The most scrutinized team in pro hoops last season was arguably the Miami Heat. At this point, that fact should not change for the 2011-2012 season.
With the Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade Miami are well positioned to reach great heights in a lockout-shortened season. In spite of question marks in the frontcourt, backcourt and bench the Heat seem poised to win the Finals this time around.
About the only threats to Miami’s championship run are the Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder. Dallas have enough pieces around Dirk Nowitzki, like new recruit Lamar Odom, to win. The Thunder have stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and they can usurp Dallas for a Finals berth.
From there look for a decline in play from two of the sport’s biggest rivals in the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics are based around aging talent like Kevin Garnett while LA and Kobe Bryant are reeling from the loss of Odom and coach Phil Jackson. Though both can make the playoffs, odds are they will be knocked out in the first round.
In fact Boston looks likely to sport a low seed and be outdone by a number of young, up-and-coming teams in the East. The Chicago Bulls (with Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose), the New York Knicks (with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire), the Atlanta Hawks (with Joe Johnson) and Indiana Pacers (with Danny Granger) are all primed for winning campaigns. Time will tell how competitive Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic and Deron Williams’ New Jersey Nets are in the run-up to the playoffs.
LA meanwhile face big opposition from cross-town rivals the Clippers. With the addition of superstar Chris Paul the Clippers are a legitimate playoff team. From there Marc Gasol’s Memphis Grizzlies, Lamar Aldridge’s Portland Trail Blazers, Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns, Tony Parker’s San Antonio Spurs and maybe Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors should offer some competition.