The road to an NBA title still goes through Miami.
The Lakers loaded up adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. The Oklahoma City Thunder are young and will be better with the experience of the NBA finals in their collective consciousness. Boston improved as well this summer.
But when Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated polled 19 league executives (10 of them general managers) about the next season, they were still leaning toward the Heat.
The final tally, with three of the voters submitting only first-place votes: The defending champions in Miami received 15 first-place votes, one second-place vote and two third-place votes; their Finals foe, Oklahoma City, garnered two first-place votes, six second-place votes and eight third-place votes; and the Lakers, who have added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, got two first-place votes, nine second-place votes and six third-place votes. The Lakers may not be seen as the favorites to win it all, but the idea that they’re the top threat to the Heat is not only a topic of much discussion in the media but also clearly a very real sentiment in NBA circles.
That’s an overwhelming win for the Heat.
Go read Amick’s entire article, which includes quotes from some of the executives on why they made their calls.
My two cents: I believe in tiers this time of year. That top tier is teams with a very real title shot, and to me there are three teams on it — Miami, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. There are too many variables, the margins for error are too small among these three teams to call one a clear favorite right now. But almost always the eventual winner comes out of this tier.
The next tier is the “if everything goes right” tier — the group with no margin for error and guys that may need help with the top tier coming back to them a little. That is where Boston is for me — improved but not good enough to beat a healthy Heat team straight up (they couldn’t beat a banged up Heat team last year). Teams do come from this tier to win it all, see the Dallas Mavericks, but it takes a special kind of playoff run. Indiana is on the border of this tier, Chicago fell off it down a level or two. In the West, maybe the Lakers or Thunder will falter for some reason, but not both.
After those groups… well, life should not be championship or bust. It should be about enjoying the ride.