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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: Raptors acquire P.J. Tucker from Suns for Jared Sullinger, second round picks

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The Toronto Raptors went into the last few weeks in a slump on the court and with the need to improve at the forward slot if they had any dreams of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals again.

Then the Raptors added Serge Ibaka.

Now they have added P.J. Tucker from the Suns to the mix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This is a strong move for Toronto. Tucker is a physical guy who can play the three or the four, and he brings a strong defensive presence to the court — he is statistically one of the better defending small forwards in the league this season. He and DeMarre Carroll can give the Raptors a needed boost on that end, and Tucker is going to be great as a defensive matchup in certain playoff situations.

Toronto has made its move — first they hope to get back up to the two or three seed in the East (and avoid Cleveland in the second round). Then to make a stronger run at Cleveland in the conference finals — remember they took the Cavs six games last year.

What the Suns wanted was the picks. Sullinger is a solid player who can step into their rotation now, but is a downgrade — especially defensively — from Tucker. What the Suns start doing is looking for draft steals they can find in the second round.

Reports: Bulls near trade sending Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder for Cameron Payne, Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls reacts after being called for a foul against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Back in 2014, the Bulls front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman traded two picks to the Denver Nuggets — picks that became Gary Harris and Josef Nurkic — to move up in the draft so they could pick Doug McDermott.

Thursday, the Bulls all but admitted that was a mistake.

Chicago traded McDermott and Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow, as reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

This is a good trade for Oklahoma City, especially while Enis Kanter remains sidelined. Gibson, in particular, gives them a rock-solid power forward out of the old school. Gibson can score inside and help Steven Adams, he can crash the boards, and while he’s not what he once was on that end he’s a solid defender.

Gibson is also a free agent this summer, and the Bulls were not going to pay the market value. Oklahoma City may, but Gibson will have options.

McDermott can shoot the three, hitting 37.6 percent this season, but that’s about all he brings to the table. Maybe that’s all the Thunder need. McDermott doesn’t create his own shot and he’s a big defensive liability. Maybe he can spread the floor a little for the Thunder, hang out at the arc waiting for a Russell Westbrook drive and dish, but he’s not doing much else.

Chicago gets a player with a lot of potential in Cameron Payne, he could be the point guard of the future there next to Jimmy Butler. That’s the best player on their end in this deal. But Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow are nice players who don’t actually move the needle.

This trade by the Bulls echoes their moves over the summer bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — what exactly is the plan? Payne could be part of the future, but are the Bulls a team rebuilding around Butler? It remains difficult to see what the vision is in Chicago. Which has to frustrate Butler.

Report: Rockets trade K.J. McDaniels to Nets in move to clear cap space

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 13:  K.J. McDaniels #32 of the Houston Rockets looses the ball as he attempts a shot against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the preseason NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 13, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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K.J. McDaniels was already buried deep on the Rockets bench behind not just James Harden but guys such as Trevor Ariza and Sam Decker. Now Lou Williams comes to town and will get some of those minutes, and the Rockets decided to see if anyone wanted to take a flier on McDaniels.

Brooklyn did, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

For Brooklyn, why not take a flier on him — McDaniels put up some numbers and played fairly well a few seasons back in Philly, when they had nobody else to take shots. He went from there to Houston, where they had a lot of guys who were better shooters. Now he heads to Brooklyn, a team that could use the scoring, so he gets another shot.

As for Houston, this was a salary dump looking ahead.

The buzz is the Rockets would like to get Langston Galloway if the Kings decide to waive him, but there will be a number of quality players waived in the coming week, and the Rockets now have the roster spot and cap room to go after one of them.

Report: Pelicans to workout Jarrett Jack as they look for more guard, wing help

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 28: Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 28, 2015 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Pelicans have potentially the best front court in the NBA now with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

What they need is more help on the perimeter. A lot more help.

It’s not all going to come this season, but the Pelicans are going to take a look at their options. One of those options could be veteran and free agent Jarrett Jack, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

It’s a smart move by New Orleans. Jack averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 assists in 32 games for the Nets last season, but then he blew out his ACL. At 33, how well will he bounce back from that?

It may work, Jack relies far more on his outside shot than his ability to drive the paint (the hallmark of his game five years ago). He’s not going to be a great defender, but if healthy maybe he fits a bench role.