LeBron James, Miami Heat poised for powerful title defense

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Heat bring back an improved squad to defend the NBA title. Can anyone top LeBron and company?

Can't stand the Heat? Get out of the kitchen conference. Want to see a fancy way to say the Miami Heat are headed back to the NBA Finals? The second-best team in the Eastern Conference could be the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets or, if those Adidas commercials hold a kernel of truth, the Chicago Bulls.

There is an epic battle brewing atop the Western Conference. The Spurs, Lakers and Thunder will test the limits of experience, chemistry and youth in a wildly entertaining race to the top, but when a winner is declared there is no doubt that the Miami Heat will be waiting for that team in the Finals (note: crazy Brooklyn Nets fans, please direct your hate mail to the7thcircleofbasketballhell@gmail.com).

LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet. We’re past the point of indulging dead-enders who refuse to acknowledge LeBron’s greatness on the court – if you don’t see it by now, NBA basketball probably isn’t for you. The ‘debate’ about whether LeBron is an exceedingly excellent basketball player is officially over. The whole situation brings to mind one of my favorite quotes of all-time -- one spoken by Gene Siskel and retold via the brilliant Roger Ebert (taken from Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2010):

"There is a point when a personal opinion shades off into an error of fact. When you say The Valachi Papers is a better film than The Godfather, you are wrong."

Likewise, if you think LeBron James is anything less than an amazing player at this point in his career, you are wrong.

In 2011-12, LBJ posted the 10th-highest single-season PER in NBA history, earned his eighth All-Star appearance, won his third league MVP award and claimed NBA Finals MVP honors while leading the Heat to an NBA Championship. Now what if I told you he’s primed to be even better in 2012-13?

James has started to accept that his biggest advantages emerge in the post and on the interior, and this season the offense is expected be tailored to truly maximize LeBron’s talents for the first time. The seeds were planted during the championship run when he started doing things unlike ever before, as John Schuhmann of NBA.com explains:

"Going back to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, James scored 16 or more points in the paint in each of the last seven games of the season, the longest streak of his career. Meanwhile, over the last six games, he made fewer buckets from outside the paint (eight) than he had in any six-game stretch of his career."

Kirk Goldsberry of CourtVision has provided everyone with the opportunity to see LeBron’s transformation from the early years to 2012 (via courtvisionanalytics.com):

Lebron_cluster_medium
LeBron James is going to work from the left block until somebody stops him. Here’s the thing: nobody can stop him if he works from the left block consistently.

This preview probably seems like a LeBron James lovefest. It is a LeBron James lovefest. He’s the best player on the planet, and there is no team in the Eastern conference with enough talent to stop him. When the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer, rebuild the Bench Mob and get Derrick Rose back at 100 percent, they could be ready to challenge for an NBA Finals berth. Until that time, the Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, et al. aren’t going to cut it.

LeBron James has finally found himself, which is bad news for the NBA.

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