After 82 games of riveting NBA action, the 2012-13 regular season has finally come to a close. With the postseason upon us, we now have one question for the NBA world to answer.
Who will dethrone the defending champion Miami Heat?
The Heat have followed up their title in 2012 by winning a league-best 66 games. Entering the postseason, they've won eight consecutive games and 37 of their past 39.
In other words, Miami is the odds-on favorite to win it all.
Per OddsShark.com, the betting odds on the Heat winning the NBA championship are presently at -105. The second-best odds belong to the Western Conference regular season champion Oklahoma City Thunder, who sit at +500.
The disparity speaks for itself.
With that being said, the Heat are not the only legitimate contenders for the 2013 NBA championship—no matter how badly we want to believe otherwise.
In fact, the Heat are joined by a number of legitimate contenders in both conferences. The question is, which teams have the best odds of dethroning the mighty Heat?
Let's take a look.
Oklahoma City Thunder
W-L Record: 60-22
Scoring Offense: 105.9 (3rd)
Scoring Defense: 96.5 (11th)
Key Statistic: plus-9.4 (1st)
Statistically speaking, you could make the case that the Oklahoma City Thunder are the most dominant team in the NBA. Not only are they third in scoring offense, but they lead the NBA with a positive-9.4 point differential.
That's a full 1.5 points higher than the second-ranked Miami Heat.
The Thunder have reached this plateau by pouring on the scoring, averaging 105.9 points per game. In the process, they've come in at third in field-goal percentage, as well as third in three-point field-goal percentage.
Did we mention that the Thunder made an NBA Finals appearance in 2012 with a core of players that were 23 or younger?
In 2013, three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant has made the leap to one of the elite all-around players in the NBA. Durant complemented his average of 28.1 points with 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
With Serge Ibaka leading the league in blocks and Russell Westbrook averaging 23.4 points, 7.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals, it's fair to say the Thunder are legitimate.
Furthermore, Durant has made history by joining the rare 180 club. Durant posted a season slash line of .510/.416/.905.
With Kevin Martin shooting 42.6 percent from beyond the arc and Ibaka becoming a lethal jump shooter—49.2 percent from mid-range and 35.1 percent from beyond the arc—OKC is contender worth noticing. As if I needed to remind you of that.
San Antonio Spurs
W-L Record: 58-24
Scoring Offense: 103.1 (4th)
Scoring Defense: 96.5 (9th)
Key Statistic: 25.2 Assists Per Game (1st)
The San Antonio Spurs may just be the best team in the NBA. They're first in assists per game, second in assist-to-turnover ratio and rank in the top 10 of both scoring offense and scoring defense.
If a team is one collective unit that plays off one another, the Spurs are just that.
If you're a LeBron James fan, you're praying that San Antonio makes it through the Western Conference and into the NBA Finals. The Spurs are the team who swept LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers out in the 2007 NBA Finals.
If you're a Spurs fan, you're looking to prove that James' development into the world's greatest is meaningless in comparison to Gregg Popovich's coaching brilliance.
Regardless of why you want to see this matchup, there's no denying that it would be superb. Not only are the Spurs elite, but they are designed in the perfect manner to upset the Heat.
Tim Duncan's career revitalization is a major reason why, as the 36-year-old is averaging 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.7 blocks per game. More importantly, he's dominating the interior and allowing Tiago Splitter to quietly have an efficient season.
San Antonio's ability to pound it inside could be the perfect answer for Miami's high-octane attack.
As for whether the Spurs can keep up with the scoring pace, don't even attempt to suggest they can't. The Spurs lead the league in assists, are fourth in scoring offense and rank fourth in three-point field-goal percentage.
Oh, and did we mention that former 2007 NBA Finals MVP Tony Parker and three-time NBA champion Manu Ginobili are still on top of their game?
New York Knicks
W-L Record: 54-28
Scoring Offense: 100.0 (11th)
Scoring Defense: 95.8 (7th)
Key Statistic: 10.9 Three Point Field Goals Made Per Game (1st)
As an individual who grew up in New York City, I permit you to scoff at the idea of the New York Knicks discovering postseason success. They haven't won a playoff series since 2000, haven't reached the NBA Finals since 1999 and haven't won it all since 1973.
With that being said, the Knicks have won the Atlantic Division for the first time since 1994—the year they went to the NBA Finals.
History is all fine and well, but the truth of the matter is, this year's Knicks team is unlike any we've seen before. They aren't led by a Hall of Fame center, they don't pound it down low and they certainly don't have a coach hanging from Alonzo Mourning's leg in the midst of a brawl.
With that being said, the Knicks are one of the greatest three-point shooting teams in NBA history and just so happen to play elite defense—how's that for a reason to believe?
The Knicks averaged a league-high 10.9 three-point field goals made per game in 2012-13. More impressively, they did so while ranking fourth in three-point field-goal percentage.
As a result, the Knicks have set the NBA record for three-point field goals made in one regular season (via CBS Sports).
Furthermore, the Knicks rank seventh in scoring defense and are anchored by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler. If that's not enough for you, note that the Knicks have been one of the hottest teams in the league without their core.
The Knicks enter the postseason having won 16 of their past 18 games—no matter what history says, this team is legitimate.
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