Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) and Dwyane Wade (3) talk in the closing seconds of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Pacers 97-94. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
MIAMI — It’s a widely believed theory that most fans typically don’t pay much attention to the NBA until the much-hyped broadcast games on Christmas Day arrive.
Hey, welcome to NBA season, everyone!
Christmas has come and gone, so the season is “really” here now. And that means no better time than the present to skip the remaining 55 or so games everyone has and take a look at the six teams that will figure to have the best chance of winning the 2014 NBA title, at least the way things are looking now:
MIAMI HEAT: Yes, the Heat are still looking up at Indiana in the East standings. But really, is anyone else in the East going to beat them four times in a seven-game series? Barring major injury issues, that’s not going to happen. Playing for a third straight title will become a huge motivator, as will the chance to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year. LeBron James is still at MVP pace, Dwyane Wade is healthy and the Heat simply know how to win it all.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: The good surprise in the NBA so far this season, though when one studies what the Blazers are doing so far, it doesn’t seem like a surprise at all. They have the legit big man in LaMarcus Aldridge, surrounded him with shooters like Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, and are getting outstanding numbers from Robin Lopez. The Blazers are 15-0 when making 38 percent or better from 3-point range.
INDIANA PACERS: They’re big, they’re tough, they have swagger and they really don’t like the Miami Heat. Paul George is playing like that big offseason contract was an absolute bargain. The Pacers play defense as well as anyone out there and getting Danny Granger back is a total bonus. For the Pacers to take that next step, Roy Hibbert will likely be the make-or-break piece. If he dominates, well, good luck, NBA.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Yes, they looked dreadful at times against Houston on Christmas night, but games in December and games in the postseason are simply different. Tim Duncan is as hard to guard 1-on-1 as anyone, Tony Parker remains one of the elite players on the planet, and the Spurs get more from the bench than any NBA club does.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: What the Thunder has done so far this season seems quiet, almost. Maybe it’s because it’s just expected by now for Kevin Durant and his mates to be great. They’re off to a 23-5 start and that’s with Russell Westbrook shooting only 42 percent. And Durant remains the model of consistency. His scoring and rebounding averages, last four seasons including this one: 27.7-6.8, 28.0-8.0, 28.1-7.9, and 28.1-8.0.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Houston merited consideration for this spot, but Chris Paul is just playing too well right now. He’s averaging 19 points and 11 assists, but what often goes unnoticed is what he does on the defensive end. Games slow down in the playoffs. Defense becomes more of a priority. And when the Clippers hold teams under 100, they’re 12-2. That might go a long way come playoff time.