15 Teams That Will Challenge the Miami Heat for the 2013 NBA Championship
The Miami Heat are the clear favorite to hoist the 2013 Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy at the end of the 2012-13 season.
With that being said, repeating as NBA champions next year isn't going to be easy for the Heat, as there are a number of teams that are poised to give them a run for their money.
Since the Heat are a 99.99 percent lock to make the playoffs next season, we'll take a look at the top 15 teams that could give them the most trouble in the 2012-13 playoffs.
Ahead is a power ranking of the biggest threats to the Miami Heat's championship throne.
Eastern Conference Honorable Mention: Orlando Magic
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Even though the Orlando Magic's offseason has been defined by the D12 saga, the Magic are still poised to be a competitive team during the upcoming season.
Anytime Dwight Howard is on the roster, his team is going to be competitive, and if there's one thing the Miami Heat struggle with it's offensive production in the paint—and that is what Howard brings to the court.
In a seven-game series the Heat would certainly be able to overpower the Magic, but that doesn't mean it would be easy.
Western Conference Honorable Mention: Portland Trail Blazers
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The Blazers also saw a glimpse of the potential that exists in their 2012 first-round draft pick, Damian Lillard, during the NBA's summer league. The sky is the limit for Lillard, and if he can be a productive NBA player this upcoming year, the Blazers will be a dangerous team in the West.
There's not a high likelihood that the Heat and Blazers would meet in the NBA Finals, as that is the only way they could hold the Heat back from repeating as NBA champs, but hey, crazier things have happened.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers were one game away from meeting the Heat in the 2011-12 Eastern Conference finals, but that doesn't mean they were close to being the second-best team in the East.
The 76ers made lateral moves this offseason that didn't help their team get any better. Even with new players, the 76ers will look like the same team they were last year, and that means they won't be able to hang with the Heat.
The Heat dominated the 76ers last season, and that won't change during the 2012-13 season. If they wanted to truly compete with the Heat, they should've gone out and gotten deeper in the frontcourt.
No, signing Kwame Brown to a multi-year deal doesn't count.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
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The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to be a force to be reckoned with next year in the Western Conference.
Signing Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko are two moves that will have a major impact on the West, and it will transform the T'Wolves into a legitimate playoff contender.
The T'Wolves will be able to stretch the floor, and that's something that the Heat will struggle with next season. The versatility that exists in Kevin Love's game in and out of the paint is something that the Heat could have a hard time with.
While the T'Wolves are a long shot to meet the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, the regular season matchups between the two teams will certainly be competitive and highly contested.
13. Atlanta Hawks
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The Atlanta Hawks, with Josh Smith and Al Horford, are built to compete with the Miami Heat, and they are certainly capable of giving the Heat a run for their money next season.
The Heat could see them in a first-round playoff series, and that wouldn't be good news for the Heat. If Horford can stay healthy, and Smith is as productive and efficient of a player as he was last season, the Hawks could be a very difficult test for the Heat.
With Devin Harris running the point, assuming he's the Nets' version where he put up nearly 20 points a game, the Hawks have the offensive power to hang with the Heat. The only question is whether they will be able to hang with the Heat on the defensive side of the ball.
12. Indiana Pacers
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There's no doubt that the Pacers are capable of running with the Heat, but they don't stand a legitimate chance to get in the way of the Heat and the 2013 NBA title, mainly because their frontcourt isn't nearly established enough.
While David West is a force to be reckoned with, Roy Hibbert doesn't utilize his seven-foot frame, and until he does that the Pacers will continue to be a team teetering on the edge of becoming an elite team in the NBA.
Losing Dahntay Jones and Darren Collison certainly won't help their cause either next season. The Heat shouldn't have that much trouble getting past the Pacers if they meet again in the playoffs next year.
11. New York Knicks
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The Miami Heat dominated the New York Knicks in the 2011-12 playoffs, and adding Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby won't exactly change that heading into the 2012-13 season.
The Knicks haven't really reloaded this offseason, but they'll still be able to put up a fight against the Heat. The one thing that Camby does bring to the Knicks is a large, seven-foot frame in the paint, and even if he's too old, his size alone will have an impact on the court.
If the Knicks can develop legitimate chemistry among their star players and the players coming off the bench, they'll be a challenge for the Heat, but I don't see that happening next season.
Carmelo vs. LeBron is always an exciting matchup, but unless 'Melo learns how to truly lead his team the Knicks won't contend with the Heat for the 2013 NBA title.
10. Denver Nuggets
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One thing the Denver Nuggets do better than almost every other team in the NBA not named the Miami Heat is run in transition, and that's exactly why they could give the Heat fits next season.
The Nuggets beat the Heat last season, and they did so because they forced the pace of the game against them. With nearly the same roster, including Andre Miller, the Nuggets will be able to do that next season, and it will be a challenge for the Heat.
The main issue the Nuggets have when it comes to legitimately competing with the Heat is the lack of defensive focus they bring to the court.
If they can figure out how to play defense at the same pace they play offense, they will be a very dangerous team for not only the Heat, but for every team in the NBA.
9. Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets have earned the honor of being the most hyped team entering the 2012-13 season. Some experts are picking them to be the sleeper in the Eastern Conference for the NBA title. While I'm not ready to crown them that high yet, they are certainly capable of hanging with the Miami Heat.
Without playing a single game together, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez have formed one of the most formidable starting lineups in the entire NBA.
Assuming that they all stay healthy, they certainly have the talent to give the Heat a tough time on the court. The main issue for the Nets next season won't be talent. It will be waiting to see how long it takes for them to build chemistry among their starting five.
As we saw with the Heat during the 2010-11 season, having star players isn't enough. It takes chemistry to win championships, and the Nets will learn that the hard way next season—meaning they won't be a major hurdle to the Heat's 2013 title hopes.
8. Dallas Mavericks
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If this article was written three weeks ago, putting the Dallas Mavericks on this list would have been an afterthought.
Now that they've signed O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, and traded for Daren Collison, the Mavs are right back in the thick of things in the Western Conference.
In addition to that, the Mavs are also built to give the Heat some serious trouble—mainly because they now have a ridiculous amount of frontcourt depth.
The 2012-13 Mavs have enough talent to compete with the Heat, and if Dirk Nowitzki can lead them like he did back in 2011, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the West next year.
7. L.A. Clippers
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Lob City was a very inconsistent team last season, and that won't change next year, as they were forced to revamp their lineup this past offseason.
With Blake Griffin recovering from a knee injury he suffered training for the Olympics and players like Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill trying to find an identity in the Clippers' lineup, they will struggle throughout the first half of the season.
Luckily for them, the uptempo way they play the game certainly helps them when it comes to competing with the Heat, and we saw that last season.
With Chris Paul running the point, and some serious size and athleticism in the paint, the Clippers could give the Heat a run for their money. The key for the Clippers is slowing the Heat down in transition, because when they do that the Clippers are able to impose their tempo on the Heat, and that's when Lob City is the most dangerous.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
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The Memphis Grizzlies can not only compete with the Heat, they can also dominate them—mainly because of the frontcourt tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
The blueprint to beating the Heat is to get into the paint from the perimeter, spread the floor and dominate the paint with your big men, and that's exactly what the Grizzlies can do.
With Mike Conley's ability to slash into the lane and Gasol and Randolph's ability to absolutely own the paint, the Grizzlies have a solid chance of not only meeting the Heat in the NBA Finals, but also keeping them from the 2013 NBA title.
Add Rudy Gay and his versatile athleticism to that mix and the Grizzlies have just gotten that much more dangerous. Defensive toughness is the name of the game for Memphis, and if they can play defense in transition, they'll be a favorite coming out of the West.
5. San Antonio Spurs
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Anytime you have the combination of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, being coached by Gregg Popovich, you're going to have a very dominant NBA team.
The Spurs' biggest strength is their adherence to the fundamentals of the game, and that is exactly what is the foundation of their ability to hang with the Heat. The Spurs also play some of the toughest defense in the entire league, and that definitely is something that the Heat will struggle with next year.
If players like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard continue to develop and add depth to their bench, the Spurs will continue to develop into an even more serious threat to the Heat's 2013 NBA title hopes.
The Spurs' veteran talent will always be a challenge for the Heat, and the only problem for the Spurs is getting to a place where they can actually stand in the Heat's way, because that means dominating the Western Conference. That is going to be very hard to do.
4. Chicago Bulls
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Without Derrick Rose for the majority of the first half of the season, the Bulls will certainly struggle. But once they get him back in the lineup, they will be as dangerous as ever, and that's not good news for the Miami Heat.
The Bulls match up extremely well with the Heat, mainly because they play very strong defense.
Even without Rose, the Bulls' defensive focus will be at the foundation of their success, and Kirk Hinrich—who the Bulls signed this offseason—will add to that focus and also reinforce it.
There's no way around the fact that with Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, the Bulls will be close to leading the charge of teams that are capable of keeping the Heat from repeating as NBA champs. The Bulls know how to slow down LeBron and company in transition, and that's a key aspect to beating the Heat.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
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The Oklahoma City Thunder came closer than any other team to getting in the way of LeBron and his first NBA title with the Miami Heat. The importance of that isn't that they almost won, it's that they lost.
Losing to the Heat last season in the NBA Finals gave the Thunder the bitter taste of defeat that will make them a much more dangerous team next season.
The Thunder didn't exactly gain any talent, other than Perry Jones III and Hasheem Thabeet, but that doesn't mean their uptempo offense won't give the Heat problems during the 2012-13 season.
Anytime you have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka on one team, you're going to have a group of players ready to take on the NBA world, and that includes the Heat.
Scott Brooks will certainly have the Thunder in a better place next year than they were last season, when it comes to competing with the mighty Heat, and that will be more than exciting to watch.
2. Boston Celtics
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The Boston Celtics entered the 2012 offseason with a number of questions surrounding their roster and what it would look like when the 2012-13 season got underway.
Fast forward to today and the Celtics have reloaded and solidified themselves as a top contender in the Eastern Conference. There's no question that the Celtics know how to beat the Heat, and with Kevin Garnett holding down the fort in the paint, the Celtics will give the Heat a run for their money next year.
Adding players like Jason Terry and Courtney Lee helped the Celtics upgrade their depth at the shooting guard position and that's certainly going to help them against the Heat next year.
The main question for the Celtics is if they'll be able to defend LeBron, which they proved they couldn't do last season, and while it's looking like more of the same heading into the 2012-13 season, the new-look Celtics will certainly be a challenge for the Heat.
1. L.A. Lakers
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The L.A. Lakers transitioned from being an aging team with a lack of chemistry to being the top team in the Western Conference heading into the 2012-13 season.
Acquiring Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison looks great on paper, but the beauty is that it will look even better on the court once the season begins. Nash is going to give the Lakers a sense of identity in addition to adding efficiency to their offense and that's dangerous for the Heat's 2013 NBA title hopes.
The Heat struggle against teams with depth in the frontcourt and with teams that are able to control the pace of the game. With Jamison and Nash, those things are at the foundation of who the Lakers are, and that's why they will be able to keep the Heat from repeating as NBA champions.
It's way too early to project what the 2013 NBA Finals will look like, but it's not a stretch to think fans could finally get the Kobe vs. LeBron NBA Finals that they've always dreamed of. If that happens, the Lakers will pose an incredibly dangerous threat to the Heat's title chances and LeBron's hope of getting his second ring.