With the prime directive of winning a championship accomplished, the Miami Heat are now ready to open the floodgates of a possible dynasty.
Pressure can affect any player or team, no matter how good. It’s always much easier to play with a relaxed outlook on the game, rather than playing with millions upon millions of eyes looming and waiting for the moment where they can judge you and make another knee-jerk reaction. While playing with pressure brings about some urgency, it’s still considerably easier when there is a huge weight off your shoulders.
No team responded better to pressure better than Miami Heat. Playing against team’s who pushed it to another level just because they were playing the Heat, playing without Chris Bosh for nine games and an injured Dwyane Wade throughout the postseason, and, of course, with the media waiting to run with stories over the next summer over their failures, the Heat persevered and pulled away with an NBA championship, despite the hiccups and distractions along the way.
Now they move on to bigger and better things. With Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis joining the team through free agency, Wade and Bosh recovering from injuries, and LeBron set to come into the 2012-’13 season riding momentum off the greatest year of his career, the Heat have only made exponential improvements since the end of the NBA Finals. It’s almost baffling to think the team was barely at full strength last year in their Finals victory over an Oklahoma City team that was fully healthy with the exception of Eric Maynor.
When this team was first brought together, the ideas of what kind of impression they would leave in the history books became a popular topic. There had never been an NBA team where three of the league’s top players decided to join together in their prime. Obviously, ideas were running wild over just how good this could possibly be if the three coexisted well together, while also receiving support from their supporting cast.
In two seasons, the Heat have already made it to two NBA Finals and finished with the Eastern Conference’s second best record on both occasions. LeBron James has been in the history books a few times since joining the Heat, but the team hasn’t accomplished anything eye-popping. They were expected to win titles. What people were expecting were something along the lines of breaking what was believed to be an untouchable record.
In the 1995-’96 season, a perfect storm emerged in Chicago. Michael Jordan returned for his first full season following retirement with a consistent jumper and hopped on a Bulls team that came complete with a plethora of key players in Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, etc. Jordan was obviously motivated after losing to Orlando in the 1995 playoffs, so he decided to step it up by breaking an NBA record that had stood for nearly three decades.
By season’s end, the Bulls were 72-10 and finished the year overall 88-13, including the postseason record. The closest a team has ever come to that since then was the 1996-’97 Chicago Bulls squad that won 69 games, the 1999-’00 Los Angeles Lakers that won 67 games and most recently the 2006-’07 Dallas Mavericks that also won 67 games. No team has recorded over 66 wins since 2007.
Of course, the Heat were expected to become the next team to challenge the Bulls historic record. With so much hype surrounding the newly formed squad, it was easy to predict the Heat coming into the 2010-’11 season and wiping the floor with their fear-induced opponents. Alas, that didn’t happen because the ‘Big Three’ still needed more time to gel and opponents were the opposite of fear-induced; they wanted to be the team to beat the Heat so they played with more motivation.
There were quite a few teams that treated their regular season matchup’s with the Heat as if it was there NBA Finals. However, that’s no excuse for the Heat because the 1995-’96 Chicago Bulls were also treated as the team that everybody wanted to topple. If you beat a team like the Bulls in ’96 or the Heat today, you could consider that as a huge season in your regular season, especially for the teams with nothing to lose and so much to gain out of it.
The Heat haven’t exactly come close to that 72-win mark. They finished with 58 wins in their first season together and then a 46-20 in the lockout shortened year, where there winning percentage was actually lower than the year before. I wouldn’t look too much into that, however, because nearly every team took it easy with the slew of injuries and the intensity of the schedule causing coaches to maintain minutes for their star players.
The 2012-’13 season is a completely different year. It’s the Miami Heat coming off an NBA championship and making vast improvements to their offense. With Allen and Lewis on the roster, the Heat should see at least one consistent three-point threat on the floor at all times, perfectly complementing an offense that runs through LeBron James post-ups. As long as James continues to post-up near the rim, he will suck in defenders and get his shooters open.
Miami will also be happy to have a fully healthy Dwyane Wade back. After three years of missing only a combined 14 games, Wade was forced to miss 17 games this past season due to various injuries he dealt with throughout the regular season. It carried on into the postseason with Wade needing to get his knee drained following a dismal Game 3 against Indiana. Even with the knee drained, as well as the incredible performances in Games 4 and 6, Wade still didn’t appear as himself.
So, with Wade and Bosh healthy, Allen and Lewis on the team and James playing the best he’s ever played, do I think the Heat will win 72 or more games? No. If they made an honest attempt to try in every game, then I could see them nearing the plateau. However, this team is too focused on what goes on in the postseason to waste their energy in meaningless regular season games that carry no impact in May and June.
Don’t you think the Heat could have achieved a better record than a Chicago Bulls team playing without Derrick Rose for half the season last year? They could have, but they saved their energy kept it in the reserve tanks needed for the playoffs. Once playoff time rolls around, the Heat have that spare energy to go for a full 48 minutes, while their opponent will usually be drained by the final 12 minutes.
This will be the Heat’s best regular season, but 72 wins is still a huge stretch for a team that is far too focused on winning the bigger prizes and not attempting to create any regular season records.