Come this time of the year, only one thing matters: Who will hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June? Well, below are a few possible answers.
1. Miami Heat
Many believe that the Heat’s success depends on the play of the best basketball player in the world, LeBron James. Others believe that it depends on his two elite sidekicks, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But what will truly define the success of the Heat is the play of its role players: Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen. As the great Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games. But … teamwork wins championships.” Michael Jordan couldn’t have won six rings without Steve Kerr’s big time shots. LeBron James can’t win his second without Ray Allen’s big time shots.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
The key to the Thunder is quite different. The Thunder’s success is largely dependent on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Arguably, Durant and Westbrook are the best 1-2 punch the NBA has to offer. Nevertheless, there is only one obstacle that lies firmly in their path to winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy: Westbrook’s understanding and acknowledgement that Durant is the best player on the team. When Wade acted likewise, James took the Heat to insurmountable heights.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Health, health, health. Unfortunately, the Spurs have very little momentum going for them. Although this is due to the injury bug, their playoff success depends on how well Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can stay up. Losing Ginobili equates to the loss of one of the best X-Factors in the NBA and the impact of Parker’s loss – does that even need to be described?
4. Indiana Pacers
Do the Pacers remind anyone of the '88-'90 Detroit Pistons teams that manhandled Michael Jordan? The way those teams played resembled street ball much more than professional basketball. The Pacers’ gritty, rough and tough, relentless defense is certainly capable of shutting down even the best offenses in the league. However, whether Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert can stand tall on the offensive side of the court is still in the air. Ultimately, I love the Pacers’ dependence on their reliable defense rather than their occasionally shaky offense in controlling the tempo of the game and winning a seven-game series.
5. New York Knicks
Equation: 2013 New York Knicks = 2011 Dallas Mavericks. Jason Kidd helping run the point and Tyson Chandler anchoring the defense are two obvious similarities. J.R. Smith and his offensive firepower strikes a remarkable resemblance to Jason Terry. The only question though, is: Can the 2013 Carmelo Anthony lead, inspire and carry like the 2011 Dirk Nowitzki has? If Anthony can embody the electrifying beast that Nowitzki was in 2011, I like the Knicks' chance to make the NBA Finals for the first time in 14 years.