The Miami Heat are the odds-on favorite to win their third straight NBA Championship this June.
But let's not crown them just yet. Another parade in South Beach is far from a lock.
There are three possible playoff scenarios that could result in a summer of unrest in Miami. Let's break them down!
Dwyane Wade's Knees Betray Him
The Heat have done everything possible to avoid this. They've sat Wade in back-to-backs in the regular season (he's missed 16 of 62 games) with the hope Wade and his oft-injured knees will be fresh and healthy come playoff time.
As a result, Wade is having a terrific season. He's averaging 19.3 points on an absurd 55.1 shooting percentage from the field. He's also grabbing 4.7 rebounds and dishing out 4.8 assists nightly.
He's been especially impressive, lately. His explosiveness appears all the way back and he's attacking the basket more often. After taking just 4.3 free-throw attempts per game in the first half of the season, Wade is getting to the line six times per game since the all-star break.
But as cautious as Miami's being, and great as things are going now, there's no guarantee Wade will hold up throughout another deep playoff run. Health, especially for a player with Dwyane's age and injury history, is unpredictable. And if Wade suffers a setback, the Heat are in big trouble.
Although they were able to win a title in 2013 with an injured Wade, it's unlikely history would repeat itself if he struggled again. The other top-tier teams in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers are all better than they were last year, and would have the talent to knockout a short-handed Heat team.
Heat Can't Stop Roy Hibbert... Again
Roy Hibbert is a very good basketball player when he faces the other 29 teams in the NBA (career averages of 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds).
But when he faces the small-ball Heat, Hibbert transforms into an elite, unstoppable big man. The 7'2" center dominated Miami in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals to the tune of 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
The Heat must do a better job of containing Hibbert when Miami and Indiana ultimately face off in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. If the Pacers ultimately are able to knock off the Heat, Hibbert will be the reason. His superb rim-protection skills help slow down LeBron, he's been able to overpower Chris Bosh and Co. on offense and he gives the Pacers an enormous rebounding advantage.
This is why the Heat signed Greg Oden last season. Miami's hoping he has the ability and size to be the "Hibbert stopper." If he's unable to fulfill that role and Hibbert beats the Heat up again, then Miami's going to need a monster series from LeBron James to advance.
Spurs Make Another Trip to NBA Finals
While there are plenty of great teams in the Western Conference, their finals representative will in all likelihood be the Spurs or the Thunder.
Plenty of NBA fans would prefer to see LeBron and the Heat face Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals. Miami would prefer that too.
What the Heat don't want to see is the wily old Spurs, who, despite injury issues, are dominating these days. While the Heat beat the Thunder by 23 points on Feb. 20, San Antonio beat Miami just as bad (24 points) on March 6.
San Antonio has the top-to-bottom talent to match the Heat's deep bench. The Thunder have stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but that's proven easier for Miami to defend than the laundry list of contributors the Spurs have.
Critical when talking about a potential seven-game series, San Antonio also has a significant coaching advantage over OKC.
On the other hand, it took Thunder coach Scott Brooks until this season to realize playing Kendrick Perkins against the Big Three Heat was a big mistake Brooks just doesn't stack up to a coach like Popovich.
The Spurs have basically proven themselves to be Miami's equal over the years. They have an elite coach, intimidating depth and highly effective systems on both sides of the ball, just like the Heat do.
Again, Miami would be favored against anyone they'd face in the finals, but facing the Spurs is the worst-case scenario for the Heat.