Less than five months after the Miami Heat outlasted the San Antonio Spurs to capture their second straight NBA title, the league is prepared to tip off the 2013-14 season with the other 29 teams still chasing LeBron James and company. Here are the hot storylines that will shape the season.
Can the Heat Repeat?
The clock is ticking on the potential dynasty in Miami, as LeBron James is set to become a free agent after this season. The Heat are setting the pace for the league, sprucing up its loaded roster with small forward Michael Beasley and center Greg Oden. Injury-plagued Oden is a huge question mark, but if he and Chris Bosh can produce in the paint, it would allow James to avoid having to play so much at center, making him even more dangerous. It seems doubtful if “The Big Three” will be together next year, so the group must collect their third big championship this season.
The Return of Rose
Derrick Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season with a devastating knee injury he suffered in the 2012 playoffs. He will be on the court opening night when the Chicago Bulls face the Heat. It is rare for a player of Rose’s magnitude to miss that much time, so it will be a challenge for the Chicago Bulls to adapt to having their biggest star back in the lineup.
At the beginning of last season, the talk around Los Angeles was the loaded roster the Lakers managed to build by adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. However, the team could never mesh, as Nash was plagued with injuries the whole season and Howard proved to be a bust. The Clippers took advantage of the Lakers’ woes by stealing the spotlight as the best team in the City of Angels. Kobe Bryant is ailing and Howard is gone to Houston, so the Lakers do not appear to be a contender in the Western Conference. However, the Clippers continue to improve, and could challenge Oklahoma City and San Antonio for supremacy out West.
Houston surprised the league last season by reaching the playoffs behind strong work from James Harden. The Rockets won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes in the offseason, but questions remain if Howard can perform any better in Houston than he did for the Lakers. The Rockets are one of the youngest teams in the league, and could be the next dynasty. This is a pivotal year for this quality squad.
Can the Spurs Bounce Back?
San Antonio suffered a devastating Game 7 loss in the NBA Finals after squandering a 3-2 series lead and a big lead in the final minute of Game 6. It remains to be seen if that was the last hurrah for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the rest of the Spurs’ seasoned lineup. The Spurs do have some youth, led by potential star Danny Green, but the clock is ticking on this team.
The Thunder Carries On
Fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder dreamed of NBA titles going into last season’s playoffs, but those dreams went up in smoke with an injury to point guard Russell Westbrook in the series against the Rockets. Kevin Durant carried the team to the Western Conference semifinals, but the lack of depth really caught up to the Thunder. Oklahoma City may still be a contender, but Westbrook’s injury revealed limitations that the Thunder may not be able to overcome.
Warriors On the Hunt
Golden State surprised the league by reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season. The Warriors may actually be better this season as Andrew Bogut is healthy and the team added Andre Iguodala in the offseason. Golden State has excellent chemistry and are not going to surprise anyone this season, so sharpshooter Stephen Curry is going to have to stay hot.
The Fall of the Celtics
Age and attrition finally started catching up with the Celtics last season, as they bowed out in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the improved New York Knicks. Boston hired Brad Stevens away from Butler University to coach a team featuring Rajon Rondo and not much else. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are now with the Brooklyn Nets. It was a major surprise to see Stevens take an NBA coaching job, especially for a team that is essentially dismantled and must be reconstructed from the ground up.
Setting the Pacers
The Indiana Pacers pushed Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals last season, and everyone from that team is back and better. The Heat are a major roadblock for Indiana, but if the Pacers can continue to get strong production from Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the rest of this improving squad, the Pacers may prove to be a force in the Eastern Conference.