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Is This Miami Heat Team Better or Worse Than Last 2 Champions?

The Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade, left, holds the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy as  LeBron James holds his Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award after Game 7 of the NBA basketball championship against the San Antonio Spurs, Friday, June 21, 2013, in Miami. The Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 to win their second straight NBA championship. The Miami Heat's Chris Bosh celebrates in the background. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Wilfredo Lee
Sam RichmondCorrespondent IApril 25, 2014

The 2013-14 Miami Heat might be the best team in the league; they also might be the worst team the franchise has fielded in the past three years. 

The raw numbers would certainly place Miami's previous two championship-winning teams above this current one.

The 2011-12 Heat finished the season with a 69.7 winning percentage, the eighth-most efficient offense (based on points scored per possession) and the fourth-most efficient defense (based on points allowed per possession). 

The 2012-13 team ended the year with an 80.4 winning percentage (including a 27-game winning streak), the second-most efficient offense and the ninth-most efficient defense. 

This year's squad posted a 65.9 winning percentage, a No. 5 ranked offense and No. 11 ranked defense. 

But solely looking at those numbers doesn't tell the full story and isn't particularly fair to the 2013-14 Heat. Anyone who watched Miami this year knows that this team coasted heavily, rarely playing with maximum effort.

The Heat valued conserving energy/staying healthy for the postseason above winning regular-season games, which certainly is a factor in Miami's decline.

Wade sat out 28 games this season, as Miami valued health over winning regular season games.
Wade sat out 28 games this season, as Miami valued health over winning regular season games.Lynne Sladky

To truly determine the 2013-14 team's place among these two other historically great Miami teams, we have to evaluate the rosters as well.

Let's take a look each team's key players (order is based on minutes per game in the regular season).

2011-12 Heat2012-13 Heat2013-14 Heat
LeBron James (age:27)James (28)James (29)
Chris Bosh (28)Bosh (29)Wade (32)
Dwyane Wade (30)Wade (31)Bosh (32)
Mario Chalmers (25)Chalmers (26)Chalmers (27)
Udonis Haslem (31)Ray Allen (36)Ray Allen (37)
Shane Battier (33)Battier (34)Norris Cole (25)
Joel Anthony (29)Cole (24)Battier (35)
Cole (23)Haslem (32)Chris Andersen (35)
Mike Miller (31)Miller (32)Rashard Lewis (34)
Ronny Turiaf (29)Lewis (33)Haslem (33)
James Jones (31)Andersen (34)Jones (32)

Evaluating the rosters, it's hard not to say the 2011-12 team is the worst of the three. That team gave 623 playoff minutes to Ronny Turiaf, James Jones and Joel Anthony. Also, Mike Miller had significant trouble staying on the floor, and Norris Cole was extremely raw offensively at that point in time.

The 2012-13 and 2013-14 Heat having Andersen and Allen absolutely puts them above the 2011-12 squad. 

Andersen and Allen have proved to be great free-agent signings by Miami.
Andersen and Allen have proved to be great free-agent signings by Miami.Lynne Sladky

The past two years of Miami basketball are much more comparable. Still, there are some obvious differences between the two teams.  

In terms of personnel, the big difference is the absence of Miller for the 2013-14 squad. He proved to be a sizable asset in the 2013 postseason. That the 2013-14 Heat are without him (due to the amnesty clause) is a hit to their standing. After ridding themselves of Miller, Miami signed Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, who have yet to see the court in the 2014 postseason.

What also goes against the 2013-14 Heat is that some of their veteran players have started to decline in ability.

While Haslem has earned playing time back recently, he logged only 48 games this year after appearing in 75 the previous season. Allen shot 41.9 percent from three in 2012-13 and 37.5 percent in 2013-14. Battier was Miami's best outside shooter at 43.0 percent in 2012-13; he shot 34.8 percent this year and currently finds himself out of the rotation. 

That's not just a result of coasting; it would seem these guys simply don't have a ton of helpful basketball left in them at this point.

Shane Battier's performance has dropped off significantly this season.
Shane Battier's performance has dropped off significantly this season.Wilfredo Lee

Speaking of three-pointers, as a team the 2012-13 Heat shot 39.6 percent from outside (second in the league) and had five guys shoot north of 40 percent from outside. This season, the Heat shot 36.4 percent (15th in the league), and their most efficient outside shooter is Chalmers at 38.5 percent.

The 2013-14 Heat do have a few things going for them. LeBron James is a better player. It might not have been evident all of the time this season because Miami was coasting, but LBJ at max effort now is the best he's ever been.

Also, Miami actually has a healthy Dwyane Wade at the start of the postseason, something the 2012-13 team didn't. Bothered by knee injuries, Wade was a shell of himself in the 2013 postseason and averaged just 15.9 points. Wade's performance throughout the next two months will play a huge role in how we remember this team.

Chris Bosh has also improved in 2013-14, as he has stretched his jumper out to the three-point line (33.9 percent), which is pivotal for Miami's spacing.

LeBron, Wade and Bosh need to lead Miami to a title in a more impressive fashion than last year for this team to be considered the best of the Big Three era.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh need to lead Miami to a title in a more impressive fashion than last year for this team to be considered the best of the Big Three era.Lynne Sladky

But are those qualities enough to overcome the fact that the 2013-14 Heat were inferior statistically and have one more year of basketball mileage than the 2012-13 team?

At this point, the answer is no. If Miami can go on an incredibly impressive championship run with the supporting cast performing at a high level and LeBron, Wade and Bosh each proving himself to be better than they were a year ago, then we can talk.

So, while this team doesn't rank last among the past three Heat teams, it still has a lot of work to do if it wants to be considered No. 1.

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