Ranking Most Impressive Feats in Miami Heat's Big 3 Era

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 21, 2013

Ranking Most Impressive Feats in Miami Heat's Big 3 Era

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    The Miami Heat aren't just the best team in the NBA; they've been the most enchanting story in each of the last three seasons.

    They're a team-first organization led by some of the premier individual talents in the sport today—a defensive powerhouse packing more offensive punch than the rest of the heavyweights can withstand.

    Miami's accomplishments over the past 20-odd months have reached near-mythical proportions. Its team success is not unprecedented, but remarkable nonetheless. The individual contributions have soared to some never-before-seen heights.

    But which moment rises above the rest? What has been the most impressive feat of the "Big Three" era?

6. Pat Riley's Free-Agent Magic

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    While outsiders were calling for Pat Riley's move to the sideline, the basketball lifer did what any good executive is supposed to do—assembled the strongest collection of talent to give his current coach the best chance for success.

    On the surface, Riley's greatest achievement would be inking less-than-max contracts with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But a lot of that credit goes to the players themselves for understanding the incredible possibilities to them by joining forces in South Beach.

    But it's the secondary moves Riley has orchestrated that have given Miami such an immense gap between it and the competition.

    In 2011, he lured veteran defenseman and sharpshooter Shane Battier to Miami on a three-year, $9.4 million deal. In 2012, he found similar success on the free-agent market luring the league's all-time leader in three-pointers made, Ray Allen, on a three-year deal with an annual salary just over $3 million.

    And his eye for talent hasn't closed during the regular season. He added some badly needed size and explosiveness to Miami's interior by bringing in Chris Andersen on a pair of risk-free 10-day contracts. When the "Birdman" proved his worth, Riley inked him to a contract for the remainder of the season.

5. Wade's Chain Back to MJ

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    The 2012-13 season has been the year of the streaks for the defending champions, but Wade's sustained dominance is often overshadowed by a pair of accomplishments that will come later on this list.

    The 6'4" shooting guard has often by linked to former Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan for his jaw-dropping athleticism and relentless effort on the defensive end.

    But Wade finally worked his way into a statistical achievement unmatched by any backcourt player in nearly 20 years. From Feb. 23 to Mar. 13, Wade poured in at least 20 points and shot above 50 percent from the field. He was the first guard to tally those numbers since Jordan did in the 1995-96 season, via Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post.

    Wade entered this season amid rumblings that the then-30-year-old had lost a step. It was a claim largely based on the assumption that years of throwing his body at the rim had finally caught up with him.

    He's been an efficient assassin all season; this torrid stretch was merely the clearest sign that he's still one of the game's elite talents. That fact alone keeps Miami a heavy favorite in this season's championship race.

4. Carving out a Path to the 2011 NBA Finals

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    When Bosh and James joined Wade in the summer of 2010, the Heat instantly became the league's biggest villains.

    Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert tore into his former star in a scathing letter posted on the team's website (via ESPN.com). Former NBA star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley ripped into the trio for their decision to play together (via Royce Young of CBSSports.com).

    The Heat dubbed themselves "The Heatles" for their ability to pack road arenas (via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel). The rabid screams sent their direction were nothing like the fanatic outbursts that once greeted The Beatles—more rage-filled cries hoping for their demise.

    When the Heat stumbled out to a 9-8 start that season, Heat haters thought their prayers were answered. Somehow, some way, the talent-rich superteam would not run rampant through the competition.

    But after Miami followed that stretch with 12 straight wins, it became pretty evident that this team was on the brink of something special. 

    The Heat went on to finish the regular season at 58-24 and then needed just 15 games to steamroll through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

    The Heat had a 2-1 lead on the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals and a nine-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 4. But some timely offense from Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki gave Dallas a come-from-behind victory that night. Two wins later, the Mavericks were crowned champions.

3. LeBron's Six Games of Separation

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    If there was any lingering hope of a player wrestling away LeBron's chance at a fourth MVP award in the last five seasons, consider it extinguished.

    From Feb. 3 to Feb. 12, "King" James unleashed an efficient offensive display the likes of which the league had never before seen.

    He opened his torrid stretch with 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field (62.5 percent). His next five games were just more of the same as the reigning MVP poured in at least 30 points and shot at least 60 percent in all of them.

    That 60 percent mark doesn't fully capture just how dominant he was. He shot better than 71 percent from the field and nearly 56 percent from three during that stretch (via basketball-reference.com). Oh, and he also averaged a ho-hum 6.7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in those games.

    Here's how impressive that streak was: It ended on a 39-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist game as James shot a "mere" 58.3 percent from the field.

    As if there were any question, James reminded everyone that it's his world and we're all just living in it.

2. 24 Wins and Counting

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    The Heat tried to avoid the subject as long as was humanly possible, but their now-24-game winning streak has become impossible to ignore (via Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com).

    Miami's sustained success has reached a level only one other team in league has ever eclipsed—the 1970-71 Los Angeles Lakers, who won 33 straight regular-season games.

    Former coach and current analyst Jeff Van Gundy sparked a mini controversy during ABC's NBA broadcast on Sunday when he said if he played for the Heat, he'd rather break the winning streak record than win an NBA title (via ESPN.com, ESPN Insider subscription required).

    It's a ludicrous statement on the surface—legacies are built on championships, not regular-season achievements—but one that's not difficult to digest. There have been 66 NBA champions crowned, and only one team has ever seen this level of prolonged dominance.

    I'm not sure I'd go so far as to echo Van Gundy's sentiment, but the message is clear. James, a noted historian of the game, understands the significance of this achievement. All of the Heat players do too, for that matter.

    And they don't even need to say it for us to understand. How else do you explain erasing two double-digit second-half deficits (17 points against the Boston Celtics on Sunday, 27 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday) in as many games?

1. A King Is Crowned

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    With all of that glowing praise out of the way for Miami's win streak, clearly there has been no more important accomplishment than hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy on June 21, 2012.

    So many players freed themselves from championship demons that night, starting at the top with James and trickling all the way down to seldom-used Juwan Howard, then an 18-year veteran.

    Charging through four seven-game series is hard enough on its own, but the Heat faced nearly every big threat the league could have thrown their way.

    The Indiana Pacers (largely viewed as their biggest Eastern Conference threat this season) pushed them to six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Boston Celtics only furthered that challenge in the conference finals, forcing the Heat into a winner-take-all Game 7.

    Awaiting them in the NBA Finals was none other than the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were long hailed as the Heat's greatest challenge, with more youthful energy than the San Antonio Spurs.

    A convincing 105-94 win by the Thunder in front of their home fans to open the series offered a glimpse of the challenges the Heat would have to overcome to realize their championship dreams. 

    But Miami eked out single-digit victories over the next three games before disposing of the Thunder with a 121-106 rout. James was awarded with the Finals MVP thanks to his series averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game (via basketball-reference.com).

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