5 Reasons the Miami Heat Won't Win the 2014 NBA Finals
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Little did he know the toll it would take.
Three years and three finals appearances after LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in South Beach, the big three have been a huge success. But a lot can change in three years, and the franchise that looked set to dominate the NBA for the next decade will not win the 2014 NBA championship.
There are numerous reasons that such a statement is not blasphemous, that it is actually quite logical. And though it may seem hard to bet against LeBron, that's not what this statement entails.
There is just so much that goes into winning an NBA Championship, and for a team to win, a lot has to go right. And some might argue a lot has to be perfect.
Here are the top five reasons they won't win in 2014, and the rankings are based simply on how much each factor will predictably affect the Heat this season.
5. Supporting Cast
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LeBron would be the first to tell you that a supporting cast is everything. He couldn't get it done in Cleveland largely due to his subpar supporting cast. In Miami, that has been a completely different story.
To make one distinction, the term "supporting cast" excludes Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Supporting cast is more in reference to role players, and neither Bosh nor Wade qualify as role players.
And though many of the same faces remain from the 2013 title, a lot has changed since last season. Namely the loss of Mike Miller.
The Heat amnestied Miller on July 16th, and though that doesn't seem like too big of a deal, it really is. With Miller gone, the Heat are down to three rotation players who can effectively shoot threes. They would be Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers.
If you want to count Rashard Lewis and Norris Cole, be my guest. But Lewis played 14.4 minutes per game last year, and Cole is a 32.2 percent shooter from three. So as far as shooters go, they aren't really in the conversation.
But back to Miller. Losing him is big. He played clutch minutes for the Heat down the stretch, hitting 15 threes in the 2013 Finals. He's also 6'8" and averaged 6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. That's almost the same as Allen and Chalmers combined.
Speaking of Ray Allen, he recently turned 38. Now, there's no reason to believe he can't still shoot, but the Heat can't expect much more than that from him this year. And guys that old don't typically stay healthy all year.
Chalmers, meanwhile, is still valuable. A tough point guard who shoots over 40 percent from three is exactly what the Heat need.
So the Heat are fine riding with Allen and Chalmers. It's Battier they might worry about a bit.
Battier played awfully during the playoffs, save for his six magical threes in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He averaged 4.7 points on 29 percent shooting. And largely due to that, his minutes fell to less than 10 in seven consecutive playoff games.
Yes, Battier is the ultimate professional, and nobody doubts that he is working hard this offseason to prove that was just a hiccup.
But he's going to turn 35 this September, and it looks like playing out of position against power forwards all season took a huge toll on his body.
The Heat might have to change how they play him to keep him effective, or limit his minutes. Either way, the value he brought playing a shooter at the 4 isn't going to be as great this year.
And the Heat don't have any cap room this year to go out and find another guy for anything above the minimum.
Each of the Big Three are due about $19 million this year, and that figure is up $4.5 million from 2010. So essentially, that's the whole cap right there.
The good news is that the Heat are an excellent organization, so they'll find a way to make it work. But the supporting cast will not be as good as it was in 2013. And it might be stretched too thin come 2014.
4. League Adaptation
The league is figuring out how to beat the Heat, and they can take a lot of their queues from how Roy Hibbert and the Pacers came a Game 7 away from beating the Heat.
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The league is starting to figure out ways to beat the Heat come playoff time. And a lot of that has to do with how the Mavericks beat the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, and how the Pacers almost beat the Heat in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.
The Mavericks were able to funnel LeBron and Dwyane Wade to their 7'1" defensive stud Tyson Chandler. Both Wade and James are guys who are best when attacking the rim, and having a big who knew how to defend the paint made those drives more difficult.
The same goes for the Pacers this year. They played lockdown defense, and the 7'2", 280-pound Roy Hibbert was the anchor. He was great at jumping straight up and forcing LeBron and Wade to finish around him while making contact.
The Pacers were on the brink of a big upset, but they didn't have the shooting or the bench to do what the Mavericks did.
And don't think teams like the Bulls and Knicks weren't watching that Pacers series and licking their chops. Both those teams have the requisite big defensive stoppers in the middle. The Knicks have the shooting, and the Bulls with Rose back will have the star and toughness to go toe to toe with the Heat.
Not to mention the new look Brooklyn Nets. KG and Paul Pierce have been giving LeBron fits for years, and with a new super talented team, they can adapt their style to clog up the lane.
And don't forget how the Spurs played LeBron in the 2013 NBA Finals.
They sagged off him. A lot.
They gave him any jumper he wanted, within reason. They were close enough to give faux pressure on jumpers and far enough back to clog all his driving lanes.
Though this strategy ultimately lost out when LeBron when went bonkers with his jumper in Game 7, it worked well for six games. LeBron looked visibly uncomfortable at times on offense, and couldn't seem to get it going.
The point is that after three years of watching and playing against LeBron and the Heat, teams have started to figure it out.
The road back to the finals will be much tougher when teams have the right blueprint. And they might just have found it.
Bill Russell is NBA royalty and one of only three NBA stars to avoid a pitfall of history.
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Only three times in NBA history has a team made it to the NBA Finals four years in a row.
Once when Bill Russell led the Celtics to nine championships in 10 years. Once when Magic Johnson and the showtime Lakers won two in four years. And once when Larry Bird led the Celtics to two championships in four tries.
In fact, eight other times, teams have been to three consecutive finals and failed to reach the fourth.
And there could be any number of reasons for that. It could be fatigue from playing so many extra games. It could be the league adapting. It could be bad luck. It could be roster turnover. It could be success going to players' heads. The list goes on and on.
Bottom line, it is extremely hard to go to three consecutive finals, much less a fourth. And that is what the Heat would have to do this year.
As if that's not enough, there are other extenuating circumstances. Keep in mind that LeBron played an extra 13 games in the Olympics and to qualify for the games. Not to mention that those games were tacked onto a lockout shortened season that forced the league to cram 66 games into four months.
So fatigue plays a part in this bit of history, especially in the Heat's case. In the past three years, LeBron's playoff minutes per game have been 43.9, 42.7 and 41.9. And it's not like he's resting in the regular season when he's playing about 38 minutes per game.
Same goes for Dwayne Wade, whose playoff minutes the last three years have been 39.4, 39.4 and 35.5.
All these games and all these minutes take a toll on the body. And though LeBron may seem superhuman, he may need to be more than that to get the better of NBA history.
2. Return of Injured Players
Derrick Rose headlines a group of star players that should be healthy come 2014.
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Now this is definitely not a slide dedicated to saying the Heat got lucky, but they did benefit from some injuries around the league. Especially the one that happened to Derrick Rose.
Not only did Rose not get a chance to lead the Bulls against the Heat in the 2012 postseason, but he was missing from this year's team as well.
Rose should be fully healthy this coming year and ready to bring a scoring punch to a team that was sorely lacking one. It's hard to hate on Nate Robinson, but when he's your team's primary shot creator, something is wrong.
And then of course there's Russell Westbrook. Love him or hate him, don't forget that he averaged 27 points, 6.6 assists and 6.4 rebounds against the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.
While LeBron is focused on Durant, Westbrook got to abuse anyone the Heat wanted to throw at him. Now it's up in the air whether the Thunder would have made the finals this year. But regardless, Westbrook will be back with a vengeance next year.
And one of the more underrated injury stories of the playoffs was Danny Granger. The Pacers swingman had knee surgery after only five games and missed almost all of the 2013 season.
The Pacers could have used his toughness and outside scoring in a slugfest with the Heat last year. And he'll also be ready to go this season.
So again, this is not a slide saying that the Heat won the championship in 2013 because they had it easy. It's merely pointing out that this year's road will be a lot tougher.
The Bulls will have their star back. The Thunder will be whole again. And that scrappy Indiana team will have a key piece back. Miami better stay on their toes.
1. Decline of the Big Three
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And the biggest problem the Heat face is that the Big Three isn't what it once was. All those other problems can be rendered irrelevant if Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are playing at their peaks.
Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case for this upcoming season.
Dwyane Wade was simply not himself during the 2013 playoffs. He was dealing with two balky knees, and that significantly contributed to him averaging only 15.9 points per game in the postseason. And on 45.7 percent shooting, down almost five percent from the regular season.
But it was more than just his points per game. Wade was a shell of himself, and couldn't be counted on. His jumper was off, and with two bad knees, driving to the basket was a chore. At times he was almost a liability.
And Wade isn't exactly an ironman. He's had knee trouble before, as well as other injuries. So based on these playoffs, it looks like the mileage is starting to catch up to him.
Bottom line, if playing in three consecutive finals wore Wade down last year, he's really in for it in 2014 when they go for four straight.
Additionally Wade's scoring has been slipping for the past three years. From 25.2 points per game in 2011, to 22.1 in 2012 and 21.2 last year.
Speaking of scoring declines, enter Chris Bosh. His average has dipped from 18.7 per game in 2011 to only 16.6 this past season.
Bosh sacrificed the most basketball wise to come to the Heat. He took less shots, changed his style of play, took a less prominent role and took less credit for wins—while also taking more flak for losses.
So there is something to be said for that kind of sacrifice. He's done things most stars wouldn't do.
That being said, he could be much better. And he can start with improving on his paltry 12.1 points per game in the postseason. Oh, and his 6.8 rebounds per game in the regular season.
Those rebounds are a huge deal, too. According to 82games.com, Bosh is the only true big man in either of their two most common five man units. And to that same point, the Heat are the worst rebounding team in the league.
I'm sensing a correlation.
As for LeBron, he's going to be just fine. He might be a robot, I'm not sure. But the guy doesn't seem to get tired or hurt no matter how hard or how long he plays. And every season he seems to get better. So we'll just leave it at that.
The real question marks are his two running mates. With less and less cap room due to the trio's escalating salaries, they have to make due with less and less.
If Wade and Bosh continue declining, you don't blame LeBron for saying he "went back to his Cleveland days" during the Eastern Conference Finals.
It's certainly starting to feel more like those Cleveland days when his two best teammates are shrinking from the spotlight.
Now that's not to say that either one can't turn it around. Maybe fewer regular season minutes for Wade will help, and maybe Bosh can leave that stinker of a season behind him. But if you ask me, those are pretty big ifs.
Way too big for the Heat to talk title contention in 2014.