Dwyane Wade, LeBron james

Sorry Brooklyn Nets, but the Los Angeles Lakers have shown us that putting all your eggs in the basket of old players without credible defense isn’t the best way to build a championship team. Out of the Eastern conference, one of three teams: The Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls or the Indiana Pacers will reach the NBA finals.

The obvious choice call the favorites in the Eastern conference? The Miami Heat.

Maybe they’re a year older, and the knee issues of Dwyane Wade mean that he’s going to decline below the 20 points per game mark for the first time since his rookie season, and not just because of the reduced minutes. But other than that, the issues the Heat had last season remain the same, which means that they should still have enough to be better than most of the NBA through LeBron James keeping his MVP’ish levels.

The Heat struggled against teams with a strong defensive presence in the paint, everyone knows that. It forced them to play 7 games in the conference finals and the NBA finals. But just like each finals series has taught the Heat something about the quality of their team and the character they have to pull through adversity, the series against the Spurs was an example of how James and Wade can win game by simply taking mid range jumpers.

It’s impossible to guard and defend every offensive option the Miami Heat have, and something has to give. While shooting at the level Wade & James were hitting those shots in game 7 doesn’t happen every day, it goes to show that trying to force James to win the game on his own isn’t the best of options. By adding Greg Oden they might not have gotten the safest option to put a legitimate center on the court, but it doesn’t’ hurt trying, and it was well worth the risk. If Michael Beasley manages to keep his head on his shoulders, the Heat added an excellent scorer, the best you can get in the NBA for a minimum deal, and another option to stretch the floor, more than being enough to replace Mike Miller.

Derrick Rose

The Chicago Bulls are the wild card in all of this. The Indiana Pacers pretty much took their place at the top of the central division last season, with Rose out for the entire year. But now he’s back, and even if he isn’t going to play at the level he left off with on April 2012, the Bulls are going to be better than they were last season.

More importantly for Thibodeau, he doesn’t have to rely on a the coin-flip that Nate Robinson was, and he doesn’t really have a defensive vulnerability in any of the players that should be used in the main rotation.

There are still issues with outside shooting on this team and an ability to stretch the floor, but Tony Snell could work out quite nicely for them, proving to be an answer to those issues.

Roy Hibbert, Paul George

The Indiana Pacers might be the favorites to go all the way in the East. Roy Hibbert proved just how improved he is, turning into one of the best centers in the NBA, dismantling Tyson Chandler and making guarding the paint a nightmare for the Miami Heat. Paul George is on the verge of becoming a legitimate superstar in the NBA, only needing a bit more consistency on offense to go with his smothering wing defense.

If Danny Granger is back, than the addition of Luis Scola to the mix off the bench gives the Pacers something they were sorely missing last season – real scoring options off the bench, and no need for the starting five to all score in double digits every night in order for Indiana to keep up with the best of ’em, especially the Miami Heat. The defense is there, and the experience of hard playoff battles against the eventual NBA champions are there as well. This offseason might have been the final step in order to make the NBA finals for the first time in 13 years.

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