Saturday, October 25, 2014

Editorial: Teams challenge Heat’s three-peat

ready — After a year rehabbing his torn ACL, Derrick Rose has improved his game.  Photo credit: Keith Allison

Ready — After a year rehabbing his torn ACL, Derrick Rose has improved his game. Photo credit: Keith Allison

Everyone has heard the chatter — the 2013-2014 NBA season is supposed to be all about losing. The 2014 draft class featuring Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and others is supposed to be the best one in more than 10 years.

Teams with little hope of making noise in the postseason have already begun their quest for armies of ping pong balls in next spring’s NBA lottery.

But this approach should take a back seat to just about everything else in this NBA season, because this season should be one of the best in years.

The league is teeming with young stars — guys like Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Derrick Rose are all under 25 years old, and all of their teams could contend for an NBA title.

Durant and Rose are probably the most intriguing, with Durant set to play the season’s first month without sidekick Russell Westbrook and Rose playing for the first time tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the 2012 playoffs. Rose, who received incessant criticism for sitting out all of last season, appears to be 100 percent, cutting and jumping without hesitation in the preseason.

The Eastern Conference and Western Conference playoff pictures have both gotten decidedly tougher as well. The Pacers added a few pieces to their weak bench. The Bulls add Rose as previously mentioned. The Nets went out and made the biggest trade of the offseason, bringing in former Celtics stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Those three teams, along with a Knicks squad that has been overshadowed, will make things very difficult for the Miami Heat to repeat.

There are six teams that could potentially represent the West in the NBA Finals this year. Even with the Harden trade looking worse and worse, Oklahoma City probably remains the favorite, only because of the brilliance of Durant.

The Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets all made major moves this offseason that could put them over the top. The Clippers brought in Doc Rivers to replace Vinny Del Negro on the sidelines. The Warriors added Andre Iguodala, who will provide top-notch wing defense and underrated passing skills. The Rockets acquired Dwight Howard in the most high-profile move of the offsesaon, giving them arguably two of the top 10 players in the league.

Then there are the two teams that made the Western Conference Finals last season, Memphis and San Antonio. Memphis has the best big-man duo in the league in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Although still old, the Western Conference champion Spurs will surely be a threat to the title as long Tim Duncan is in the league.

Of course, it is impossible to mention the NBA in 2013 without mentioning LeBron James.

James has won four of the past five regular-season MVP awards and the past two Finals NBA MVPs, and his team has won back-to-back championships. As polarizing as James is, achievement-wise, it is impossible to deny that he is dominating the league more than anyone since Michael Jordan.

If James can win his third straight MVP, Finals MVP, and championship it will put him in uncharted territory. Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are the only back-to-back-to-back MVPs in league history. Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal are the only back-to-back-to-back NBA Finals MVPs. Nobody has done both. James could accomplish those feats and still be 29-years-old when he brushes the confetti off his jersey in June.

James has forced all other storylines to the back page the past two seasons, and with his impending free agency at the end of the season, he may upstage everyone and everything once again.

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