Is 2nd Consecutive Title Already a Formality for Miami Heat?

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 10, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 04:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat drives past Nate Robinson #2 of the Chicago Bulls during a game  at AmericanAirlines Arena on January 4, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Miami Heat aren't exactly blowing away the NBA in the 2012-13 season, but could a second consecutive title already be a formality for LeBron James and Co.?

A 23-10 record doesn't indicate a shoo-in NBA Finals victory, but look across the league and it's awfully hard to find teams that can hang with the Heat over a seven-game series.

Let's take a look at teams that have tried to stand in the Heat's way in recent years and that pose threats to their throne. 

The first team that comes to mind is the Boston Celtics. Doc Rivers' squad had Miami on the brink of elimination and forced the Heat to win an elimination game on the road in Game 6 before eventually advancing to the 2012 NBA Finals.

But will the Celtics be a threat at all to Miami in this postseason? Not hardly. The Cs are teetering around .500 and look more of a team that will limp into the playoffs than one that will be dangerous. Plus, the Celtics' biggest issue, rebounding, is the one strength a team must have to expose the Heat's biggest weakness.

The Knicks are a major surprise team in 2012-13 as they join the Heat atop the Eastern Conference. So what about them? New York has the big men to attack the Heat down low, but they also struggle with rebounding (27th in the league). 

Carmelo Anthony, who will be the Knicks' X-factor in the playoffs, won't have the same impact on the game while playing against King James. He is notorious for shutting down stars defensively. 

And didn't the Heat oust the Knicks with relative ease in last year's playoffs?

It's safe to say Derrick Rose won't be the same at all in 2012-13, even if he returns to the floor from his long absence. If that's the case, the Chicago Bulls boast no true shot at topping the Heat in a seven-game series. 

After all of this, we can pencil in the Heat as the East's representative in the 2013 NBA Finals, which means it's time to look at the Western Conference giants.

I love how the Los Angeles Clippers have been playing and will give them credit as a title contender. But they're at the level right now where they're just finding out how to tear it up and have more growing pains ahead before they make that next step.

The Los Angeles Lakers? Don't make me laugh.

The only team I can see giving the Heat any fits in their pursuit for a repeat would be the Oklahoma City Thunder. They have two stars hungry for a title in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and that hunger is now multiplied after last season's ending. We saw what NBA Finals defeats did for LeBron's game. 

But for now, last year's outcome speaks for itself.

Miami may not have blown away the NBA so far in 2012-13, and they've had their fair share of disappointing performances. But it's obvious this team is focused on peaking at the right time, and they now have the experience to know how to do just that.

I'm not ready to say that an NBA title in 2013 is nothing but a formality for the Miami Heat, but it's darn-near close. If the Thunder don't raise their game to the elite level the Heat will be at come this summer, it will be more of the same as LeBron lifts his second title.

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