Knowing how this team was constructed, with an emphasis placed on high-profile superstars in their prime and complementary role players, the new-look Miami Heat were not made for the purpose of winning only two titles.
Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James joined together to win multiple titles. They accomplished the first leg of that feat last year when winning their second consecutive title, a seven-game series win over the San Antonio Spurs.
Winning hasn't been as easy as originally predicted when those three first joined up.
Three consecutive seasons of representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, twice ending in jubilation and once in disappointment. Those two occasions of jubilation occurred only after the Heat were put through arduous test after arduous test, especially the most recent championship, when they encountered several teams that gave them a serious run.
Making it to three consecutive finals and winning at least twice is difficult enough. The last team to do it was the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008, '09 and '10. It's actually been accomplished by a few teams since the 1980s—by the Lakers of the '80s, the Boston Celtics of the '80s, the Detroit Pistons from 1988 to 1990, the Chicago Bulls from 1991 to '93 and '96 to '98, and the Lakers from 2000 to '03.
The Heat are the first team to come out of the East and win back-to-back titles since the Bulls did it in '97 and '98.
It's difficult, but it's been relatively common over the past three decades to see a team make it to three consecutive finals.
Let's narrow down the list to what the Heat are attempting to do this year: making a fourth consecutive NBA Finals and winning it for a third time.
If you narrow it down, you'll see that there hasn't been a single team to accomplish such a feat over the past 30 years. The Lakers from 1982 to '85 are the last team to make it to four consecutive championship rounds, but they only had two titles to show for it.
The only other franchise to make it to at least four consecutive finals? The Boston Celtics, who made it to 10 consecutive championship rounds from 1957 to 1966. There was a huge possibility the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s could have owned the East in '94 and '95 had they had Michael Jordan, but we'll leave that for the speculators.
That's two occasions since 1950, and the Heat are looking to make it a third time.
It's an extreme rarity for a team to accomplish such an enduring and ambitious plateau for obvious reasons.
For one, opponents begin to wise up and catch up to your game. It takes being a few steps ahead of your opponents, staying fresh in terms of playmaking, and still withholding the talent that was necessary to make the finals the previous times to win three consecutive titles.
The Heat are encountering that right now. While former elite opponents like the Boston Celtics have regressed, they have been replaced by teams with as much talent that could pose a potential problem to Miami in the future.
Those teams include the Indiana Pacers, significantly improved following a Game 7 loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls, now featuring a recovered Derrick Rose, and the Brooklyn Nets, essentially the Boston Celtics since 2008 but now a few years worse.
Throw in potential first-round opponents in improved teams such as Detroit, Cleveland and Washington, and the Heat don't even get to experience the opening-round rest they got against Milwaukee last season or an injury-plagued New York Knicks team the year before that.
Miami has faced tough teams in the past in the playoffs. The Bulls of 2010-11, for example, were a No. 1 seed with the MVP and lost to the Heat in five games in the ECF, but the road ahead for the 2014 postseason will be the most trying of any playoffs they have faced so far.
Opponents are beginning to realize what's needed to beat Miami. Realizing and actually performing are two extremely different things, but the realization is scary because there are weak points to this team that were not there previously. Indiana, now loaded with a respectable bench, nearly toppled Miami simply because Roy Hibbert is long and finally played aggressively.
You can look at the Heat adding Greg Oden, but I'm not resting the Heat's entire season on the weary, worn-out knees of the former No. 1 pick.
There have been plenty of three-peat winners that managed to overcome stingy opponents over the course of their runs, such as the Bulls beating the Pacers in seven games in 1998 and the Knicks in six games in '93. But there have also been teams attempting to pull off a three-peat that were run over by the teams that caught up.
The Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets of '94 and '95 that defied the odds and won back-to-back titles were victims of a sweep in their defense in '96, falling at the hands of an immaculately run Seattle Sonics team.
The Lakers of 2011 that tried to go three in a row? Swept in the second round by a Dallas Mavericks team that went on to win the title, a Mavericks team that had the same record as the Lakers in the regular season.
The key for Miami is staying both mentally and physically ahead of its opponents. The Heat need to have the fresh ideas and the fresh legs that are going to beat out these motivated, ambitious teams that have done nothing but study the Heat over the past three years.
When legitimate contenders make a roster move, they think of how that player can help beat the Heat. You can only wonder why the Pacers added on C.J. Watson, a 41 percent three-point shooter last year who has been a nuisance to the Heat, and Chris Copeland, a 42 percent three-point shooter in his rookie season, to surround Hibbert.
Could it possibly be because the Pacers know the Heat are going to do everything in their power to limit Hibbert's influence? The Heat are another Oden setback away from being in the exact same position they were last year: using Chris Andersen and Chris Bosh to struggle against the 7'2" frame of Hibbert.
What the Heat can hope for is for the Central Division teams to beat up on each other, and that doesn't seem like a problem with teams like the Bulls (back-to-back regular-season champions in '11 and '12) attempting to win by any means necessary.
If you can't find the talent on the outside, then solutions to these types of predicaments have to come from within the organization. It's an answer that only the Heat coaching staff can come up with, and it's an answer that only the players can execute.
For those asking about motivation and how the Heat could possibly lose it, once again, I highly doubt these guys came together to win two titles and then start to lose focus. They're not sacrificing the primes of their careers, and the patience to create a working chemistry, in order to accomplish something that has been done four times since 1996.
The Heat want to be in rare company. They don't want to be like other franchises that made it work for a few seasons and then fizzled out, only to get replaced by the generations of opponents that continued to get better while they remained complacent and lost that desire.
The Heat are not that type of team. There are too many players on this team with something to prove.
You can look at LeBron's desire to build up his Hall of Fame resume, Dwyane's desire not to be underrated, Bosh's desire to make himself a player who can play a larger role or any of the veterans and their desire to end their careers on the highest of high notes.
Two titles simply aren't enough for this team, and I don't need to bring up a preseason celebration video to reiterate that point.
There have been five three-peats in the history of the NBA, each one belonging to a dynasty as prolific and significant as the next, the most recent the Kobe and Shaq-led Lakers of the early 2000s.
What separated those five teams (the Minneapolis Lakers from 1952-54, the Celtics of the '60s, the Bulls twice in the '90s and the Lakers from 2000-02) from the others that have come up short? A borderline unstoppable talent in at least one player, a consistent showing from a No. 2 player who could double as a No. 1 if need be and an array of role players who make plays when need be.
Miami can check off all three of those attributes. Sure enough, its season will hinge on if its unstoppable talent (LeBron James) can continue to play as he has the past two seasons, if the No. 2 guy (Dwyane Wade) can show that he's still a No. 1 guy, and if the role players (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers) can make plays when their superstar teammates can't.
Mainly, however, it's staying a few steps ahead of the opponents.
Just as the Lakers of the early 2000s faced adversity in the form of teams like the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers or the Bulls of the '90s facing the Knicks and Pacers, the Heat will have to continue to outperform the opponents they constantly see deep in the playoffs.
Only the Celtics of the '60s made a three-peat, or an eight-peat in their case, look easy and monotonous. There's a reason three-peats are so rare to come by—opponents begin to stack up on talent and make moves that are primarily made to beat one team and one team only.
For the Heat that means being ready for the adjustments made by the likes of the Pacers, Bulls and Nets, the same teams they've seen a few times already over the past three years.
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