depth of the team is below average. but if the star players can finally show the ability to work together, the East could be on the lookout.

4. San Antonio Spurs

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    Heading into the playoffs no team looked better than the veteran San Antonio Spurs. They were getting production from top-to-bottom, and seemed to have the NBA Finals in reach.

    Then, well, they just started looking old...

    Oklahoma City fought back from an 0-2 deficit and won four straight against a tired and confused looking Spurs team.

    Fast forward to next season and they still have the same championship core that has won in the past, as well as the best coach in the league, Greg Popovich.

    The Spurs will likely need another MVP-caliber performance from Tony Parker along with good health from Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, but they can also rely on some of the younger players to take the load off the aging stars.

    San Antonio shouldn't focus on getting home court next season, but instead keeping their legs fresh in a full 82-game season.

    This is a team that could remain at the top of the West or find themselves falling off to a low seed with no surprise. If they do happen to play a full playoff schedule to their maximum potential, the Spurs could add one more championship to a great legacy, but the window is quickly closing for this core.

3. Boston Celtics

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    At one point last season, the Boston Celtics looked done. They were destined for a first-round knockout or potentially not even grabbing a playoff spot. However, this aging team found the fountain of youth and eventually came one game away from an NBA Finals appearance.

    More than ever, this team is heavily reliant on Rajon Rondo at the point guard position. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are past their respective primes and must rely on Rondo to not only distribute, but become an effective scorer as well.

    While showing signs of being a trustworthy scoring option, Rondo doesn't have the history that demands the respect and attention of a defender. Forcing Rondo to score slows team ball movement and can break the flow of an effective offense. If he can find the right combination of scoring and passing, he can further his case for being the best point guard in the NBA.

    Brandon Bass is a good young player who can inject some life into these Boston Celtics. He's a big body with a nice mid-range jumper who can rebound and defend efficiently. Along with Bass, the return of Jeff Green from heart surgery and Avery Bradley gives Boston some promising young depth to build around.

    They now also have a shooting guard who helped defeat the Miami Heat before in Jason Terry. He is a superb second or third scoring option and really helps spread the floor with his range. 

    It will also be interesting to see how well recent draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo contribute in their first seasons in the league.

    Boston has a lot of question marks, yet, a lot of possibilities next season.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Two seasons ago, the Los Angeles Lakers were looking for their second three-peat in the Kobe Bryant era. This didn't happen, of course, as they have faced two straight second-round exits.

    Could Steve Nash really be the answer to getting the Lakers over the hump and back to the NBA Finals?

    Nash has been one of the most memorable players in the last decade based on his flashy passing ability and knack for leading a team. He doesn't shy away from his scoring duties when necessary, averaging 14.5 points along with his career 8.6 assists a game.

    He joins a trio of players who have won together before in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. While Kobe is a mainstay in Los Angeles, rumors around the other two could see them ship out for some new talent.

    As they are now, Kobe remains an elite scorer with Bynum developing into an unstoppable big man. With Gasol showing concerns over his job security in a Lakers uniform, he could be the wild card in landing a few solid role players, or using his abilities to contribute with his current team.

    It's questionable how well Kobe will react in dealing with a point guard who must dominate the ball in order to be an effective distributor, but better support could lesson the load off his shoulders and help his long-term health.

    This is a team with the size talent, and experience to challenge Miami, but they face a huge obstacle in not being able to spread the floor.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Despite falling to the eventual champion Miami Heat in five games during last season's NBA Finals, this Oklahoma City Thunder team looks like a top choice to represent the Western Conference once again next year.

    With James Harden, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook all at the age of 23 or younger, youth and inexperience played the biggest factor in their disappointing exit last year. While still young, this is a team that has been to the Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals in the last two respective seasons.

    See the progression pattern here?

    Durant will come into next season as arguably the second best player in the league. He is the best pure scorer in the NBA, and has shown major strides in improving as a defender. With an NBA championship within reach last month, this could be enough for KD to take the needed steps and grab the title this season.

    While Russell Westbrook has always seemed to be a target for his questionable point guard play, the fact is he kept Oklahoma City alive in many games that could have resulted in a blowout.

    Yes, he sometimes shot more than the reigning NBA scoring champion, but he is still transitioning into the point guard position. If he and Durant figure out the proper chemistry, this could be the best duo in basketball.

    Ibaka and Harden are also crucial aspects of a championship team. Ibaka is a strong candidate for Defensive Player of the Year next season while James Harden looks to defend his crown of Sixth Man of the Year. Neither player showed great consistency in the Finals last season (at times Harden looked non-existent), but a portion of this could be attributed to inexperience.

    The Thunder seem like the biggest contenders to knock off Miami in a rematch of last season's NBA Finals.

    While the depth of the team is questionable, stellar play and no major miscues could result in a different ending next season.