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Miami faced plenty of adversity during last season’s championship run. They were down 2-1 to Indiana in the second round, with Wade struggling and Chris Bosh injured. The Celtics took a 3-2 lead in the conference finals back to Boston before James fought off elimination with a 45-point performance in Game 6, and the Thunder took the opener of the NBA Finals and nearly rallied two nights later to put the Heat in a 2-0 hole.

But this version of the Heat is much better, and certainly miles above the team that lost in the 2011 finals in the first season with its Big Three. With Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis, the Heat have added players who were able to win games for them even when they chose to rest their superstars down the stretch.

“It’s a challenge. Look, these guys are really good. They’re the world champions,” Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan said. “Dwyane Wade has won multiple NBA championships, LeBron is going to win multiple NBA championships before it’s all over and let’s not forget Chris Bosh and Ray Allen and all the other guys, too. Shane Battier. Great players. They present a large, large number of problems.”

There is much more intrigue out West, especially in the two series involving Los Angeles teams. The Clippers and Grizzlies went seven games last year before the Clippers advanced, and this time they have the home-court advantage. The Lakers didn’t even clinch a playoff spot until Wednesday, but they won their final five games and look dangerous even without Bryant thanks to the inside play of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

The Lakers and Spurs had one of the NBA’s best postseason rivalries in the last decade, and this one could join their list of memorable series.

“We’re happy that we’re in the playoffs but we’re not done yet,” Howard said.

The highlight in the East could be in the Boston-New York series. The Knicks ended the Celtics’ five-year reign as Atlantic Division champions with their first division title since 1994, with Carmelo Anthony leading the NBA with 28.7 points per game. New York will have to fight off a No. 7 seed hoping it still has a run left with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and trying to give a lift to a hurting city after the Boston Marathon bombings.

“They’ve been around. They’ve won. They have a lot of experience,” Anthony said. “I think that was one of the reasons that we put together this team that we have with the experience that we have with some of the guys on this team. So right now we want to continue the way that we’ve been playing.”

The winner could emerge as the best hope in the East to beat the Heat _ if there is such a thing. Count former NBA coach and ESPN analyst Flip Saunders among those who doubt there is, saying Wednesday on a conference call that he doesn’t “see anyone challenging them.”

“They’ve really been off the charts, and the way LeBron is playing,” Saunders said. “There’s teams that are going to be able to beat them a game or two maybe, but I can’t see anyone that has the ability to beat them four games in a row.”

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AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Miami and Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney