Where Miami Heat Would Rank Among Back-to-Back Champs If They Defend Their Title
Ranking this year's Miami Heat team among NBA's greatest winners may seem a bit overzealous, but it's difficult not to look further down the road to see where this Miami team could possibly end up among some of the top rosters ever assemled.
There are too many variables that could play in the mix when you consider all of the injuries that have taken place, including the one to Dwyane Wade's knee that kept him out of Miami's Game 4 series-clincher over Milwaukee.
Plus, they've only just wrapped up the first round. It wouldn't be fair to rank the Heat among those who have gone back-to-back when we don't even know how they fair in each of their series, yet. Most of the rankings of teams to win consecutive crowns goes into just how efficient these teams were during their title runs.
However, with so many quality opponents losing key players to injury and other teams not replicating the playing style they used to challenge Miami in the regular season, Miami appears set to become the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010 to win consecutive titles.
We'll have to give it a few weeks for this Miami team, even if their Eastern Conference competition is only looking worse and their potential Western Conference competition is in shambles because of injuries.
Still, the Heat have the potential to pull off something never seen before: a 16-0 postseason record.
For now, we take a look at the teams Miami would be in company with if they do what they were put together to do: win consecutive titles.
10. Boston Celtics (1968-'69)
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Because of Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics were denied the chance to potentially win ten consecutive NBA titles.
After seeing their string of eight consecutive titles snapped, the Celtics ran off two more with consecutive NBA Finals victories over the Los Angeles Lakers.
In both seasons, Boston featured the NBA's second-best defense, anchored by an aging Bill Russell nearing the end of his career.
The 1968 title featured the Celtics and the Lakers tied at two games apiece, before the Celtics took control of the series with a three-point home victory in Game 5 and a dominant 15-point win on the road to clinch in Game 6.
Russell averaged 22 boards that postseason. On offense, the team was led by John Havlicek and Sam Jones, who combined for more than 53 points per game.
The 1969 championship was a tragic one for the Los Angeles Lakers, who blew a 3-2 series lead and a Game 7 at home, which the Celtics by two points.
That series marked the first and only time a Finals MVP was given to a player on the losing team: Jerry West, who posted a triple-double in the Game 7 loss.
The title represented the end of the Boston Celtics reign as the most dominant team in the NBA. They would win two titles in the 1970s and wouldn't go back-to-back again, but would go through a stretch in the 1980s where they would make it to four consecutive NBA Finals.
However, the Celtics dominance of the 1960s would never be approached by any other team.
9. Los Angeles Lakers (2009-'10)
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The most recent franchise to go back-to-back, the 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers kept mainly the same roster when winning their second title in one of the more memorable NBA Finals in recent memory.
Down to a Game 7, the Lakers were facing off with the same Boston Celtics squad that had denied them a championship in 2008. Unlike then, however, the tables were turned as the Lakers were playing with Andrew Bynum and the Celtics played without Kendrick Perkins.
The possibility of three consecutive titles was struck down in 2008. Boston won in six games and took advantage of a Lakers frontcourt that was playing without its 7'0" center.
Bynum averaged only 8.6 points and 6.9 boards per game, but started all 23 postseason games, shot 54 percent and recorded 1.6 blocks per game.
Saving the day for Los Angeles in the 2010 Finals was the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, who drilled a backbreaking three-pointer in the final minute of a tight game to put the Celtics away. He had 20 points and helped the Lakers overcome a 6-of-24 night from Kobe Bryant and a 6-of-16 night from Pau Gasol.
However, Bryant and Gasol did combine for 33 rebounds, including 13 on the offensive glass. The Celtics had only 40 rebounds as a team.
The first title was less of a struggle.
Playing against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, the Laker bigs loaded up on Howard and made life difficult for the Defensive Player of the Year. He shot a mere 49 percent from the field and averaged 15.4 points per game.
Howard was reduced to being the Magic's third-leading scorer. The Lakers won the series in five games.
8. Houston Rockets (1994-'95)
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When Michael Jordan grew weary of winning championships, MVPs and scoring titles, there was a brief two-year period (1993-1995) where any number of teams was given the chance to take home the NBA crown.
The Houston Rockets won titles in both years behind the relentless footwork of Hakeem Olajuwon.
The first championship featured Olajuwon dueling with another famed center in Patrick Ewing. Ewing's New York Knicks held a 3-2 advantage after a Game 5 win, but saw plans of a first championship since the early 1970s fall apart as Houston won Game 6 by two points and Game 7 by six.
Olajuwon shot 50 percent from the floor and averaged 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 3.9 blocks per game. Ewing garnered 18.9 points on 36 percent shooting(!). He also managed 12.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 4.3 blocks.
It's safe to say that Ewing, a 50-percent career shooter, had a little trouble scoring against Olajuwon.
A year after dominating one All-Star center, Hakeem and the Rockets set their sights on O'Neal and a young Orlando Magic team. This time around, Olajuwon didn't dominate the center matchup as much as he did against Ewing, but did more than enough to get the Rockets their second consecutive title.
There's only so much you can do against O'Neal, who averaged a staggering 28 points, 12.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists(!!) and 2.5 blocks to Olajuwon's 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks.
Clyde Drexler went ring-chasing with Houston and contributed 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists per in the four-game sweep over Orlando.
Houston managed only 47 wins in the regular season, the lowest number of wins by an NBA champion.
7. Los Angeles Lakers (1987-'88)
Set up with three players averaging at least 20 points per in the 1987 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers were a forced to be reckoned with, even against a Boston Celtics team that also had three players averaging at least 20 per game.
In the end, there was simply too much firepower from the Lakers. They had six players who averaged at least 11 points, with Magic Johnson nearly averaging a triple-double at 26.2 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar chipped in with 21.7 points and 7.3 rebounds.
The '87 Lakers only lost one of their 12 Western Conference playoff games before dropping two in their NBA Finals victory over Boston.
The 1988 championship run, however, was one of the most arduous in NBA history. After sweeping the San Antonio Spurs in three games in the first round, the Lakers would win three consecutive series that went the distance.
Series against the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons all went seven games. After being down in the Finals, 3-2, the Lakers won the last two games by a combined four points, including a one-point victory in Game 6 to stave off elimination.
The Lakers triumph prevented what would have been the start of three consecutive titles for the Pistons.
James Worthy earned his first and only Finals MVP honors, averaging 22 points and 7.4 boards, though Magic was just as deserving with 21.1 points, 13 assists, 5.7 rebounds and two steals.
6. Detroit Pistons (1989-'90)
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One of the most underrated NBA champions, the 1989 Detroit Pistons were a frightening bunch.
Equipped with scorers in Adrian Dantley, Mark Aguirre (who was acquired in a trade that sent Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks), Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, a facilitator in Isiah Thomas and a bullying frontcourt of Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman, it shouldn't come as a surprise that this Pistons team was one of the best NBA teams to ever be assembled.
And, my, did they execute with that roster. The Pistons swept three series, including a four-game sweep over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, losing their only two games to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Detroit had five players averaging at least 10 points in the postseason and finished second in the league in points allowed per game, while also winning a then franchise-record 63 games.
It was more of the same the second time around.
Detroit led the league in points allowed, staved off Jordan and the Bulls in seven games in the conference finals and walked away with a second consecutive title following a five-game drubbing of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Pistons had six players scoring at least 10 points per game in the playoffs, including 27.6 points, 7.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds per from Thomas in the NBA Finals. Thomas also shot 54 percent from the field and 69 percent from beyond the arc.
Three games in the short series were decided by three points or less.
5. Miami Heat (2011-'12?)
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Pat Riley knew that he couldn't make the same mistake he made in the summer of 2006.
After leading the Miami Heat to their first title in franchise history, Riley and the organization was stagnant on personnel moves. They didn't add any new pieces and instead chose to keep riding the same aging veterans that had led them to the promise land the year before.
Miami ended up getting swept in the first round. A lack of motivation was key as several key role players showed up for training camp overweight and failed to provide the same numbers that had supported them the previous year. Throw in Dwyane Wade beginning to deal with injuries and you have a perfect storm of a horrific title defense.
That hasn't happened this season. After needing only five games to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals, Riley and the Heat went out and nabbed sharpshooters in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to help spread an offense that would eventually become the league's most efficient.
As a result, the Heat set the franchise record for wins with 66, nearly broke what was thought to be an unbreakable record after reeling off 27 consecutive wins and are now the clear-cut favorites to take home a second consecutive title.
The East has seen better days. Miami dismantled the Milwaukee Bucks in four games in the first round and are getting set to face off with a Chicago Bulls team that is hobbling its way into a second round matchup without Derrick Rose and possibly Kirk Hinrich, a notable defender who could have caused some havoc for Dwyane Wade.
If Miami advances, they'll either take on an Indiana Pacers team that struggled to beat the Atlanta Hawks or a New York Knicks team that struggled to put away the Boston Celtics.
The NBA Finals could represent a challenge if the right team makes it. Specifically, the Memphis Grizzlies and their notable defenders in the backcourt and frontcourt could force Miami into a grind-out series where they would have to keep Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph off the glass.
At the moment, however, the Heat appear to have a clear path set at least to the Conference Finals. With LeBron James fresh off of winning his fourth MVP in five years and Allen getting into playoff form, the Heat could end up ranking among NBA history's greatest back-to-back champions.
4. Chicago Bulls (1991-'93)
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So many great basketball memories can be attributed to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls first three-peat.
Where do we begin? Do we start with Michael's famed switching hands in mid-air layup? Or his six three-pointers in the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers? Or how about John Paxson's game-winning three-pointer against the Phoenix Suns?
The early 1990s featured monumental basketball as Jordan and the Bulls put away three different Western Conference opponents in the NBA Finals, starting off with a dismantling of the aging Los Angeles Lakers.
Michael went off for 31 points (56 percent shooting) and 11.4 assists per game, and it was clear that the torch had been officially passed to him. Magic Johnson could only sit back and watch as Jordan and the Bulls won four straight to win the series in five games.
The following championships were far more difficult for the Bulls. However, it also brought out the best in Jordan as he put up numbers rarely seen. In the Bulls' six-game series victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, which featured a 33-point Game 1 victory margin, Jordan averaged nearly 36 points on 53 percent shooting.
Meanwhile, arguably the second-best player in the league in Clyde Drexler averaged a tad under 25 points on 41 percent shooting.
In 1993, Jordan put the NBA on notice as he averaged an NBA-record 41 points in Chicago's nail-biter of a Finals victory over a hungry Phoenix Suns team that featured Charles Barkley averaging 27 points and 13 rebounds per game.
The closest anybody has come to Jordan's enormous point totals in an NBA Finals was Shaquille O'Neal averaging 38 against Indiana in 2000 and Dwyane Wade with 36 against Dallas in 2006.
Jordan also scored 55 points in Chicago's Game 4 victory, tied for the second most amount of points scored in NBA Finals game.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (2000-'02)
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The most dominant team of the decade, the Los Angeles Lakers squads that went on to three-peat against three different opponents, set the standard for postseason dominance.
Specifically, the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers. They went a pedestrian 56-26 in the regular season (the Denver Nuggets finished with a better record that year) but obviously saved their best for the long haul of the postseason.
Did I say long haul? Because it was a short one for the Lakers. They swept all three of their Western Conference foes, including consecutive four-game sweeps over the mighty San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings, before winning in five games against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The one loss to Philadelphia will forever be a part of NBA lore. Allen Iverson scored 48 points, carrying his Sixers to in an upset win on the road.
Naturally, the Lakers won the next four games, including the final two road games by at least 12 points.
The year before featured the Lakers staving off two close matchups with the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers, before going on to defeat the Indiana Pacers in six games. O'Neal averaged 38 points on 61 percent shooting.
2002 will always be looked at as tainted to some because of the questionable calls made in the Lakers seven-game series victory over the Sacramento Kings, but the Kings also squandered a number of opportunities: They blew Game 7 at home and a 24-point lead in Game 4.
The Lakers would beat the New Jersey Nets in six games in the Finals. Shaq would take home his third Finals MVP of the three-peat after posting 36 points and 12 rebounds per game.
These were the glory days of the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant partnership. Both players were averaging over 25 points, even in the postseason, and were as unstoppable a combination as anybody had seen since the Lakers went back-to-back with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
2. Chicago Bulls (1996-'98)
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Now, this was the NBA when it was arguably at its best, even compared to now with three All-Stars jam-packed onto one team.
Outside of New York, Indiana, Utah, Orlando, Miami and Seattle, it was hard not to root for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. After Jordan's comeback retirement resulted in a second-round exit against the Magic, he spent the entire offseason working on the facets of his game that would complement a player set to hit the wrong side of 30 within a few months.
At the age of 32, Jordan won league MVP, led the league in scoring with 30.4 points per game and took the Bulls to the most dominant regular season in NBA history winning 72 of 82 regular season games.
Including the postseason, the Bulls ended up winning 87 of the 100 games they played that year. They went 15-3 in the postseason, with two of the losses coming in the NBA Finals to the Seattle Sonics.
But Jordan and the Bulls weren't done there.
In one of the most underrated seasons in the history of the game, Chicago went out and ran off 69 wins the very next season. They would coast through the Eastern Conference, losing only two games along the way and would defeat the Utah Jazz in six games.
In a two-year span, the Chicago Bulls won 171 out of 201 games.
It was more of the same in the final year of the three-peat. Denied by Karl Malone of a league MVP the previous year, Jordan would reclaim the award in what was thought to be his final year.
At the age of 34, Jordan was playing in 82 games for the third consecutive season and winning a third consecutive scoring title. He would lead the Bulls to 62 wins, before aiding them in winning a third consecutive title, second consecutive against the Jazz, in a six-game series win.
1. Boston Celtics (1959-'66)
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Undertaking the most dominant run in NBA history, and one that will most likely never be seen again, the Boston Celtics ran off eight consecutive title victories from 1959 until they were finally defeated in 1967.
In fact, if not for the St. Louis Hawks winning in 1958 and the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967, the Celtics would have ended up winning 13 consecutive NBA championships.
They'll have to settle for only eight straight. Of those, five would come against the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and two against the Hawks. Three of the series would go to seven games and only one series was won with a sweep, which was the first title to start the run.
Led by Hall-of-Famers Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn, the Celtics possessed one of the league's top defenses on one end while having arguably the league's top point guard, Cousy, directing things on the other
Cousy retired in 1963. The Celtics still managed to run off three more title runs without one of the best point guards to ever play the game.
It helps when the roster is balanced with quality scorers, arguably the greatest NBA coach of all time in Red Auerbach and arguably the greatest defender of all time in Russell.
Many critics will point out that this Celtics team was winning titles at a time when there weren't even ten teams in the entire league, but it still shouldn't take away from the fact that Boston was the best of those teams for over a decade.
It shouldn't matter how many teams were in the league; the Celtics built up a quality roster. Boston was the best on 11 occasions spanning from 1957 to 1969 and it's a testament to how well run and well built the organization was.