by John Maza

If you are expecting the Oklahoma City Thunder to meet the Miami Heat in the NBA finals for a rematch, forget it, you’re dreaming.

After tearing his lateral meniscus in the second quarter of Game 2 of the opening round series against the Houston Rockets, Russell Westbrook will be out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Ignore the possibility of Kevin Martin stepping up to help fill the void left by James Harden; alone, Kevin Durant cannot carry the Thunder back to the NBA finals.

On multiple occasions in recent memory, superstars have tried to lead their team to the promised land, but in the end, they have all failed to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.  Paul Pierce struggled miserably before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived, who was Kobe Bryant before Shaq, before Pau Gasol, who was Dwayne Wade, and even the king himself, LeBron James, couldn’t get the job done in Cleveland.

To be successful in this league, every Batman needs his Robin or you are looking at a first or second-round exit. And to these guys, every season is either a championship or bust.

The question, however, is who in the world is going to meet the Miami Heat in the finals, let alone challenge them. Of the few teams left in the playoffs, only a handful have their best player, let alone multiple healthy key players except for the Miami Heat.

In fact, the only two teams that might be a threat to the Heat are officially yet to re-enter the league, NBA First and Second Team All-Injured.

The First Team NBA All-Injured is Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, David Lee and Amar’e Stoudemire.

The Second Team All-Injured is Rajon Rondo, Danny Granger, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Love and Andrew Bynum.

The bottom line, injuries are killing the NBA playoffs.

Regardless, the possibility still exists that the Heat can be dethroned, but that is just something that everyone would like to believe. Milwaukee, well, it was nice knowing you!

Out of respect, the Boston Celtics always have to be taken seriously. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still a dynamic duo; however, given the inconsistent play of Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo’s season ending ACL tear, this could be the final season with Garnett and Pierce being in a Celtics uniform after being down 3-1 to the Knicks.

The Chicago Bulls are perhaps the toughest, hardnosed team in the NBA prepared to make an example out of anyone who does not take them seriously. However, with Derrick Rose having missed the entire season, and it appears as if he will continue to sit out, the Bulls have virtually no chance of advancing past the conference semifinals.

Their opponent, the Brooklyn Nets have failed all season to live up to their expectations. Their starting lineup alone, will cost owner Mikhail Prokhorov $312 million, even though their play would suggest half of that. After crushing Chicago in the opening game, the Bulls have charged back, with the series tied 2-2, while the Nets superstars have failed to impress.

The former favorite to beat the Heat, the Indiana Pacers, have a slim chance of making it back to the conference finals after Danny Granger re-injured his knee, but should have no problem getting past Atlanta.

However, out of all of the injuries, the Knicks are the only team that have benefited from one.

As good as Stoudemire is, without him, Carmelo Anthony goes from being a top-ten player in the league, to the top five. With Stoudemire not on the floor, the Knicks are able to spread the floor, allowing Tyson Chandler and Anthony, plenty of room to operate in the paint.

The Knicks become a very fast-paced, fun team to watch. The reigning sixth-man of the year, J.R. Smith has been deadly from beyond the arc and has shouldered the scoring load along with Anthony. Raymond Felton appears to have regained his form from years past, not to mention the impact that veterans Kenyon Martin and the ageless Jason Kidd have had.

However, the question everyone is asking is how the Knicks dynamic scoring threat of Smith and Anthony will respond to the best on-ball defenders in the NBA in James and Wade.

Of course, any NBA article would be incomplete without mentioning the Lakers.

If the playoffs have taught us anything, it is that coach Mike D’Antoni, must go, and that Dwight Howard is no longer the best center of the NBA.That honor has been awarded to Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies are arguably the best defensive team in the NBA, thanks to their two-headed monster; power forward Zac Randolph and the defensive player of the year Gasol.

The Grizzlies are currently in a slugfest with the Los Angeles Clippers, who, after looking like a legitimate contender during the first two games of the series, have dropped the last two, allowing Memphis to climb back into the series.

The Grizzlies’ two big men have pushed Blake Griffin around like a rag doll. It is unlikely that Chris Paul can carry the team to its first NBA Finals in franchise history.

In addition, the Rockets, Nuggets and especially the Warriors are three very good up-and-coming teams, but like the Clippers, are one, maybe two years away.

Therefore, the only legitimate threat to the Miami Heat are the San Antonio Spurs.

Tim Duncan has turned back the clock this season, averaging 17.8 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game.

Although he has lost a step, Tony Parker has continued to have a huge impact on games, not to mention the numbers he has put up so far in the playoffs, averaging 22 points and 7.3 assists.

In addition to Duncan and Parker, the Spurs have surrounded the duo with a number of young key on-ball defenders and outside shooters, not to mention the greatest coaching mind in the NBA, Gregg Popovich.

Regardless, the Spurs will go as far as Manu Ginóbili takes them. The third member of the original Big Three looks rejuvenated and more dominant than he has been in years.

With the Big Three finally at full strength, the Spurs have returned to being only legitimate threat to the Heat’s title defense. So far, they have let everyone feel their presence by putting on a clinic against the Lakers, with one message in mind for the Heat: watch out.


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