Rivalry Check is an ongoing series in which we preview 10 of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Ben KopelmanNew Faces: I guess anytime a former No. 1 pick lands on your team you have reason to be excited (unless it’s Bargnani and you’re me), but Greg Oden — the Heat’s only marquee addition — has done just about nothing in his injury-plagued career on which to hang high hopes. Color me uninspired by this signing. Until, of course, he becomes the monster he was always expected to be…
Departures: When you are the back-to-back champs, the goal is to keep as many of the same guys around for a three-peat run and the Heat did just that. They retained almost all of their free agents (Chris Andersen, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, James Jones and Rashard Lewis) in an effort to run the same rotations as last year. The only key loss for the Heat was Mike Miller who, despite playing a big role in the team’s playoff run, was mired in mediocrity and on the bench for the enormous majority of the season — so pardon me for not thinking the sky is falling in Miami because they no longer have this guy’s services.
Season Outlook: Ummm… win 70+ games and raise another banner? Standard goals for most NBA teams. Given how Wade broke down for part of least year’s playoff run, I imagine he will get rested early and often, so I actually don’t see them breaking any regular season records. But come playoff time, it’s hard to imagine anybody overtaking this giant, given how the last two postseasons have panned out. But you only get so many Game 7 lives, and maybe this team has used them up over the last couple seasons. They’re certainly the class of the East and the league, but they aren’t completely invincible (right? please?).
Biggest Challenge for the Knicks: LeBron James playing like LeBron James. Dwayne Wade being rested and healthy for a full playoff run. Ray Allen hitting corner 3 after corner 3. The Knicks came up painfully short last year in their loss to the Pacers because it stripped the team a chance to have a full series run against the eventual champs. After battling the Heat well in the regular season, we never got to see what could have come from a best-of-seven series. Even with high hopes, however, the reality is nobody has a better team than Miami, nobody has a better player than LeBron, and it’s going to take a lot to unseat these guys four out of seven tries — just ask the 2012 Celtics, 2013 Pacers and Spurs. But a hot-handed JR and strong, 2011-version of Tyson Chandler, could give the Knicks a chance (sorry, the homer in me had to).