Biggest Threats to Miami Heat Remaining NBA's Most Dominant Team
The Miami Heat are the unquestioned best paper team in the NBA, regardless of what happens in the 2013 Finals. With that being said, the Heat have shown signs of being human and that has some questioning how long they can remain on top.
The question is, which team could surpass them as the most dominant in the NBA?
There are countless contenders that truly aren't legitimate, as their intrigue outweighs their production. There are other teams that may not have the look of a dominant squad, but they've quietly set a new standard for themselves.
Regardless of where you look, there are teams that are primed and ready to become the most dominant in the NBA—so who might they be?
2012-13 W-L Record: 45-37
Key Players: Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose
Key Statistic: No. 3 in Scoring Defense
Without their superstar point guard, All-Star small forward and replacement point guard, the Chicago Bulls reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They also finished third in scoring defense and proved that, with or without their key players, they can be a tough out.
With those players, they're a title contender.
The key will be which Derrick Rose we see when he finally returns from surgery to repair his torn ACL. If he can return to MVP form, then the Bulls have the type of core to dominate any opponent that they may face.
Keep in mind, Chicago finished with the best record in the NBA in both 2011 and 2012.
Luol Deng and Joakim Noah form one of the top defensive duos in the world, while Jimmy Butler's progression is beyond encouraging from a two-way standpoint. Taj Gibson, meanwhile, is one of the top big men reserves in the NBA.
Throw in D-Rose and you have a title contending core.
The key for Chicago will be to acquire shooters via free agency, as the absence of Kyle Korver was felt. Marco Belinelli served as a very serviceable player, but he's now a free agent and the Bulls' offense runs through Rose's drive-and-dish facilitating.
Having players that can hit the three-ball is the key for Chicago.
Golden State Warriors
2012-13 W-L Record: 47-35
Key Players: Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, David Lee
Key Statistic: No. 1 in 3PT FG%
The Golden State Warriors are more of a two-to-three year deal when it comes to becoming the NBA's most dominant team. Not only are they young and inexperienced, but they will face a heavy—and quite frankly, irrational—level of expectation next season.
The fact of the matter is, they're scoring three points for every two the opposition finds—the math does itself.
The Warriors are led by one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NBA in point guard Stephen Curry. Not only did Curry set an NBA record for three-point field goals made in one season, but he proved to be a double-double threat in the playoffs.
That's the type of player you feel good betting on.
Surrounding Curry is a cast of sharpshooters, including rising star Klay Thompson and all-around breakout rookie Harrison Barnes. With David Lee leading the NBA in double-doubles and Andrew Bogut playing at a superb level when healthy, Golden State has the core to be a dominant team.
With a young and fast rising head coach in Mark Jackson, the intrigue is deserved.
The question for the Warriors will be whether or not they can overcome the loss of assistant coach Mike Malone and if they can improve their defense. While they may be an elite offensive team, Malone was the play designer and their defense ranked 19th in terms of points allowed per game.
If they progress as expected, however, Golden State will be one of the most dominant teams in the NBA.
2012-13 W-L Record: 49-32
Key Players: Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West (UFA)
Key Statistics: No. 2 in Scoring Defense, No. 1 in OPP FG% & OPP 3PT%
The Indiana Pacers proved that their 2011-12 success was no fluke, taking the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. If not for a LeBron James overtime buzzer-beater in Game 1, you could make the case that Indiana would have won the series.
As is the progression of a young contender.
For starters, the Pacers have a pair of stars to build around with small forward Paul George and center Roy Hibbert. George was the Most Improved Player of the Year award winner, while Hibbert dominated the Heat.
Between their defensive prowess and low-high offensive attack, George and Hibbert could lead the Pacers to the top of the Eastern Conference.
As a team, the Pacers were second in scoring defense and first in both opponent field goal percentage and opponent three-point field goal percentage. With that defensive brilliance comes the opportunity to contend for titles, as every great defense does.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Frank Vogel is one of the most rapidly developing head coaches in the NBA.
The key for Indiana will be to find a facilitating point guard that can orchestrate the offense and a group of three-point shooters. While Indiana may have an elite interior, they also fall into tendencies of isolation jump shots.
Shooters and a facilitator can cure those type of woes.
Los Angeles Clippers*
2012-13 W-L Record: 56-26
Key Players: Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (UFA)
Key Statistic: No. 4 in scoring defense and No. 8 in scoring offense
The Los Angeles Clippers boasted a top five scoring defense during the 2012-13 regular season. They were also eighth in scoring offense, which displays just how brilliant L.A. could be when it comes to two-way basketball.
The question is, will Chris Paul re-sign with the team this coming offseason?
If Paul returns, then the Clippers would likely return to 50-win form during the 2013-14 NBA regular season. That alone puts them in this conversation, as their home dominance and ability to win on the road is an elite blend.
Keep in mind, the Clippers are going to have a new head coach—one that better fits their personnel.
The true key here is the development of Blake Griffin, who has every tool to become the best power forward in the NBA. While some sight his athleticism, the improvement of his mid-range jump shot and low-post game is wildly underrated.
If the progression continues, Griffin would be the type of superstar that can team with Paul to lead a push to the title.
The other key is that L.A. needs to add three-point shooters in order to improve their half court offense. If they're to do so, their deep cast of guards would be complemented in the proper manner and the Clippers would contend.
Keep in mind, their first round exit came at the hands of a Western Conference Finalist.
Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 W-L Record: 60-22
Key Players: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook
Key Statistics: No. 1 in Point Differential
In case you haven't heard, Russell Westbrook is back.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the most obvious choice here, as they boast the second-best player in the league and the most explosive perimeter player. Those players, of course, are perennial All-Stars Kevin Durant and Westbrook.
A dynamic duo that has already reached the NBA Finals.
Prior to Westbrook's knee injury during the 2013 NBA playoffs, the Thunder appeared to be on their way to another Finals appearance. They finished with the best record in the Western Conference and owned a 2-0 lead on the Rockets before Westbrook went down.
With Westbrook, they're the best in the west.
In addition to Durant and Westbrook's elite scoring and play making, the Thunder have the top shot blocker in the NBA in Serge Ibaka. They also have an elite on-ball defender in Thabo Sefolosha and, should he re-sign, an elite jump shooter in Kevin Martin.
That's a major question mark, but Martin has stated that he wants to play in Oklahoma City.
The key for the Thunder will be to draft or sign an interior player that can score out of the post. As it presently stands, OKC lives and dies by the jump shot, and against the Miami Heat, that simply is not an effective way to win.
Even without that low-post player, however, OKC is a legitimate threat to Miami's crown.
San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 W-L Record: 58-24
Key Players: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich (Coach)
Key Statistic: No. 2 in FG%
The San Antonio Spurs continue to be written off as a team that is too old to contend. The fact of the matter is, they're one game away from the NBA championship and reached the Western Conference Finals in 2012.
Why in the world would we write them off again?
Tony Parker is one of the top players in the NBA, and such has proven throughout the course of the 2013 NBA playoffs. Tim Duncan, meanwhile, isn't just great for his age, but he was the most productive big man in the NBA.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Duncan was the only player in the NBA to average at least 17.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 blocks during the 2012-13 regular season.
Beyond Duncan and Parker is a cast of young players on the rise including two-way threat Kawhi Leonard and NBA Finals record holder for three-point field goals made Danny Green. Throw in a deep cast of three-point shooters and you have yourself a perennial contender.
Did we mention that Gregg Popovich is their head coach?
The key for San Antonio will be to find the heir apparent to both Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Even if they continue to play at a high level, they're both over 35 and the Spurs can't bet their future on their defying father time.
Something tells us that this organization will find a way to remain on top.