Ever since LeBron James made The Decision to take his talents to South Beach in 2010, no team in the East has been able to shut down the Miami Heat. Three straight Eastern Conference championships -- plus the last two NBA championships -- and a pair of MVPs from James, still just 28 years old, has made them the favorite to return to the Finals for the fourth straight season.
But for one NBA analyst, 2014 will mark the first year James' Heat don't make the Finals, and the Chicago Bulls will be the team to do the dethroning.
"I just feel like it's all sort of teed up for Chicago with Rose coming back, guys like Noah and [Taj] Gibson entering their prime," Steve Kerr told the L.A. Times' Ben Bolch. "I think Chicago will have something special this year."
The biggest reason, of course, is the return of Derrick Rose. After suffering a torn ACL in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, he'll return to the court completely healthy and with a chip on his shoulder to prove his doubters wrong.
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But for Kerr, the Heat will have trouble making the Finals for a fourth straight season because of all the external factors and potential injuries in play for a team that went seven games in both the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals a year ago.
"There's a reason these teams don't do it," Kerr, who played five seasons in Chicago and won three championships, said. "Emotionally, it's just exhausting to keep doing it year after year, particularly when you have to deal with everything Miami has to deal with on a daily basis, just the constant critiquing and scrutiny on the team, and then you factor in the injuries with Wade and Bosh and their health. I don't think Miami will get out of the East this year."
No team, the Bulls included, has gone to four straight NBA Finals since the Celtics of the 1980s, and Kobe Bryant's Lakers were the last team to win three straight NBA championships (2000-2002).
The Heat and Bulls will meet up four times in the regular season, including Opening Night in Miami on Oct. 29 -- they'll also meet on Dec. 5 and Mar. 9 in Chicago, and Feb. 23 in Miami.