LeBron's Heat facing toughest road yet to title

Thu Oct 24, 2013 10:14am EDT
 
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By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) - The Miami Heat enter the 2013-14 NBA season as favorites to win a third consecutive title but with several teams sporting beefed up rosters the reigning champions face their biggest challenge to the crown yet.

The Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors are among the teams that added key players in a bid to dethrone a Heat team that needed seven games to get by the aging San Antonio Spurs in last season's final.

But knocking a team led by All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh off its perch will be no easy feat given their desire to become the first NBA franchise to win three consecutive titles since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002.

The Nets, backed by Russian multi-billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, sent a message that they are going all-in on winning a championship in June by acquiring future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as part of an eight-player trade with the Boston Celtics.

But despite an upgraded lineup that features depth across the board, questions remain about how effective rookie head coach Jason Kidd, five months removed from playing in the NBA, will be on the sidelines.

The Indiana Pacers put a scare into the Heat by forcing a seventh game in last season's Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana wanted to make their bench better and they now boast one of the league's best with the acquisition of C.J. Watson and the eventual return of Danny Granger from injury.

The Chicago Bulls should be another contender in the East as Derrick Rose, the NBA's 2011 most valuable player, returns after sitting out all of last season while rehabilitating an ACL that was torn in the previous campaign.

The 25-year-old guard's decision not to return late last season was the source of much debate in NBA circles but he can begin silencing any critics in his team's season-opener versus the champion Heat on October 29.   Continued...

 
Oct 23, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) drives past New Orleans Pelicans power forward Jason Smith (14) during the second half of a preseason game at New Orleans Arena. The Heat defeated the Pelicans 108-95. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports