Before this NBA season started there was little doubt in my mind that the Miami Heat would win the NBA Finals, but as this season goes on I am becoming less confident in that prediction. The Heat are the most talented team in the NBA. That is a fact, and if you disagree with then you NEED to finish this article, trust me I will convince you that they are. But being the most talented team certainly doesn’t make them the best team in the NBA, as we saw last year. So let’s go through the 3 teams other than the Heat that I believe can win the NBA title this season.
The Chicago Bulls (42-13) have the best record in the league right now, and they have played their last 11 games without the reigning MVP Derrick Rose. They are a very talented team, and they have experience in the playoffs. But the Bulls success relies on the health of Derrick Rose. If Rose is not 100% for the playoffs, then the Bulls can not beat the Heat in a 7 game series. But if Rose can come back healthy it is a huge advantage for the Bulls, because he will have avoided the majority of the torture of this shortened season, and his legs will be fresh for the playoffs. But that is a big if. Boozer and Noah are adequate big men, but I’m not totally convinced about the consistency of the Bulls bench. Korver is a very streaky shooter, Rip Hamilton is injured and old, and John Lucas is not quick enough to beat elite guards off the dribble. We saw how Rose struggled when Lebron James was covering him, and I don’t expect things to change. The Heat eliminated the Bulls last postseason, and I expect LeBron and company to do it again if these teams play each other in the playoffs.
Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder own the best record in the Western Conference (40-13). Durant is one of the most difficult players to defend in the league, and come playoff time he will be locked in. He has proven that he can hit the big shot at the end of the game, but he hasn’t done it in the playoffs yet. In order to beat the Heat you need a presence down low, and Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are weapons on the offensive end. Ibaka is still a raw player, but I love his upside. He is the best shot blocker in the world, and hopefully he can develop his offensive game. One weakness for the Thunder is experience. Perkins won a title with the Celtics, but besides him they are a very inexperienced team. I think that the key to the potential Heat vs. Thunder series would be Dwyane Wade. Wade has won an NBA Finals and he was the MVP. People may criticize LeBron for not being clutch, but compared to Russell Westbrook, LeBron is pretty good at the end of games.
I don’t know if I can call the Memphis Grizzlies my sleeper pick since I picked them to win the Western Conference and play in the NBA Finals, but I’m still going to do it. The Grizzlies are not getting the respect that they deserve around the league, and they are going to be a team to watch for come playoff time. What advantage could the Grizzlies possibly have over the Heat and Thunder? Depth and big men. Memphis has 6 players that average double figures in scoring, while the Heat and Thunder only have three players each. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Marreese Speights will cause problems for either of those teams too. Their size will be too much for Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh to handle down low, and Dirk showed that that is where you need to exploit the Heat. We saw Memphis take Oklahoma City to 7 games last year in the Conference Semifinals, and that was without their leading scorer in Rudy Gay! If you can’t tell, I REALLY like the Memphis Grizzlies this year. Just imagine if they never traded away Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo, and if they drafted anybody besides Hasheem Thabeet. No seriously, pretty much anyone in the top 20 of that draft would have been a better pick than Thabeet.
For now, I am going to stick with my prediction of the Miami Heat winning the NBA Finals over the Memphis Grizzlies. I think that in LeBron’s mind he has to win this year, and if he doesn’t it will not bode well for his confidence. Especially if he chokes in the fourth quarter of the games again. Plus, I don’t feel like going through an entire year of bad jokes about LeBron James. I would rather see “The Big Three” win their first championship and get the inevitable out of the way.