Miami Heat Winning 3rd Straight Title Would Be LeBron James' Toughest Task Yet
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The offseason has been incredibly busy, as teams around the league are doing everything they can to build a squad that is good enough to dethrone the Heat. Miami has shown that it is vulnerable, and ballclubs such as the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets have made moves this summer to try to hit James and company where it hurts.
With LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami is obviously going to be a title contender regardless of what everyone else does. The question is, even with their Big Three intact, do the Heat have enough to fight off their Eastern Conference rivals in 2013-14?
It's going to be astonishingly challenging for Miami to three-peat, and you're about to see why.
They Needed a Miracle to Win the 2013 Finals
Heat fans are not going to like this, but let's be honest: The San Antonio Spurs should have won the 2013 NBA Finals.
In Game 6, the Spurs had a five-point lead with 28.6 seconds left. Under those circumstances, the team with the lead wins the game a whopping 98.6 percent of the time. So, going by the laws of probability, if you replayed that scenario 100 times, San Antonio would win 99 times.
Of course, there are other variables at play, as Miami was obviously a great team and had a better chance of coming back from such a deficit than most other ballclubs.
But the point is that, by all accounts, the Spurs should have won that game and closed out the finals. Had head coach Gregg Popovich not inexplicably sat Tim Duncan on the bench for those final couple of defensive possessions, chances are San Antonio doesn't allow those offensive rebounds and we don't even see a Game 7.
Now before you go all crazy, just try to understand the point here. It's not that Miami did not deserve to win the title; it did. After all, the championship was not decided in Game 6. The Heat did win three other games. It's that Miami is not nearly as dominant as many made them out to be, some even proclaiming them to be the best team since the '98 Chicago Bulls.
For an injury-prone squad that had to exert every ounce of gas in its tank to win its second straight title and needed quite a bit of luck in doing so, it seems hard to envision the Heat three-peating.
Other Eastern Conference Teams Have Improved
Don't look now, but after years of futility, the Eastern Conference is now absolutely stacked. Well, at the top, anyway.
The Nets had a massive offseason, acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics and signing role players such as Andrei Kirilenko. The Pacers beefed up their bench and also added Luis Scola, yet another skilled big body up front.
The East is loaded in terms of its top five teams, and each and every one of those ballclubs—particularly the Nets and Pacers because of their size—can cause the Heat significant problems.
Let's start with Brooklyn. It now has a frontcourt rotation consisting of Garnett, Brook Lopez, Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans. That is an outstanding four-man group that new head coach Jason Kidd can mix-and-match throughout games. With Miami known to struggle against bigger teams, the Nets can give Erik Spoelstra's boys nightmares with their depth and versatility on the interior.
Then you have Indiana, the squad that just took the Heat to seven games in the conference finals. Roy Hibbert and David West are still aboard, and now, Scola is hopping on for the ride. Miami already had issues dealing with Hibbert and West. Throwing Scola into the fray complicates things that much more.
Also, while the Knicks and Bulls may not pose the sort of mismatches that Brooklyn and the Pacers do, they both certainly have the talent and the depth to give the Heat a run for their money.
It is not going to be easy for Miami to win the East for a fourth straight year. Heck, it won't even be easy getting past the second round.
The West Has Also Gotten Better
Let's say Miami does make it out of the East. It would then have to deal with a club from an improved Western Conference.
The Houston Rockets have gone from a sixth-to-eighth-seed type of a team to a contender thanks to Dwight Howard, and you'd have to imagine that the Heat would have an awfully tough time matching up with the Rockets' size.
Then, you have the extremely talented, young Golden State Warriors (who may very well be the second-best team in the West behind the Spurs), the rough-and-tumble Memphis Grizzlies, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and, last but not least, San Antonio.
The amount of squads with legitimate championship hopes has grown exponentially over the past couple of months, and the more clubs that can be classified as title contenders, the less of a chance—obviously—that Miami has of three-peating.
The Heat Had a Quiet Offseason
This is where we can tie the preceding three slides together.
After a hard-fought seven-game series with the Spurs and seeing numerous teams improving their rosters this summer, the Heat didn't do much to better themselves at all.
The only outside move they made was signing Greg Oden, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a chance on him, what is the feasibility that he actually stays healthy? After all, he has undergone five, count 'em, five knee surgeries and has not played since the 2009-10 campaign, a season in which he only appeared in 21 games.
So, while everyone else (particularly in the East) was maneuvering to strengthen themselves enough to beat Miami, Pat Riley's club essentially stood pat (no pun intended).
That may not have been the wisest decision.
Wear and Tear
That brings us to the most imperative aspect of all of this: The Heat are banged up.
Wade's knees appear to be getting worse and worse, and you have to wonder just how much longer he will remain a consistently productive player for Miami. We saw outstanding flashes during the playoffs here and there (particularly in Game 4 of the finals), but overall, it was clear that Wade is in the process of declining.
You then have 38-year-old Ray Allen, who has experienced ankle problems in the very recent past. Will his legs be able to hold up over the course of another season?
Finally, you have to take into consideration the sum of minutes the Heat have played as a whole over the past several years. They have made the finals three times in a row, and in 2013, they played two grueling seven-game series.
Add in the fact that the consolidated schedule of the lockout-shortened season in 2011-12 put more of a strain on their legs and that their key players played during the 2012 Olympics, and you realize that the overwhelming amount of mileage Miami has endured will likely end up taking its toll.
Do the Heat have enough left in the tank to make yet another championship push?
What Does It All Mean?
Am I saying the Heat cannot win a title in 2013-14? No. They have the best player on the planet, and if Wade is healthy, they are still as tough an out as anyone.
However, you have to take into consideration all of the factors that have been mentioned. Not only that, but there have also only been five three-peats in NBA history, the most recent one coming at the hands of the 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers.
With the rest of the teams augmenting their rosters and Wade showing signs of decay, the chances of Miami winning a third consecutive title just do not seem very probable.
But, all of that said, you never know.