Well, the abbreviated 2011-2012 NBA season is coming to a close. Entering the season, the odds on favorite to win the championship was the Miami Heat, led by Dwayne Wade and Lebron James. Despite Wade’s nagging injuries and still open questions about James’ ability to handle the pressure, the Heat have locked up one of the top seeds heading into the playoffs. Some of the power in the league has shifted in this strange and tumultuous season, and the playoffs look more wide open than ever. But has any team supplanted the Heat as the favorite? Let’s take a look…
In the East, the Heat will face perhaps their toughest test in the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have been the number one seed throughout most of the season, but there is concern of late as point guard Derrick Rose has been out with an injury. The Bulls will need Rose to face down the Heat in a seven game series, and then it may come down to who closes out the season strong and enters with the home field advantage.
The old Boston Celtics look rejuvenated late in the season, having pulled away from the Knicks and 76′ers to win the East. But over the course of a grueling series, Boston will not present this Heat team with a problem.
The talk of the east lately has been around the Indiana Pacers, who have quietly put together a solid year. The main thing is this will be the first hardcore playoff run around this group of players, and though they can present problems, the Heat is just far more experienced at playoff basketball and it will show.
Out West, the Thunder and the Spurs are battling for the best record and for the home field advantage. Both teams have the potential to give the Heat trouble, but both may find that getting out of the West isn’t easy. The Spurs ended last season with the best record in the league, but were ousted early in the playoffs. And Oklahoma may need one more year of seasoning.
The Los Angeles teams provide the x-factors out West. The Los Angeles Clippers are breathing down the necks of the Lakers for the top spot as the season closes. The Clippers, with all world point guard Chris Paul and a massive frontline that includes Blake Griffin could be athletic enough to bump the Heat around in a short series. The Lakers are hard to count out as would be any team with Kobe Bryant. You get the feeling at the end of the game, if it comes down to Kobe vs Lebron, that Kobe will eat his heart.
I am putting the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers on the list of teams with no shot at impacting the playoffs seriously.
So all in all, it looks like the Heat are still a very good bet. They have a lot of danger ahead of them, but some of those threats will take care of each other. If the Heat focus on the task at hand, they are probably still the best bet to win the first of their titles here in 2012.