SBM Sports – Who’s in the Running for the 2013 NBA Championship?

Thankfully, the NBA season is set to return next Tuesday with fresh storylines and questions yet to be answered. As the NBA has taught us, there are only a handful of teams that can really be considered contenders for the 2013 NBA Championship, despite the fact that every team is clinging to hope as the season is about to start (Detroit Pistons only a half game out of the Central Division lead!). I’ll break down those teams and make my prediction for the upcoming season.

Miami Heat

Why they will win it: The Heat have to be considered the favorites for a few reasons: they are the defending champs, they made some key additions, and – most importantly – they still employ LeBron James.

The signing of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis this offseason show Miami will continue evolving their style of play to shift more of the focus away from the traditional big-man-centric offense that is the foundation of many teams. The Heat rained wide open threes in the NBA Finals using LeBron James as the offensive centerpiece and taking advantage of defensive rotations. This was obviously a good move (they won the championship after all), and the addition of the game’s best three-point shooter points to even more success. If Rashard Lewis can regain his shooting touch, the Heat could cruise to a title. It’s hard enough to stop LeBron…surrounding him with more shooters could make things unfair.

Why they won’t win it: The Heat showed surprising vulnerability in the playoffs as Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh played through injury. Miami was behind the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics at points in the playoffs. Last year’s run proved that this team is still all about the “Big Three” of James, Wade, and Bosh. The biggest potential pitfall for Miami is their lack of depth. The dropoff from Wade to Mario Chalmers, Bosh to Udonis Haslem, and LeBron to basically anyone could derail their chance at a repeat.

Los Angeles Lakers

Why they will win it: The Lakers spent the offseason putting together a perfect roster. On paper that is. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash are the ideal compliments to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Every one of these players can thrive without limiting the production of the other three. They could have a balance on offense that would make them impossible to stop.

Nash was second in the league in assists last year, so his success actually fuels everyone else. Howard can put up 20 points and 20 rebounds without many plays being called for him. Gasol has already shown he can thrive as the “second banana” on a championship team. The only question I have centers around Kobe’s ego. On that note…

Why they won’t win it: Kobe is a weird dude. He’s spent much of the offseason establishing himself as the leader of the team and dissing his former teammates. This is either good-natured competition or a warning sign that Kobe the Leader will turn into Kobe the Shameless Gunner if the Lakers face a tense situation. As you can see in this picture, Kobe the Shameless Gunner isn’t afraid to take a horrible shot that costs his team the game. He missed that one, by the way.

Besides Kobe’s Ego, the Lakers have a defensive liability that could cost them in the playoffs if Dwight Howard gets into foul trouble. Kobe is no longer good defensively, Nash never was, and Metta WorldPeace is a crazy person. Can’t count on him to stop the other team’s best player. The Lakers might need to be brilliant offensively to mask the defensive shortcomings of everyone not named Dwight on the roster.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Why they will win it: They have the best young trio in the league. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden are a couple months removed from leading the US National Team to the gold medal and the Thunder to the NBA Finals. They are great now, and history says they won’t be at their best until about 4 years from now. That’s a scary thought, but it might mean they are further away from a title than it seems.

An underrated addition to the Thunder is the return of Eric Maynor, the backup point guard who missed the bulk of last season with a torn ACL. Maynor is the calm, collected yin to Russell Westbrook’s yang. He provides balance, and can run the offense through Durant if when Westbrook needs to calm down. Having Maynor shortens the windows where the Thunder stalls offensively. Huge for their title contention.

Why they won’t win it: The Thunder big men are a big question mark for OKC. Kendrick Perkins, rather the insistence of the Thunder to keep Perkins in the game, puts a metaphorical anchor on the Thunder’s title chances if they refuse to adjust again. Perkins (and his agent) should be very happy that Dwight Howard joined the Lakers. He now has a function should the Thunder and Lakers meet in the playoffs (they will, but let’s pretend that’s up for debate). If Dwight isn’t in the game, Perkins shouldn’t be either.

Serge Ibaka will also need to improve. Shouldn’t it worry the Thunder that he couldn’t get regular minutes for the Spanish National Team in the Olympics? If Ibaka can be a consistent, viable contributor, the Thunder will be a lot better. I don’t think he’s there yet.

The Teams that definitely won’t win it:

Boston Celtics – Too many “ifs”. Will old age catch up to them? Is Jeff Green good? Can Jason Terry replace Ray Allen? Is Rondo ready to take another step and become a scoring threat? All of these things could happen, but every planet and star will have to align for Boston to win it all. Not happening.

San Antonio Spurs – I have been fooled for the last time by the Spurs. They are a team built for the regular season. Remind me I wrote this when they are a 65 win team with a #1 seed headed into the playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers – They have a talented team, but if you throw everything at CP3, you can’t trust anyone else to take over a playoff game. Plus, their biggest addition, Lamar Odom, is really the biggest addition. He looks like Shaq!

Brooklyn Nets – They are a completely one-sided team. The offense should be good, but Head Coach Avery Johnson is already complaining about the team’s defensive effort. The defense was the main concern when the team was put together, so it’s troubling that this is an issue even before the season starts.

Prediction: I have the Lakers winning a great series against Miami this season. I’ll be rooting for OKC, but the Lakers are put together too well. They’ll be hard to stop on offense, and Dwight will clean up the defense. People have forgotten how good Dwight Howard is on defense as he ruined his reputation the past two seasons. He’ll be even better with a Hall of Fame supporting cast, and will be a key as the Lakers take another championship.

This is the NBA landscape, from my view, as we head into the season. Who do you like to win it all this year? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Peter Parker

    No love for the Wizards coming out the East? Come on Joe! lol Naw, just kidding and only wishful thinking..As of right now, I am sold on the Lakers barring any injuries or other set-backs. OKC is definitely my favorite team right now, KD rep. PG County, but I just think the Lakers just have too many weapons. MIA will definitely be good and will probably win the EASTERN CONFERENCE, but their depth worries me. Will be interesting to see how things begin to shape up around Feb./March.

    • Joe Sargent

      I'd love for the Wiz to be good. Like their new uniforms and I root for John Wall (thought he might not actually be good). Hopefully they improve and Beal doesn't suck.

      At least you have hope. My Pistons are horrible.

  • Uncle Hugh, BP

    No love for the Bucks coming out the East? Come on Joe!

    I honestly have no idea who will win it this year. With all the Lebron pole riding since he was brilliant in the second half of the playoffs, I think you are the only person to remind everyone that Miami struggled with Boston and Indiana. They are not the lock everyone think they are. For the Lakers, I wonder how Steve Nash will hold up without Phoenix's training staff. Also, they need to worry about Kobe turning into the gunner, still trying to prove something, a year older and not accepting he may not be the best player on the team anymore. OKC still has growing pains, and the Lakers series was much closer than their 4-1victory would suggest (LA gave away two games).

    Last note: it is sad to look at that map at the Pacific Northwest, and not see the Sonics logo there. Seattle got hosed.

    • Joe Sargent

      Grantland is actually keeping track of WOOBLY's this year (Wild or Off-Balance Late Game Shots by Kobe). I think he will definitely overdo the "I'm the man" last second shots this year.

      I think it's far sadder that the Bobcats represent such a large portion of the southeast. The artist should have doubled down on the Wiz graphic, lol.

      • Larry

        I'm just gonna input my 2 cents here on this whole "let's worry about Kobe gunning overdoing it" meme that seems to have arose.

        Kobe Bryant will be the same player he's always been throughout his NBA career. Meaning he will adjust accordingly to what his team needs. Back in '06 he needed to drop 35ppg for the team to stay competitive. Shaq era, he knew the ball had to go through the big man first, and to a lesser extent the past couple years with Bynum, Kobe made sure to get him touches early.

        Of course Kobe's going to want to take the last shot…he'll fully admit that! However, let's not act like Kobe hasn't passed up the last shot for a better shot ever in life, folks. (see: Boston game, last year, Kobe passes ball to Bynum as Bynum hits go ahead bucket). Kobe will be fine. He'll be Kobe.

        • Joe Sargent

          If you can name all the times Kobe passed in the final seconds…that probably means he's forcing up too many shots in the final seconds.

          He's obviously the best player on the team, he should be its leader. But he's got a ton of talent now…he should give up some of that. Nash is a better three point shooter, Dwight is a great finisher. Just two examples, we'll see how it plays out.

        • Uncle Hugh, BP

          I'm a Kobe fan, and wish the Lakers success, as long as they aren't playing the Bucks. But seriously, someone needs to sit Kobe down and tell him you don't get extra points for degree of difficulty. Just because he's the best bad-shot maker in league history doesn't mean he should always take bad shots.

    • Dr. J

      Gary Vitti is a HOF trainer in the NBA. Nash will be fine.

      • Uncle Hugh, BP

        I'm just saying, Phoenix's training staff has worked miracles with oft-players (Steve Nash, Shaq, Grant Hill). Shaq started getting hurt again after he was traded. I guess we'll see what happens to Nash and Hill this year.

  • http://inanimatethoughts.blogspot.com Animate

    .I don't think you can sleep on the Bulls just yet even with Rose coming back from a knee injury.
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  • slimjackson

    I just can't see any team winning right now other than the Lakers or the Heat. Too many weapons on each squad. All I want is for the Knicks to get past the first round this year. That's all. I'm also expecting the Celtics to have a so-so season. I can already see the injuries piling.
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    • Adonis

      I just want NYK to be relevant just because they have gravitas.

  • Teddy X

    I agree…I AGREE! It was just pre-season but Dwight looked great and Kobe was dropping buckets effortlessly. Now if Nash stays healthy and Gasol gets his heart back….OH BOY!

  • RealGoesRight

    East is basically Boston and Miami…then everybody else. Miami are the overwhelming favorites, but Boston has enough depth to outlast the Heat. They're 2, and in some spots even 3, deep at the position. This might be one of the best benches in the league, and one of the best benches Doc Rivers has had to work with. If anybody can create matchup problems for the Heat, it'd be the Celtics.

    Out West, hard to say the Lakers won't be in the running, though they don't have the death. OKC are my favorites to come out of there and you can never discount the Spurs. Always gotta leave a surprise team like the Grizzlies in there. Wouldn't surprise me if the Nuggets made a strong push as well. But I got OKC and the Lakers in the WCF.
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  • Adonis

    I am with The Good Doctor & rolling with the Lakers if they stay healthy. OKC second. Grizzlies third.

    Just give me interesting like the NFL & we are good

    • The Guy

      People who root for Memphis are in denial of what an elite NBA team consists of…

      • Adonis

        @The Guy Explain

  • The Guy

    Boston is much better than you're giving them credit for, last year they had no Bradley, a subpar Ray Allen and no bench at all….this year they're super strong at guard and only weak at Center

    But Lakers got it, go LA

  • NipseysKlub

    Boston Celtics have enough depth to contend with Miami. The team has more guys who can create their own shots and not have to worry about getting setup by Rondo, like Ray Allen. Seeing Allen shoot those 3's is going to hurt but overall, you have to like the depth of the squad. It will allow Pierce and Garnett to rest so that there are fresh for the playoffs.

  • Rob Chapman

    The magnifying glass is really going to be on the Lake show this season. It’s championship or bust for Kobe and company. The Thunder is definitely a team that learns from experience. I know they will be more determined and hungrier to win a championship this season. The monkey is off Lebron’s back now. He got himself a ring, can play more relaxed, and may make another run at being mvp of the league and the finals. But of course the key for each of these teams is getting a lift from their supporting cast. If the Thunder finds that 4th consistent scorer, they will be a problem. As for the Heat and Lakers, their veterans have to stay healthy to make that championship run. A lot of the NBA teams made big changes and picked up some young players with big time potential. It should be an interesting to see how it all plays out. I’ll def be paying attention to the Golden State Warriors. I’m a fan of Steph Curry, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and of course KBaze- Kent Bazemore reppin’ ODU.

    • Joe Sargent

      Bazemore made the team?! That's good to hear. I like the Warriors too. Like a lot of their players and they have great fans. I wish they were better.

    • Dr. J

      I disagree that's it's championship or bust for Kobe and company. It's that way every year in the LA for the Lakers, this year is no different. What I will say is that… there's a good chance that if this team isn't a Top 2 team in the West around the All Star break that they let Mike Brown go and ask Phil to coach the team for the remainder of the season.

      I think as long as the Lakers have the scapegoat of Mike Brown, they'll use it. Plus, expecting that team to win in Year 1 is a gaudy goal. I'm thinking if they can't win in the next 2 years it's a problem.

  • Dr. J

    When I say DH12 on the court the other day I looked at that game and thought it was totally unfair. It's basically the Miami Heat on bath salts. I've always hated the Heat because they put a lot of the same pieces together to form a team. They didn't really all compliment each other. The Lakers really have all their bases covered. I also don't think the bench is as bad as folks think it is. Jamison, Meeks, Hill already allow the Lakers to go 8 deep. If they can get anything out of Duhon (who led the league in 3PT%) or Ebanks (we'll say this will be his year ONCE again…), then they'll be fine. They also have size on the bench too. The Lakers are on their Empire Strikes Back flow this year.

    Oh yeah… the issue with OKC, they didn't get any better than they were last year. That's always a problem.

    • Adonis

      Outside of Westbrook (B+), Durant (A+), harden (B-) who can really score on that team. That is a big issue. But like the Heat, if other teams can get some gratuitous season ending injuries, they'll go far.

  • Larry

    First, I co-sign everything fellow Laker brethern Dr. J says above.

    Secondly, let me just comment on that picture with Kobe shooting surrounded by all those Bulls players. I mean, it's funny and all to get your point across, but lets get some context to be fair….ehh, forget it…I'm not looking for any sympathy. Let's just say no one else looked like they wanted to shoot that pill at that stage in the game and there wasn't enough time to get one more pass off and a shot so he took it, lol.

    • Joe Sargent

      The picture is only funny because it's an extreme example. Kobe isn't THAT bad, but as said above (in seperate comments), there's a reason Grantland is tracking it this year and he has less reason to force late-game shots IMO.

  • Andy

    Los Angeles Lakers is one of my favorite SBM sports team and I'm highly appreciate them. I hope they will be the winner and all kinds of admire owner. Thanks dude.
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  • Harrison Cole

    How are the lakers doing so far? :P it would be a miracle if they make it to the finals

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