These days, the Miami Heat may be playing as well as any team has over the past five seasons. They've won 11 straight games and 16 out of 18, leaving carnage in their wake and dashing playoff hopes as they've run roughshod over teams in both conferences.
Of course, regular-season success is no barometer for postseason glory. And despite the fact that they haven't lost since Feb. 1, Miami still only boasts the NBA's third-best record.
All of that matters little to the oddsmakers: Bovada has the Heat as the odds-on favorites to win the NBA title, and the smart money says that they'll bring yet another parade to Biscayne Boulevard. But there's plenty of time before a king is crowned in the NBA this season, and there are a few teams who are planning coronations of their own.
The teams split their two meetings this year, and Los Angeles shot a combined 17-for-37 (45.9 percent) from beyond the arc against Miami. If the Clippers turn it into a track meet, they have a puncher's chance of taking down the Heat in a series: Lob City is 19-2 this season when scoring 105 points or more.
Working against the Clippers is the recent surge by the Los Angeles Lakers. The Western Conference playoffs figure to be challenging enough as is—if the Lakers can somehow sneak into the dance, the Clippers will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to earn their first-ever NBA Finals berth.
While the NBA cognoscenti watches the Miami Heat in awe, the San Antonio Spurs are doing what the San Antonio Spurs do: cruising under the radar and racking up wins while everyone else is looking in another direction.
Make no mistake about it: At a league-best 45-13, the Spurs are a great team. And unlike the San Antonio teams of old, this year's squad can get up and down the floor with the best of them (their pace of 94.3 is seventh best in the league).
Point guard Tony Parker is playing at an All-Star level, Kawhi Leonard is emerging as one of the game's best perimeter defenders, and Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter combine to form an imposing frontcourt duo that seemingly never misses anything from within five feet. If the Spurs can navigate the rough seas of the Western Conference, they'll give Miami all that they can handle in the NBA Finals.
A spirited Indiana Pacers squad gave the Miami Heat fits during last season's Eastern Conference semifinals series between the two clubs. This year, the Pacers are hoping to be the team that denies Miami its second consecutive title.
Let the record show that Chris Bosh missed the last five games of last year's playoff series against Indiana with an abdominal injury. But an undermanned Pacers team has already beaten the Miami Heat twice this season, one of only two teams to do so (the New York Knicks are the other).
Now that Danny Granger is back after offseason knee surgery, Indiana will have the next two months to get into a rhythm before the playoffs kick off in April. If Granger and Paul George can avoid a repeat of what happened last May (the two combined to shoot 37 percent against Miami in last year's playoffs), the Pacers could very well make their first NBA Finals in 13 seasons.
Chicago has been pretty impressive this season. So impressive, in fact, that they may be good enough to knock off the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Bulls were the contrarian pick to win the conference title last season, and they have more than enough talent on their roster this year to pull off an upset.
Of course, Chicago will likely need the services of All-World point guard Derrick Rose (who continues to recover from a torn ACL) if the team truly has any chance of beating LeBron James and Co. in a seven-game series. The Bulls (sans Rose) did defeat the Heat at the AmericanAirlines Arena back on Jan. 4, handing Miami one of their three home losses on the season.
On the surface, Oklahoma City doesn't match up well with the Heat. Miami has won both meetings between the two teams this season, and also took the last four meetings in the NBA Finals.
That said, the tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook actually outscored LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in last year's playoff series (288 points to 256). And if the Oklahoma City duo can find a consistent running mate this time around (James Harden's 18-for-48 in the 2012 Finals didn't help matters all that much), there may be a new top dog in the NBA yard once all is said and done.
The biggest issue for the Thunder in the Finals was trying to find someone to defend Shane Battier, who Miami often used at the 4 spot during last year's playoff run. If Erik Spoelstra continues to go with Udonis Haslem at power forward, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins should own the Heat on the glass, especially considering that Miami is last in the NBA in rebounding.