No club has won three straight titles since the Los Angeles
Lakers in the early 2000s, and the 16-team field for this year's
playoffs, which begin on Saturday, has no shortage of contenders for
the NBA's Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.
The San Antonio Spurs, who were a whisker away from winning last
year's NBA Finals, and the Indiana Pacers, eager to avenge last
season's loss to Miami in the Eastern conference finals, are just
two of the many teams feeling good about their chances.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in 2010 with
the goal of creating a dynasty in Miami by stockpiling NBA titles,
but they enter the postseason facing questions about team chemistry and
Anything less than a championship could determine whether James,
Wade and Bosh make themselves available to the highest bidder this
offseason, as they have early-termination options in their respective
Unlike last year, Miami failed to secure the top seed in the East,
which means they will not have home-court advantage after the second
round. That could prove costly as Miami was forced to seven games
in last year's conference final and NBA Finals.
Wade, 32, missed a quarter of this season with various injuries,
given a style of play that has punished his body over the years, and
his health may be Miami's biggest concern as they navigate a playoff
schedule that offers little time for rest.
But James, who was named the most valuable player in each of the
last two NBA Finals, has proven himself as a big-game player who can
rise to the occasion.
However you slice it, the Heat are a dangerous team stocked with
veteran talent and a proven track record of winning tough games.
Miami will open their playoff campaign on Sunday against a
seventh-seed Charlotte Bobcats team that they beat in all four
regular season meetings.
The Pacers had the best record in the East and boast one of the
league's top defenses along with a potent mix of size, speed and
versatility, but they struggled the last couple months and will need
While Indiana should get by the eighth-seed Atlanta Hawks in the
first round, a potential second-round series with a Chicago Bulls
team that also has a stingy defense could prove difficult.
The Toronto Raptors, fresh off a franchise-record 48-win regular
season, will open their first playoff series in six years when they
host the Brooklyn Nets.
Whichever team represents the East in the NBA Finals will be in
tough against the Western conference representative. The West is so
deep that the 49-33 record of the Dallas Mavericks, who earned the
conference's eighth and final playoff seed, would be good enough for
third place in the East.
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The Spurs, who appeared to have their fifth championship in hand
last year until squandering a five-point lead in the final seconds
of Game Six, returned this season to secure the NBA's best record
and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
In one of the most dominant runs in NBA history, the Spurs have
captured four championships since 1999 and, despite critics calling
them too old, will not be taken lightly.
San Antonio open their playoff versus Dallas on Sunday.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a popular pick to represent the West
in the final given the scoring prowess of Kevin Durant, sidekick
Russell Westbrook and one of the league's most underrated defenses.
Add into the mix that they lost to Miami in the 2012 Finals, had
their championship dreams crushed last year due to an injury to
Westbrook and have been playing second fiddle to the Spurs in the
West for years, the Thunder could be ready to bring a first NBA
title to Oklahoma City.
Up first for the Thunder will be a Memphis team that reached last
year's West final.
The Los Angeles Clippers, coming off a franchise-record 57-win
regular season, will also be liking their chances when they bring a
solid front court and mix of veteran and young players into their
series versus the Golden State Warriors.
The Houston Rockets, who have one of the NBA's top centers in Dwight
Howard and the best shooting guard in James Harden, should ease by
the Portland Trail Blazers in the opening round but then face a
possible matchup against the Spurs.
The NBA playoffs will conclude in June.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Steve Keating)
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