lebron_finals_game1_568The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sure, the Indiana Pacers have the best record in the entire NBA as we head into the home straight of the regular season. Indeed, the Oklahoma City Thunder could so easily move up another level once Russell Westbrook drinks the same Kool Aid that the rest of his team consumed in his absence.

But the reality is this: The Miami Heat are still the NBA champions. Their roster, last we checked, includes the greatest player of the modern era. And it’s going to take something very special to knock them off their perch once the play-offs get under way in April.

There’s a reason that LeBron James & Co remain the 2.10 title favourites (with Betfair) and that’s the swagger of having done it all before. Sure, there’s been aberrations to the likes of lowly Utah and too many nights when the absence of Dwyane Wade has seemed to provide a ready-made excuse to switch down the power from full to medium.

Yet Miami are 21-4 at home. They have a steady nerve, as evidenced by going 7-2 in games decided by three points or less. And, most significant of all, the Heat are a league-best 19-5 against opponents with .500 records or better. Even in the East, there are no rollovers come the post-season. Nobody can raise their game in quite the same way.

And as James indicated in a recent interview, there’s a sense of history that his team want to achieve. For all the very greatest groups have pulled out a three-peat (a phrase trademarked, astutely, by team president Pat Riley).

The hat-trick Minneapolis Lakers of George Mikan. The eight-in-a-row Boston Celtics of Bill Russell. The two-by-three Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan. And then the dysfunctional-but-dynamic trio of championships of the LA Lakers of Shaq and Kobe.

Four dynasties. Room for one more? Miami could secure their place in the Pantheon come June.

Yet this may be the toughest one to claim. Wade is 32 but has the miles of a 64-year-old. Their bench chips in a middling 30.3 points per game. Consistency has not been their friend. And as the trade deadline passed last week, others fortified their challenge while the Heat merely tinkered.

The Pacers, 5/2 second-favourites with Betfair, boosted their second unit with Evan Turner’s arrival. Already with the league’s meanest defence, their scoring just added an extra punch.

The Thunder are 2.64 to come out of the West with Kevin Durant 1.31 to win his first MVP. But with the Clippers gunning their way into contention, and the San Antonio Spurs never to be discounted, LeBron will need all the help he can muster to secure his own legacy beyond reproach once the Finals come around.

Such strength has been there before, however. And it’s not gone away. Will the Miami Heat give up their championship without a massive push? You bet they won’t.

Photo: NBAE/Getty

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