Ranking the Biggest Threats to the Miami Heat's Title Throne in 2013
As the defending NBA champions, the Miami Heat definitely have a big red target on their backs this season.
Miami may have been standing tall at the beginning of the season when it received its shiny rings, but now that we are in full swing this year, the contenders around the league are looking to dethrone it.
It hasn't been and won't be an easy task to beat the Heat, especially in a seven-game series. However, there are still several teams in the NBA who have the capability of upending the defending champs en route to a championship run of their own.
With that being said, let's break down which teams pose the largest threat to Miami protecting its crown.
5. Boston Celtics
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It was just a few seasons ago when the Boston Celtics started the new trend of acquiring several superstars to group with a current one.
Boston's acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen proved to be an instant success, as the newly formed Big Three with Paul Pierce guided the Celtics to their first championship since 1985.
The Big Three has since disbanded with Allen signing with Miami in the offseason, but Boston still has hope for one more championship run this season with Garnett and Pierce in the twilight of their careers. Even with the loss of Allen, the Celtics have had help to replace his scoring void with the likes of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry.
Starting point guard Rajon Rondo has proven his elite status as a floor general and showed in last season's playoff series against the Heat that he can put up huge numbers of his own. In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, Rondo posted 44 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds in his 54 minutes of action.
Though Boston has struggled to get in their right groove for the first part of the 2012-2013 season, they will benefit from the return of Avery Bradley who should be crucial for getting them back on track and into the higher part of the standings in the East.
4. San Antonio Spurs
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The quiet giants of the Western Conference continue to be the San Antonio Spurs, who are still secretly one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.
While they don't have the youth and flare of teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers, the Spurs continue to get the job done, even with their seasoned superstars. San Antonio's core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili still have gas in the tank, even going against the young guns of the league.
Having a great defensive stopper like forward Kawhi Leonard has really helped this team as well, especially if they ever need to plug up a force like LeBron James.
With the Spurs being just a few bad quarters away from the NBA Finals last year, they know that they are capable of beating everyone in the Western Conference and would embrace the challenge of facing off against a strong Miami team.
The championship experience, solid depth and direction from head coach Gregg Popovich would give San Antonio some major ammunition if it encountered Miami in the finals and could be enough to bring the gold back one more time in the Duncan era.
3. New York Knicks
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After all the hype of pairing Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony together, the New York Knicks have found out, so far this season, that maybe they only need the latter for success.
Stoudemire hasn't played all season, but Melo has led the Knicks to a strong start and has had help from veteran guards Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. Even with Linsanity leaving town, there's new reasons to be excited about the Knicks.
Miami has squared off against the Knicks twice this season but have been blown out both times, losing by 20 in the first encounter and 18 in the next. If this is any sort of preview for a playoff series, the Knicks seem to have the Heat's number in the early going.
Whether Stoudemire hurts or helps, the Knicks' on-court mojo remains to be seen, but his potential to go off on offense remains and could make New York an even larger threat to Miami than they already are.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
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Maybe at the beginning of the season, you would have expected to see a different Los Angeles team in this slot.
Once the little brother of L.A., the Clippers are now a juggernaut in the NBA, currently on a 16-game winning streak, good for the best record in the NBA as of Dec. 28 (24-6). The Chris Paul acquisition has worked wonders for this team, and his ability to facilitate this high-octane offense and play great defense has shaped Los Angeles into a contender.
In their contest earlier this year against the Heat, the Clippers came up with a convincing 107-100 win at home with double-doubles from Griffin and Paul.
This current streak, however long it may last, demonstrates what this team is capable of and how they can pick apart teams and look good in the process. Lob City may have been viewed as a cute, entertaining playoff team earlier this season, but now, they have blossomed into a scary, legitimate contender that's looking to take the league by storm.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
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Even with the loss of their talented sixth man James Harden, this Oklahoma City Thunder team that won the Western Conference crown last season doesn't seem to have lost a step at all.
After OKC came up short of beating Miami in the NBA Finals this summer, the Thunder made a big move right before the start of this season by acquiring Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first-rounders from the Houston Rockets in a package deal for Harden.
This move shocked the sports world but was seen as a necessary route of action after contract extension talks between the Thunder and Harden broke down. There were plenty of questions as to how this would affect such a closely knit team, but as their current record (as of Dec. 28) of 22-6 would show, OKC may be hungrier for championship gold than ever.
The Heat-Thunder game on Christmas Day this season already had a strong postseason vibe to it and was another sign of a budding rivalry between two of the best teams and players in the game today.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James played and worked out together over the summer, but the competition between the two on-court continues to increase, making for some very good basketball to watch. These offseason activities seem to have made both guys better than before, and they will both be in the MVP conversation at the end of this season.
Oklahoma City has bounced back from a big shakeup and looks as strong as ever. They blew through the Western Conference en route to the finals last year, and they look poised to do so again this year, even with the heightened threats of the Clippers and Spurs.
If OKC sees Miami in the finals this summer, though, you can certainly expect a closer contested series and maybe a different result as well.