If you’re a basketball historian you know that there is plenty on the line for the Miami Heat this season. Coming off a dramatic and second straight NBA Championship season, the Heat will be looking to solidify their place on the Mount Rushmore of NBA franchises that have won three straight NBA titles, joining the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (1952-54 and 2000-02), the Boston Celtics (1959-66), and the Chicago Bulls (1991-93 and 1996-98). It’s much easier to simply imagine their entry into this very exclusive club than it will be for them to actually join.
The top of the NBA hierarchy got more competitive in the offseason, leading me to believe that there are a staggering nine teams that have a realistic chance of playing in the NBA Finals next June. The Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Clippers, Warriors and Rockets all made moves that have in turn put them in higher regard among NBA circles than they were going into last season. The Thunder still have two of the Top 5 players in the NBA and the Spurs are still the Spurs (and possibly a better version thanks to the assumed leap Kawhi Leonard is about to make). The Heat chose to stand pat in the offseason. The release of Mike Miller was not much of a surprise and the signings of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden couldn’t exactly be considered making a splash. For the record, I do think both signings were smart moves; they are both low risk, high reward pick-ups. If they don’t pan out it’s not catastrophic. If either cracks the Heat rotation then it’s a win for Miami.
So once again, Miami will go to war with a core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and a bunch of role players that were brought in specifically fit in well with the Big Three, in particular LeBron James. It’s hard to believe, but the Big Three Heat are going into their fourth season together, and every year the offensively philosophy has been geared more towards the talents of the best basketball player on the planet, LeBron James. As long as LeBron remains at the top of the league by a rather wide margin, the Heat will at the very least be mentioned as one of the favorites to win the title. But consider, Miami played three elimination games last postseason and escaped by the skin of their teeth in Game 6 against San Antonio—if you’re one of the Miami “fans” who left that game early and hadn’t heard yet, the Heat came back and won… Go ahead and celebrate. Even after a regular season which brought about the 2nd longest winning streak in NBA history, the Heat are hardly unbeatable.
Even if LeBron James goes out there and plays like a superhero, he’ll need help elsewhere. Before you get on me for being a LeBron James fanboy, just consider that the 2013 Heat starters outside of LeBron James scored fewer points per game in the postseason than the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers starting five outside of LeBron James did. Cleveland’s starters outside of LeBron scored 44 points per game while Miami’s outside of LeBron scored 42 points per game in their respective postseasons. Just let that marinate for a second.
It’s time to face reality folks: outside of LeBron, this team isn’t a complete juggernaut like you’d assume a 66 win team would be. If they playoffs showed us anything, it’s that they are flawed, vulnerable and aging. I hate to be the one to shatter this illusion for you, but 2013 Dwyane Wade isn’t 2006 Dwyane Wade. There is a reason why everyone went bonkers when he came up large in Games 4 and 7 in the NBA Finals… it’s because it was a surprise. Five years ago it wasn’t a surprise when Dwyane Wade scored over 20 points in an NBA Playoff game. Those days are gone.
However, the days where Miami contends for an NBA Title are not gone. They are still the deserved favorite to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the years end, and for good reason. They have the best player in the game and a whole bunch of pieces around him that fit just about perfectly. They play better now as a team than they ever have and they’ve shown that when facing adversity they have the ability to flip the metaphorical switch. The question is, how many times can that switch be flipped before the power runs out?