It's so easy to poke fun at LeBron James now-a-days. You can make fun of his 4th quarter chokejobs. You can make fun of his hairline that's receding quicker than Hulk Hogan's. You can make fun of the fact that he has no championship rings. You can make fun of his far-fetched guarantees:
"We're not gonna win just one title! Not two! Not three! Not four! Not five! Not six, seven or eight!!"
But skeptics might not be laughing at LeBron anymore come mid-June. It's not like he's been the only member of the Miami Heat who hasn't been a clutch performer in the 4th quarter. Before game 5 on Wednesday, only Jason Terry shot as poorly as Dwayne Wade in the last minute of a one-score playoff game in 2012 according to ESPN Next Level. Did I mention that LeBron is the only player on the Heat to record an assist under these circumstances? Let's not forget that despite taking 31.4% of Miami's shots during game-winning possessions, Wade was only 5-for-11 in such situations. LeBron? 3-for-6. As a whole, the Heat shot 18-for-35 under this sort of circumstances.
Another reason why the "haters" could be silenced after the NBA Finals isn't because of any particular player on the Miami Heat (No, not Udonis Haslem). Miami's biggest adversary in the Eastern Conference is none other than the Chicago Bulls, who are the No. 1 seed in the conference. They're on the brink of being upset by the Philadelphia 76ers, falling behind in their 1st round series 3-2. This is mainly due to the loss of their star point guard Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in a game 1 victory 103-91. Losing Joakim Noah to an ankle injury doesn't help the Bulls, either. So even if the Bulls pull off a comeback in their 1st round series, they can't beat the Heat without Rose's production. Therefore, the Bulls won't be making the NBA Finals this season unless an act from above occurs. Who would stand in Miami's way after that? The Indiana Pacers, who rely heavily on Danny Granger to score? The Boston Celtics, who are too old to run up and down the floor with the Heat? The Atlanta Hawks, who won't even have a prayer to get out of the 1st round without Al Horford? Basically, this is Miami's NBA Finals trip to lose.
Now the question remains, will they be able to defeat the Western Conference representative in the NBA Finals if they make it there? Oklahoma City has their own "Big Three", highlighted by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They also have a shot-blocking menace of a power forward (think Dennis Rodman, only without the bleached hair, goofy personality and cross-dressing style) in Serge Ibaka as well. Personally, the Thunder pose the biggest threat to Miami's title aspirations because they basically mirror the Heat, only they're slightly better on defense. As for San Antonio, I think they're a little too old to compete with the Thunder, although the Spurs are scoring more than usual. Tony Parker is quicker than ever and Tim Duncan hasn't lost a step. Plus, San Antonio has one of the best bench production in the NBA. Let's be honest, the Western Conference champion will either be San Antonio or Oklahoma City. The Lakers can't just rely on Ramon Sessions to provide scoring from the bench and Kobe's been just as bad as LeBron in the clutch this season. The Clippers really miss Chauncey Billups, for he was their go-to guy if L.A. was ever in need of a clutch three-pointer and ball distribution. Denver doesn't have a go-to guy as well, although they can score a ton of points as a team in one game. As for Memphis, they'll need to escape their brutal 1st round match-up with the same Clippers before even dreaming about making the NBA Finals.
Overall, this could be the year that the Miami Heat win their first NBA title with the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. Everything seems to be falling into place this year. Who knows, maybe LeBron and his receding hairline could be having the last laugh this summer after all.