The Miami Heat are what one would consider a dynasty. Ever since the formation of the "Big Three," Miami has had a target on their backs. And now, following their second straight NBA Championship, the target is growing ever so large.
LeBron James finally took that next step this past postseason, averaging a double-double in the seven game NBA Finals series vs. the San Antonio Spurs. The self proclaimed "King James" averaged 25.3 points and 10.9 rebounds, and finally showed what he had been lacking in the 2012 Playoffs—the clutch gene.
So who can stop this freight train they've named the Miami Heat? Many have come close, but other than the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, no one has been able to accomplish this feat. So who are the teams in best position to kill the hopes of a Heat three-peat this season?
With every ranking list, comes some honorable mentions. Teams that might have a slight chance to dethrone Miami, but not nearly as good of a chance as our Top 5. Here are a few of those teams.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are a team that have all of the talent and star power to be able to knock off Miami in a playoff series. So why are they being left off of the top 5?
It's very simple—inconsistencies. The Knicks struggled to close out their first round series last seasons vs. Boston, and then had very streaky performances against Indiana. If New York could figure out how to consistently shoot the ball well, they could easily crack that top 5.
San Antonio Spurs
Short and sweet here, everybody knows the Spurs have the ability to hang with Miami. But let's face it here, the trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli aren't getting any younger. The physicality that is needed when facing the Miami Heat is something San Antonio is beginning to lose.
Now this one might be a stretch. But as far as I can see, if the reality show that is Dwight Howard works out for Houston, I can't see why it wouldn't be considered a contender. It has a very good versatile centerpiece in James Harden, a solidified point guard in Jeremy Lin, a fantastic outside shooter in Chandler Parsons and now a solidified paint presence in Howard. The only thing keeping Houston out of the top 5 is the "what if" factor that comes with Howard.
This ranking really all depends on the health of point guard Russell Westbrook. Following a knee injury in last year's playoffs, the Thunder fell to the Memphis Grizzlies 4-1 in the second round.
As of right now, Kevin Durant is the only player who can be considered to be on LeBron James' level of play. His 28.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game are reason alone for Oklahoma City to make this list. That being said, the Thunder only hold a realistic chance if Westbrook is healthy and playing well.
Westbrook does so much more for this Thunder team than what stats can provide. He provides a spark, an attitude, that rubs off on his teammates. Without this mentality, the team reverts back to Durant's quiet personality, and lacks that "killer" instinct.
If both healthy, I can see Oklahoma City providing a tougher challenge to the Heat in the NBA Finals than the one they provided in the 2012 series. Experience, attitude, and a better knowledge of who the Miami Heat are give them an upper-hand, should the rematch occur.
I am a beliverr in the Golden State Warriors. Head coach Mark Jackson has these guys out in California playing damn good basketball. And they did exactly what any potential threat to the Miami Heat had to do this offseason—they got better.
Following their "loss" in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, Golden State acted aggressively in both free agency and the trade market. Though losing guys like Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, the Warriors ended up landing Andre Iguodala in a trade with the Denver Nuggets. And this is exactly what Golden State was lacking last season—a big-time scorer.
We will have to wait and see how the Warriors react to last season's success. They quickly became a fan-favorite in the postseason for their flashy play and were considered a Western Conference dark horse. This team, at it's best and now with Andre Iguodala? Not so much of a "dark horse" anymore.
The Brooklyn Nets have assembled a "big three" of their own, and though many are concerned about the ages of both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, you can't help but think the starting lineup this squad has thrown together will compete.
The only real question mark on this team is the selection of their head coach. Brooklyn went with former Nets point guard Jason Kidd as it's selection for the head coaching vacancy. And the addition of former Nets head coach Lawrence Frank will be a huge help as Kidd adjusts to his head coaching seat, as Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix pointed out.
Lawrence Frank is an invaluable addition to Jason Kidd's staff. Frank's institutional knowledge will make Kidd's transition much easier— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) October 2, 2013
But let's just take a second and look at the roster that Brooklyn has assembled. Derron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko and Tyshawn Taylor. It's hard to look at that and believe that Brooklyn will be anything but competitive.
As tough as the Celtics always played Miami, you've gotta believe that Brooklyn will be able to harness Garnett and Pierce and play them just as well. I look forward to seeing this new and improved Brooklyn unit out on the court.
"The Return," as most Chicago Bulls fans are calling it. Derrick Rose is back, and expected to contribute for the Bulls once again this season. What level Rose will be playing at remains to be seen, but after sitting out an entire year, one can only expect him to have to shake off a little bit of rust.
That being said, Rose's return to the lineup makes Chicago an Eastern Conference favorite once again. Rose's explosiveness provides the star power Chicago needs, and has shown it needs, to get it over the hump.
The Bulls put up a decent fight against the Heat in last year's playoffs, though the 4-1 series outcome didn't seem to show it. The series was marred by technical fouls and incredibly physical play. Chicago had the Heat on the ropes in several games, but couldn't finish them off. That is where Rose comes in—to provide that extra push.
Rose being back brings an interesting dynamic to the Eastern Conference, and I look forward to some competitiveness in the Central Division and atop the Eastern standings once again.
The Indiana Pacers proved in last year's playoffs that the Miami Heat could be beaten. Between the arrival of Paul George, the physical dominance of Roy Hibbert and the sheer leadership of David West, the Pacers made a statement to the Eastern Conference—they are for real.
Granted, Indiana had some issues. For the second straight year, the bench proved to be unreliable at times for head coach Frank Vogel. But the Pacers got better this offseason. Signing point guard C.J. Watson, former Knicks swing man Chris Copeland and trading for Phoenix Suns forward Luis Scola. Given these additions, the departures of Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin look very minimal.
To compliment the new additions, the Pacers will also get forward Danny Granger back this season after the forward missed most of last season. One look at the Pacers depth chart shows you they were committed to getting better.
A team that was already 48 minutes away from an NBA Finals trip, that only got better? Indiana is, without question, the team most poised to give LeBron and company a run for their money.
Gear up, basketball fans. It is going to be an interesting season.