5 teams that could prevent the Miami Heat from winning the 2014 NBA title

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The Miami Heat will open the 2013-14 NBA season at home against the Bulls on Tuesday, after receiving their championship rings and raising a banner to the rafters for the second straight season.

They’ll also open the year as the favorites to win a third straight title, but history has not been kind to teams that have previously been in this envious position.

The Heat may have won back-to-back championships, but they’ve been to the Finals three years in a row. And the last team to make it to the Finals four straight seasons was the Boston Celtics, who did so from 1984-87.

So, despite the fact that the best player in the game in his prime plays for Miami, it’s going to be tough for the team to play into June for the fourth straight season. Here’s a countdown looking at the five teams with the best shot of taking down the defending champs.

5. Los Angeles Clippers: Obviously, for the Clips to have a chance at this, they’d need to make it out of a daunting Western Conference, and the Heat would have to similarly emerge from a much-improved East to buck the odds and get back to the Finals once again. But if this matchup happens, you’d have to think L.A. would have a very real shot.

If the Clippers get to the Finals, it means that all of the team’s potential heading into the season has been realized. Chris Paul turned in an MVP season, J.J. Redick lit it up from three-point distance, and DeAndre Jordan evolved into a Kevin Garnett-like defender, but one even more athletic who was able to wholly alter the opponent’s game plan on a nightly basis. It also means that Doc Rivers has gotten maximum production out of his role players, and gotten the team to buy into the notion that they are legitimate championship contenders.

A lot of ifs? No doubt. But if the Clippers get this far, you’d have to like their chances.

4. Brooklyn Nets: This could be too low for Brooklyn on this list, but for the most part I like to see new collections of talent prove themselves first before going out on a limb and handing them a top-shelf prediction.

There’s no question that the Nets are going to be formidable this season. The team features maybe the most feared starting lineup in the league one through five, and the acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett should bring the culture change on the defensive end and a championship mentality that may have been missing from the team’s stars still in place from last season.

But Jason Kidd in his first year as head coach is troublesome, even though he has a more-than-solid group of tenured assistants in place to provide guidance. Coaching in the playoffs when the game slows down and every possession becomes critical requires experience, and we’ll have to wait and see if Kidd will gain enough of it during his first 82 games on the job to be successful.

That one area aside, this Nets team is deep and experienced. A healthy Deron Williams could be the key to whether or not Brooklyn has enough to get by the champs in a seven game series.

3. San Antonio Spurs: Much like the Clippers, if the Spurs get to this point, you’d have to like their chances. San Antonio came within 28 seconds of knocking off the Heat in the Finals last season; remember the yellow rope? Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker are plenty good enough and experienced enough to take care of business a year later should they get another shot.

The question for the Spurs becomes whether or not they can get out of the West to get the chance.

An improved Rockets team, along with the Clippers, Thunder and Warriors make the playoffs insanely difficult to predict, which is why it’s a safer bet to tag a couple of Eastern Conference teams as the ones most likely to send the Heat’s season to its unexpected end.

2. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose being back at full strength and playing as well or better than he did during his MVP season would be plenty to give the Heat nightmares in a seven game series. As is the case with most teams, the health of guys like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng come playoff time will be paramount to the Bulls’ chances for success. But the way this team defends under Tom Thibodeau and with the way Rose is capable of taking games over, Chicago has to be considered one of the teams best-suited to end the Heat’s run in the East.

1. Indiana Pacers: Indiana gets top billing in these rankings for one simple reason: They proved they were capable of hanging last season by taking the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference Finals. Add an additional year of experience along with a fortified bench unit featuring the likes of Luis Scola and (possibly) Danny Granger to the equation, and the Pacers are the team that seems most poised to make the leap to championship contender by taking out the team that’s worn the crown for the last two seasons.

Report: Derrick Rose leaning toward Cavaliers over Lakers

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Derrick Rose met with the Lakers.

Now, it’s the Cavaliers’ turn.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Free-agent guard Derrick Rose is meeting with Cleveland Cavaliers officials in Ohio on Monday, league sources told ESPN.

Rose met with the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, but has been leaning toward the Cavaliers opportunity, league sources told ESPN.

The Lakers can offer more (the $4,328,000 room exception) than the Cavs are reportedly offering ($2,116,955 minimum contract), but Rose might be eying a starting spot in Cleveland. That comes with complications for both sides.

Just because Kyrie Irving requested a trade doesn’t mean the Cavaliers will trade him. He’s still locked into his contract for two more years, and amid concern of his trade value slipping due to his request leaking, they might just hold him.

Rose’s creaky outside shooting makes him a poor fit with LeBron James. Rose would be an upgrade off the bench, especially as a shot creator while LeBron and Irving are off the floor. But he’s almost certain to underwhelm as a starter.

I doubt that’s how Rose views it, though. The Cavs offer a better path to starting with Irving on the trade block and the Lakers committed to developing Lonzo Ball. One year starting for a prominent team could put Rose right back in the free agent market, in line to receive the contract he believes he deserves. He’d also be playing for a far better team in the interim.

But, if he signs with Cleveland and the Lakers put the full room exception on the table, there’s a good chance, a year from now, he regrets not guaranteeing himself an extra couple million dollars.

Video Breakdown: What is a slot screen and how do NBA teams use it?

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The slot screen just might be one of the most common plays in the NBA when it comes to the pick-and-roll, but can you identify it?

Before we talk about what a slot screen is, we have to define what the slot is when it comes to an NBA basketball court. In simple terms, the “slot” is the area between the elbows and extended above the 3-point line. If you talk to an NBA coach, they would tell you that this area of the floor is referred to as “the slot.”

It stands to reason then that the slot screen is simply a screen that happens within this area of the floor.

So why would you want to know what a slot screen is?

One reason might be to better understand how Your favorite player operates in screens on different parts of the floor. While some players may be a very good at dealing with the pick-and-roll in space and in the slot, they could be comprably worse in Pistol action or in Get action.

Watch the full video breakdown above to see how the slot screen works in an NBA offense.

Eric Bledsoe on Phoenix: “I love everything about it. At the same time I want to win.”

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Ever since news leaked — however it leaked — that Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland, Eric Bledsoe‘s name has come up in rumors. A lot. In part because Bledsoe is friends with LeBron James. In part because if Bledsoe went to Cleveland (as part of a package deal), it would give the Cavaliers guy who could play well next to LeBron, and while Bledsoe is no Irving he is a better defender. Bledsoe’s name has come up in a direct trade and as part of a potential three-way deal (none of which is close to happening right now).

Bledsoe has spent the past four seasons in Phoenix and has put down some roots. Does he want to move on? He talked about that and the rumors with Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

Then there’s the question of whether Bledsoe wants to remain in Phoenix. He has embraced the Valley, saying, “I love everything about it.” But as he told azcentral sports Sunday, “At the same time I want to win.”

At 27, Bledsoe doesn’t fit into the Suns’ youth movement, or #timeline, as it’s been coined on social media. He said he “definitely feels” like an old man among his teammates. Then there was this response when asked what he thought of the Suns’ offseason:

“We got Josh Jackson. James Jones (in the front office). But for the most part, I don’t care,” he said. “Whatever team we have at training I’m going to play my heart out for. I just control what I can control. Getting better every time I step onto the floor.”

That was the professional non-answer.

No doubt Bledsoe enjoys the Valley of the Sun, but give him a chance to chase a ring in Cleveland and he’s in. Maybe Irving is done playing with LeBron and going to the Finals, but Bledsoe would love to be in his shoes for a year.

Whether or not it’s Cleveland, expect Bledsoe to be moved by the next trade deadline. He a very reasonable two-years, $29.5 million left on his contract, was playing his best basketball last season before the Suns shut him down (while healthy), he doesn’t fit with the Suns’ youth direction, and a number of teams could use him.

Report: Kyrie Irving’s top choice for trade is Spurs

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Kyrie Irving, in requesting a trade, reportedly gave the Cavaliers a list of preferred destinations – Knicks, Heat, Spurs and Timberwolves. But those teams aren’t all equal to Irving.

Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog:

One league source told ZAGSBLOG that the Knicks were not Irving’s preferred destination, and that San Antonio was atop his list.

Irving is locked up for two more years and doesn’t possess a no-trade clause. Where he’d re-sign in 2019 and his agent’s agitating could play small parts in which teams offer the most for him, but he has minimal control of where he goes.

Still, San Antonio is an interesting first choice.

Irving reportedly wants to escape LeBron James‘ shadow and lead his own team. But Kawhi Leonard is far better than Irving and already has Spurs president/coach Gregg Popovich’s trust. Leonard has even turned himself into a 25-point-per-game scorer and MVP runner-up. So, even though the biggest difference between Leonard and Irving is defense (an oft-overlooked area), Leonard still shines in ways that get noticed.

So, why does Irving want to join San Antonio?

Maybe he underestimates Leonard. He wouldn’t be the first star to do so. See Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Maybe Irving has a sliding scale of priorities. Sure, he’d like preeminence on a team, but maybe he’d relinquish that to join Leonard and Popovich. At least the reserved Leonard would cede the spotlight to Irving as much as possible (which LeBron would never do), and Popovich is more respected than Tyronn Lue.

But back to reality: The Spurs lack assets beyond Leonard to trade for Irving – Aldridge would be a horrid fit with LeBron, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, and San Antonio’s first-round picks are always in the low 20s – and the Cavs control where Irving goes. It’s very hard to see Irving landing in San Antonio.