As the midway point of the NBA season approaches, the defending NBA champion Miami Heat hold the best record in the Eastern Conference at 23-11.
But breathing down Miami's neck are the New York Knicks.
New York earned the No. 7 seed in the East last season, but the Knicks started the 2012-13 season as one of the hottest teams in basketball. Through 35 games, the Knicks are 23-12, and Carmelo Anthony is second in the league in scoring, averaging 29.0 points per game.
By all accounts, the Knicks and Heat have been the clear-cut best teams in the Eastern Conference this season.
The two teams have played each other twice this season. New York has won both, each by a 20-point margin.
But come playoff time, are the Knicks a legitimate threat to dethrone the Heat?
Miami struggled last year in the playoffs against teams with go-to post players. The Indiana Pacers and Roy Hibbert had Miami on the ropes in the second round of the NBA playoffs, then the veteran Boston Celtics gave the Heat their best shot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
LeBron James ultimately put the team on his back and carried the Heat past Boston and into the NBA Finals.
But the Knicks have one of the best centers in basketball on their side in Tyson Chandler. When the Heat lost to the Mavericks in the NBA Finals two years ago, Chandler's presence down low was a big reason why.
Miami had no problem getting past the Knicks in last year's playoffs. The Heat won the first-round series in five games last season, including a 33-point blowout in Week 1.
But this is a different Knicks team. It's a deeper team.
The combination of Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton at point guard has been an improvement over Jeremy Lin last season. Add J.R. Smith and his 17.1 points per game to the mix, and the Knicks have a solid backcourt rotation which rivals the Heat at guard.
But at every position other than center, the mighty Miami Heat appear poised to run through the East once again in the playoffs. LeBron James would spend a lot of his time and effort guarding Carmelo, while Dwyane Wade could give the Knicks fits defensively.
Amar'e Stoudemire has yet to start a game this season, but as he continues to ease into the lineup, the Knicks will become an even better team.
Miami has an athletic post player of its own in Chris Bosh. He'd likely be matched up against Stoudemire in a must-win scenario come playoff time.
But the presence of Chandler will be the Knicks' biggest advantage in a head-to-head matchup. Chandler is simply better than any center the Heat has.
Ultimately, the 2012-13 Miami Heat is the most talented and deepest team since LeBron James arrived. Miami utilizes a small lineup with Bosh at center and Udonis Haslem at power forward. Mario Chalmers runs the point, while Wade and James handle their business on the perimeter.
Miami's bench is what separates this year's team from its previous teams. Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller and Norris Cole are all capable of playing big minutes on any given night.
With the recent speculation that Greg Oden could return, and an SI.com report that the Miami Heat may be interested, this team could get even better. Oden is far from a sure thing to stay healthy, but he'd be a significant upgrade at center, and he'd give the Heat some real depth in the frontcourt.
Oden or no Oden, the Miami Heat look like the favorites to repeat as NBA champions.
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