The Heat have won 11 straight, is there a team standing in the way of them winning a second straight title?
By Kate Fagan
Sure, there are plenty of teams standing in the Heat's way, but I don't think any of those teams can actually hold that position for long.
Right now, the teams in the Eastern Conference look like they will be nothing more than appetizers for Miami. A few weeks ago, it looked like the veteran lineup of the New York Knicks might be able to compete with Miami come playoff time, but the Knicks have looked relatively disinterested (that's the only explanation) since then and last week endured an embarrassing blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers. At least the Pacers are legit, and they are probably the only team in the East that can really test the Heat in a playoff series. Indiana is incredibly balanced, and the Pacers will be even better once Danny Granger returns to full form after an early season knee injury. (Granger, a former All-Star, just returned to limited action over the weekend.)
Still, this is all about Miami. The Pacers might be able to compete come playoff time, but over seven games, the Heat are just too good. Will it be any different in the NBA Finals? I don't think so. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have had awesome seasons, but -- let's be real here -- in a long series, who is going to stop LeBron James?
Miami goes back-to-back.
By Michelle Smith
The Heat are playing hot basketball (pardon the pun), but there's a whole lot of regular-season landscape left and a handful of teams with enough talent to stay under the heading of "Worthy Challengers."
The New York Knicks have beaten them twice already this season, as have the Indiana Pacers. But the question is, can either do it over a seven-game series? The Pacers, with Granger back in the lineup and with one of the league's best defenses, look like the better match.
The most worthy team at this point is the San Antonio Spurs, a hot team in its own right with the NBA's best record, eight wins in the past 10 games and five more wins on the docket than Miami.
Despite ugly losses to Miami already this season, Oklahoma City has loads of talent and perhaps a useful chip on its shoulder, and then there's the mildly underperforming, but supremely talented, Los Angeles Clippers.
By Graham Hays
Even after losing game No. 54 to the Miami Heat on Feb. 23, 1996, the Chicago Bulls were 48-6 at that point in the 1995-96 season. With apologies to the current Heat, those Bulls were a team with no opponent standing in the way of a title.
Even if we ignore that these Heat don't have the best record in the league, the best we can do is label them favorites -- strong favorites, perhaps, but not prohibitive favorites like those Bulls teams, or the Lakers and Celtics teams before them, that dominated the league for all 82 games in the regular season.
The combination of having the best player in the sport and last season's championship experience makes the Heat the team to beat, but as long as the Spurs and Thunder are out there with comparable records, there are teams standing in the Heat's path.
By Sarah Spain
The way the Heat are playing, it seems tough to imagine any team taking them out in a seven-game series. Of course, Miami's success is due mainly to the play of LeBron James, who has been simply sublime of late. In single contests, LeBron can dominate, but a series is won by a team, and I believe there is one team that may be able to slay the mighty Heat. (The Thunder are close, but they're not ready yet.)
The league-best Spurs (45-13) aren't getting the press Miami is getting, but they're cruising through the regular season with ease. Tony Parker is a legitimate MVP candidate, leading this team to victory despite Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili missing significant time. With the guidance of the great Gregg Popovich, this team has a chance to outsmart the Heat in a seven-game series with a better game plan and a deeper attack.
By Melissa Isaacson
The Chicago Bulls thought they might at least be able to make the Heat stumble a bit en route to the NBA Finals and maybe in their regular-season contest last week. Then the Heat decided to, well, try in their matchup at the United Center, and it resulted in an 86-67 Miami drubbing.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Heat's victory is that even when they put their minds to it, as they did on this night, it still looks effortless, which is often a trademark of championship teams.
The Bulls had some reason to think they had a chance, since they had defeated the Heat by seven points in Miami in early January. But as LeBron James just seems to continue to get better, even overcoming their previous struggles on the road seems to be nothing more than a matter of the Heat being focused.
At this point, only a serious injury to one of its stars would appear capable of knocking Miami off stride. That said, the Bulls were playing without Derrick Rose, and both the Knicks and Pacers should at least be formidable conference playoff opponents. Could the Thunder, Spurs or even the Clippers stop Miami in the Finals? Sure. I just don't think they will.