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The word at the top of everybody's mind heading into the 2013-14 season is "three-peat" - and NBA general managers are no different than anyone else it seems. The NBA released its annual preseason survey of league general managers on Tuesday, and the movers and shakers of the basketball world overwhelmingly expect the Miami Heat to win its third straight championship next June.
A total of 75.9% of GMs picked the Heat to go all the way, up from 70.0% before last season. 86.2% think the Heat will win a fourth straight conference title, and every single GM expects the Heat to win the Southeast division.
The team that would face Miami in the NBA Finals is a much bigger unknown, with no team receiving a majority of votes. 40.0% of GMs picked the San Antonio Spurs to repeat as Western Conference champs. The Heat and Spurs played an epic seven-game NBA Finals in June. San Antonio very nearly knocked off the Heat, blowing a 5-point lead in the final seconds of regulation in Game 6 that would have clinched the series.
The Oklahoma City Thunder received 36.7% of votes, while the LA Clippers got 20.0% and the Houston Rockets 3.3%. The Thunder were 2012 Western Conference champions, losing the Finals to the Heat in five games that year.
Indiana and Chicago are expected to be the Heat's chief rivals in the East, with Indiana picked to win the East by 10.3% of voters and Chicago by 3.4%. The Pacers took the Heat to seven games in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, while the Bulls are getting 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose back from an ACL injury. He has not played since the first game of the 2012 playoffs.
Miami forward LeBron James is the overwhelming favorite to win MVP, selected by 89.7% of GMs. Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers also received votes. James was also voted the player who forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments, the best power forward in the league, most athletic player, most dangerous in the open floor, and best finisher at the rim.
The GMs also added fuel to the debate over whether Miami guard Dwyane Wade has been surpassed by Houston's James Harden. 56.7% of GMs selected Harden as the best shooting guard in the NBA, compared to just 3.3% for Wade.
Durant has caused a stir as of late by claiming that Harden has supplanted Wade as a top-ten player, calling on the 31-year-old Wade to accept his new place in the NBA's hierarchy.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra finished third in two coaching categories: best head coach and best manager and motivator of people (San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was the top vote-getter in each). The Heat were voted the third-best defensive team behind Chicago and Indiana, something that could provide some bulletin-board fodder in the Miami locker room.
The Heat begin their title defense next Tuesday when they host the Bulls on Opening Night.