Which NBA teams are up for challenging Heat?

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,NBA,Craig Stouffer

One debate may be settled by LeBron James' ridiculous current stretch of at least 30 points and 60 percent shooting in six straight games.

But the MVP race is strictly a regular-season battle. As for the playoffs, it's not quite time to hand the Miami Heat a second straight NBA title. They're still the favorites as the All-Star weekend approaches, but the next two months are about gearing up for the postseason. With 30 games or so to go, here's how Miami's top challengers stack up:

Title or bust »

Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City are explosive enough to blow any team out. But Russell Westbrook, with his explosive temper, doesn't have the demeanor of a champion. The Thunder's bigger problem is the Los Angeles Clippers, who are just as good and are just getting healthy. They -- as in Chris Paul -- need to stay that way.

The Spurs own the league's best record after 53 games. But there's no guarantee that sporadic rest by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will be a fountain of youth. Maybe the NBA just needs a bigger and better reward for regular-season dominance.

Flawed contenders » After a strong finish last spring, Memphis is searching for chemistry following the departure of Rudy Gay. The New York Knicks are supposed to be built like the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, but the scale is beginning to tip too far in Carmelo Anthony's direction. His MVP candidacy needs to take a back seat to shared 3-point shooting and defense. The Indiana Pacers allow the NBA's lowest opposing field goal percentage but have struggled on the road -- as has Denver -- and will be haunted by last year's failure to close out a 2-1 lead over Miami.

Upstarts and early exits » Producing a seven-game series win will be harder than generating headlines for Brooklyn, and Golden State's first postseason taste under Mark Jackson will be fun. James Harden gives Houston hope, but Boston's window is closing regardless of how well the Celtics have played without Rajon Rondo.

Wild card »

Derrick Rose's potential return for Chicago could turn the playoffs upside down, but Carlos Boozer has a tendency to do that to his own team in the postseason.

- Craig Stouffer

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner