The NBA Playoffs are less than a week away, and Stony Brook’s basketball fans are gearing up for the madness that is 40 games in 40 nights.
While this year is poised to bring enticing upsets and dramatic finishes, the favorite to take home the chip is without a shroud of mystery.
“Obviously the Heat,” sophomore Kai Cheng said. “They’re going to win again.”
Jeff Cheng, a senior here at Stony Brook, agrees. “Miami for the three-peat. They’re my team.”
The Heat have been their usual dominant selves this season, despite holding the second seed for the majority of the season and experimenting with their team a good bit.
The signings of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden were reclamation projects above all else, a rarity for contenders to take on, let alone for a team that’s won back-to-back championships.
The trade for Toney Douglas was a salary dump.
But the ex-Warrior point guard has seen a great deal of playing time, even starting in Dwyane Wade’s absence.
Despite all of these could-be distractions, the Heat had little trouble during the season, even playing at 85 percent most of the way.
A key question mark coming in was Wade’s health come the spring months.
But Erik Spoelstra’s use of rest days and lower minutes for Wade will likely prove to diminish the effects of his wear and tear.
The only tangible concern would be LeBron James, above all else.
Specifically, his man-to-man defense that’s lacked throughout the year.
One would imagine a switch would be flipped come the playoffs and James will go back to his usual form — one that earned him Defensive Player of the Year votes — but if not it could be a major issue for Miami.
The barriers standing in front of the Heat have thinned since the season opened up, where the parity that existed in the East has intensified.
Miami’s primary rival to the East — the Indiana Pacers — have derailed since All-Star weekend, ranking second-to-last in post-break offense, behind only the Philadelphia 76ers.
They still bolster the best defense in basketball, but to challenge the Heat their offense will have to pick up.
Paul George and Roy Hibbert have both regressed to disastrous levels after going supernova in last year’s playoffs and early on this season. Stagnation and poor schemes are the main culprits, meaning the only fixes are a jolt of creativity from head coach Frank Vogel or another miraculous shooting tear.
Both are highly unlikely, giving lower-seeded teams a legitimate shot at upsetting the Pacers.
The only other teams that could compete with Miami in the East would be the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets.
Toronto has catapulted both their defense and offense to top-ten standings since trading away Rudy Gay, and have a huge edge over the Heat on the boards.
Center Jonas Valanciunas and forward Amir Johnson make up a ginormous frontcourt for the Raps, one that could bully the Heat down low.
However, Toronto will end up being more of a thorn in Miami’s side than a legitimate threat.
This is simply because of the inexperience of their key cogs and a wide talent margin.
The Nets swept Miami this season, all four matchups ending in close fashion.
Brooklyn has the length and bench depth to take a series against the Heat to six, perhaps even seven games, but their collective age and injury history could be a deciding factor.
“They’re too old,” Cheng said of the Nets.
In the West, the three teams with true contender status ar e the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The entire bracket is filled with teams that would finish a a top-three seed in the East.
So whichever team does manage to escape the wild, wild West will likely do it by the skin of their teeth.
In other words, Miami may have one or two tough series. The Thunder, Clippers and Spurs will have three, no matter what.
Thus, whatever the outcome of the war zone that is the Western Conference Playoffs, Miami will likely hold an edge with their added rest.
Setting this aside, trusting the Thunder’s head coach Scott Brooks to stray away from the mistakes he made in the 2012 Finals when Miami topped OKC in five games is a risky venture.
Brooks has yet to show any indication that he will move to a smaller lineup against the Miami Heat, the one key adjustment that would give the Thunder a real show in this series.
The Spurs are a year older and have not done much to give their roster an added boost. Marco Belinelli has done a decent job taking over the departed Gary Neal’s role, but Miami has beefed their second unit and diversified their strategies.
The Spurs are by all means still formidable, but far too similar to last year’s team.
The Clippers are no longer the Clippers of old, which lacked physicality and interior defense.
Battling injuries all year, including a lengthy one for arguably the best point guard in basketball Chris Paul, Los Angeles still managed to finish atop the West. However their second unit is awfully thin and doesn’t stack up to the competition.
Once again, the Miami Heat look like the destined champions.