Now that we've got the bland formality of the NBA regular season behind us, we can focus on what really matters: Championship or bust.
As it was in October, there are just a handful of teams with a realistic shot at winning the title: The Lakers, Celtics and Spurs. The Bulls qualified for the group, although they would have to defy the "must go through trial by fire first" rule of the NBA Playoffs.
The Heat? I'll stick with the preseason prediction: The Heat -- as improved as they might be -- are not going to sniff the title. They won't win the East, and I can't see anyone actually picking them to beat the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
And let's remember the rock and hard place that this Miami team is in:
The expectation is that they should win a championship. The reality is that they have no chance and, in fact, will barely do better than the Pacers or 76ers. Because anything less than a title for the Heat IS a failure, fair or not. It's so complicated.
I'm sticking with my preseason pick: That the Lakers will win another title. The Thunder will make it very interesting, upending the Spurs in the semis, then taking LA to 7 in the West finals.
In the East, the Celtics will drum out the Heat in one semi, then evade the Bulls in the other -- exactly the Game 7 disappointment Chicago will need to claim the Lakers' throne next year and beyond.
But the story -- for better or worse -- is that in Year 1 of what appears to be a 5-year experiment (less if they jettison Bosh in the offseason), the Heat failed. At the risk of ruining everyone's schadenfreude, I honestly believe that not only will LeBron not win multiple titles in his NBA career, I think he won't win any (short of signing up with a real contender later in his career).
For now, I'll stick with LeBron failing in '11 -- and Kobe claiming No. 6.
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