Heat returning champs, but have noteworthy challengers

The Miami Heat were the best of the East last season, NBA finalists for the first time since 2014 and bring back almost all their top players from a year ago — yet they’re still bracing for what could be a very intense race this season.

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Sports

December 18, 2020 - 11:26 AM

Jimmy Butler (22) of the Miami Heat reacts during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Six of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Oct. 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images/TNS)

Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is the two-time reigning MVP. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant is a two-time NBA Finals MVP and about to get back on the floor after recovering from injury. Washington’s Russell Westbrook is still a triple-double machine. Boston’s Jayson Tatum signed an extension this offseason that could pay him close to $200 million over five years.

And none of them even play for the defending Eastern Conference champions.

The Miami Heat were the best of the East last season, NBA finalists for the first time since 2014 and bring back almost all their top players from a year ago — yet they’re still bracing for what could be a very intense race this season. That speaks to how good the depth in the East will be, with the Bucks, Nets, Celtics, Toronto and Philadelphia all joining Miami as legitimate conference contenders entering the season.

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