Heat to repeat? NBA season preview

In Fall Sports, Sports
Courtesy of MCT

From coast to coast, the hardwood for 30 teams has been dusted off and polished. It’s time for NBA basketball again.

The 2012-13 season is already looking to be a promising one with big name players being moved in the offseason, the league being as competitive as it is and the fact that there will be a full season instead of a shortened one like last year.

The Miami Heat raised their banner and received their rings last night after capturing the 2011-12 NBA Championship. They will once again have a target on their back as defending champions. However, this is nothing new as they have been scrutinized since summer 2011 when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the team.

James is undoubtedly the best player in the league and continues to evolve his game to new levels each year. Last year he developed his post-game offense and expect more of the same as there have been rumors that he has been working on his skyhook, a move made famous by all-time scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. James adding the weapon of a virtually unblockable shot is a very scary thought as he’s already got the skill set to be considered one of the greatest ever.

The Heat’s success does not solely reflect on James as they come into this season improved from last year. The biggest piece they added is 37-year-old sharpshooter Ray Allen who on any given night can hit several three-pointers especially considering the attention the Heat’s other superstars will be getting from opposing defenses. They also added 6 feet 10 inch forward Rashard Lewis who can hit the three and provide some much needed bench scoring.

One of the scariest things about the Heat is they also have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James is such a fantastic player that it is often forgotten that they also have two of the best players in their respective positions. Wade has been considered to be the second best shooting guard of the past decade behind Kobe Bryant. Bosh was considered one of the best power forwards in the game prior to joining the Heat.

With the wealth of talent and now the experience of winning a championship, the Heat are once again positioned to win it all.

However, the team that the Heat defeated in last year’s finals have revenge on their mind. The Oklahoma City Thunder turned from the ‘team of the future’ to one of the premier teams of the league seemingly overnight.

Powered by one of the best scorers in recent memory, forward Kevin Durant will undoubtedly use the pain of the loss to drive him and the Thunder team to more success this season. The reigning three-time scoring champion won’t be alone as he’s got point guard Russell Westbrook at his side. Westbrook is not only one of the most exciting players in the league, but combined with Durant they may be the best duo in the league.

Aside from Durant and Westbrook, a measure of the Thunder’s success could depend on their continually improving power forward Serge Ibaka. Ibaka led the league last season in blocks en route to being named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. The biggest weapon Ibaka added to his game last season is the mid-range jumper, a great tool to have for someone primarily seen as a defensive player.

On Saturday, reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets due to financial reasons. This rather surprising news could change the trajectory of where the Thunder go from here. Harden was a spark off the bench and also ran the offense when Westbrook wasn’t in the game. Some would even argue that Harden is a better pure point guard than Westbrook himself.

The Harden trade may pan out to be a good move by the organization in the long run, but short-term it could hurt the Thunder’s championship aspirations. The team that could benefit the most from this is the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers arguably had the most successful offseason of any team as they nabbed future hall-of-fame point guard Steve Nash and the best center in the league Dwight Howard in off-season trades. Nash is the first great point guard the team has had since Magic Johnson in the early 1990s and his passing skills and basketball IQ will vastly improve the Lakers’ ball-movement. In addition, Nash’s skill set combined with exceptional near 7-footers in Howard and Pau Gasol will make for an exciting pick-and-roll.

Howard has been the best center in the league for years now and only adds to the Lakers’ tradition of legendary big men. He is a defensive monster, winning three consecutive NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2009-11.

On paper, the Lakers should dominate the league, but they also have the most questions surrounding them including if Howard’s back is completely healed from the injury he suffered last season. They also didn’t win a single preseason game, which usually isn’t a good barometer for how the actual season is going to go but it showcased that they had holes as far as their depth goes.

In addition, at age 34 will Kobe Bryant still be able to perform at the highest level like he has the past couple of years? Or maybe the biggest question is if Bryant will be able to pass the torch to Howard or share the team with him and Nash. Bryant is the wildcard in all of this because his competitiveness and/or selfishness could potentially spell doom for the team.

The two dark horse teams that can vie for the title have consistently challenged the  past couple years; the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics. Both teams have older veteran players that continue to push their bodies to the limit in order to get another taste of championship glory. It’s because of this veteran leadership and the fact that they are led by two of the best coaches in the entire league that you can never count these two teams out.

The Celtics have one of the best five point guards in the league in Rajon Rondo. Boston also boasts one of the deepest benches in the league. They recently added energy guard Leandro Barbosa, swingman Courtney Lee, rookie forward Jared Sullinger and center Fab Melo.

Aside from veteran leadership, the often overlooked Spurs have promising young talent in Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard.

The fast-paced high-energy NBA game is finally on display and once again it seems to be another promising season in the association.

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