There is a significant contrast that surfaces around this time every year between the NBA and college hoops. To be summed up squarely, the field of championship contenders is much more narrow and refined in the NBA. While the NCAA offers a field of 68 that features three weeks worth of one-and-done games, the NBA playoffs serves us home court advantage in increments of five and seven game series. The format requires a team to be consistent for a longer period of time, which is why, the majority of the time, the very best team wins it all every season. There is a greater possibility for the number one team in the country in the NCAA tournament to be knocked off in the opening weekend because they only have one shot at getting the job done. The best team in the NBA is allowed two and three game errors before they have to win. Whether their errors come by execution, injury or match-up problems, they are given that margin for error and will most likely make the necessary adjustments to respond accordingly in the next game.
I am going somewhere with this, so bare with me.
Much discussion surrounding the NBA as we approach playoff basketball surrounds the Miami Heat and if you would pick them or the field to repeat as NBA champions. The question of them repeating becomes quite simple if you analyze what has transpired so far this season and even last season if you choose to go back that far. Barring the event of a player injury or anything else unexpected that could hinder their chances of repeating, the Miami Heat have proven to be more consistent than the rest. Their roster this season contains even more star power than it did last year and despite showing glimpses of minor hiccups along the way (all superior teams do at times), I am convinced that they will have little issue coming out of the eastern conference in style. When you acquire a trio of superstars in James, Wade and Bosh who are multidimensional, the best 3-point shooter of all-time in Ray Allen, efficient point guard play, and a deep bench, you will inevitably be very difficult to beat often. With that being said, Miami will invariably reach the Finals.
With that being said, the same case can be made for the front-runners in the western conference. The only two contenders that I see as more superior than the rest of the west that could compete with the Heat are predictably San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The Spurs, as they have been for the majority of over a decade have been freakishly consistent. They hold the best record in the NBA at 47-14 and have, in my mind, the best active head coach in the league in Greg Popovich, who his highly intelligent strategically and he knows how to get egos to work collectively for the sake of the team. While I think that OKC could upset Miami for their first franchise title, I give an edge to the Spurs because of experience, emphasis on defense and coaching. The Spurs are the type of team who could grind it out with Heat and make the timely adjustments necessary to throw Miami off. The clock is ticking against their aging trio (Parker, Duncan, Ginobli) and they are more hungry than ever.
There isn’t a team that exemplifies its name more than OKC. They come at you with a loud, explosive thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are better than ever and have quickly added valuable playoff experience to their young tenure in the league. At this point, I can easily see a conference final featuring the Thunder and Spurs that last six or seven games. While I see the eastern conference as a monopoly dominated by the star-struck Heat, the western conference is a little more interesting. While the LA Clippers currently sit at 43-19, good for third in the west, I don’t view them as a team in the top tier. With that being said, the conversation comes down to the Thunder and the Spurs duking it out in what would be an instant classic western conference final.
While the initial question I and everyone else at this point is posing stands, Miami or the field, the question then becomes who would potentially have a better shot at competing with the the Heat in the Finals? If you remember last season when the Heat dismantled the less experienced Thunder in five games, in contrast, there really hasn’t been any major changes to each team’s roster. Any adjustments made by OKC in the off season and before the trade deadline has been offset by the acquisition of the Heat’s Ray Allen. Although I would see a series between the two going much longer, I still see the Heat prevailing. As much as that pains me to say as an ex-Sonics fan who has jumped on the Thunder bandwagon, that is how I see it playing out.
I give a much more definite edge to the Spurs, who are riding their final seasons with a tenured roster. San Antonio would be much more able to hang with Miami. Experience can only go so far against great athleticism and talent, but San Antonio have able bodies that can bang with the Heat stars and give them a run for their money. I’m not betting on the Heat getting dethroned, but I’m also not betting on it not happening.
I will, however, say this: look for Miami and San Antonio to still be playing in June.