In the past 40 years, no team has won the NBA Finals for four consecutive seasons. That is the challenge the Miami Heat are currently facing. But after LeBron James mentioned in the Heat’s preseason press conference that he “got better once again,” I have very little doubt the Heat will once again represent the East. James playfully added in the press conference that he “won’t reveal what he has improved, but it’s special.” But, if the Heat doesn’t make it back to the Finals, here’s a quick look at who might topple their empire.
1. The two-time defending champion Miami Heat are chasing history. Only three teams in the history of the NBA — the Lakers of the ’50s, the Bulls of the ’90s and the Lakers of the 2000s — have managed to pull off the “three-peat,” and the Celtics even managed to win eight times between 1958 and 1966. But, if any team can do it again, it might as well be this Miami Heat team led by James.
2. Indiana Pacers: The gap between the Heat and the rest of the conference is getting smaller and smaller. As forward/guard Paul George and center Roy Hibbert mature, it seems as if the Heat may actually be vulnerable this season. With George’s elite defense on the wing and Hibbert’s extraordinary length in the paint, the Pacers might have the perfect antidote to James.
3. Chicago Bulls: The Bulls are one of the few teams capable of toppling the Heat. With a superstar in guard Derrick Rose and a top-three defensive anchor in center Joakim Noah, the Bulls are built to contend for years to come in the East. Whether Rose returns in full form or not is still a lingering question.
4. Brooklyn Nets: Guard Deron Williams, guard Joe Johnson, forward/guard Paul Pierce, forward/center Kevin Garnett and center Brook Lopez sound like a tremendous starting five on paper. But that doesn’t mean anything. The Lakers’ debacle last year shows that throwing a pile of talent together is not enough to get the job done. It’s all up to rookie coach Jason Kidd to find the perfect recipe for this team.
5. New York Knicks: It is glaringly obvious by now that forwards Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony cannot coexist. The explanation is twofold. First off, Stoudemire and Anthony both need the ball to operate effectively. Second, Stoudemire’s health prevents any real continuity or chemistry from being established in the frontcourt. Expect Anthony to flee once his contract is up at the end of the season.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers: This is the year that point guard Kyrie Irving, the league’s most talented young guard, will take the Cavaliers back to the playoffs. Boasting a supporting cast of forward Anthony Bennett, guard Dion Waiters, forward/center Tristan Thompson, center Andrew Bynum and forward/center Anderson Varejao, the Cavaliers have a quality roster that can compete for one of the last few playoff spots.
7. Detroit Pistons: Any frontcourt with center Greg Monroe, forward Josh Smith and center Andre Drummond will most likely make it to the playoffs. At first glance, the acquisition of Smith seems like a great acquisition by the Pistons. It gives them an immediate chance to make the playoffs. It comes, however, at the price of poisoning the development of All-Star caliber frontcourt players Drummond and Monroe.
8. Washington Wizards: The Wizards have a Big Three that could define their future: guard John Wall, guard Bradley Beal and forward Otto Porter. That core should be competitive for years to come.