There are few things more difficult in team sports than repeating as champion. Even more rare is the “3-peat.” In my lifetime (born 1968), only six teams in the four major American sports have accomplished this feat (NBA – Bulls and Lakers; NHL – Canadians and Islanders; MLB – A’s and Yankees). Amazingly enough, none of those teams came from the NFL. With so many incredible teams in the last 45 years, how is it possible that in a total of 180 seasons across the four sports, only six teams have accomplished this goal. The simplest answer is that there is far too much beyond the control of the defending champion that can prevent back-to-back-to-back championships. However, a Heat repeat can be done. And the best way to accomplish the “3-peat” is by taking care of everything within their power. Here are five things that the Miami Heat can do, in order of importance, to help them win another championship.
5. Respect history – no complacency
Complacency hurt the Heat in 2007, and although there was no first championship hang over in 2012, there is always the risk. The Heat have played the maximum amount of NBA games over the last three seasons, making the finals in each of them. There is going to be exhaustion, mental and physical, going into this fourth consecutive campaign. The Heat need to keep focused mentally if they are going to 3-peat. Last year, the team went away from their identity, suffocating defense, for most of the early season. Although they pulled it together in February, there are no guarantees they can do it again.
It is fortunate that the team’s leader, LeBron James, is so cognizant of history. The drive to belong to one of history’s great teams should be enough to keep focused. However, the distractions this year are going to be enormous. With LeBron’s possible free agency at the end of the season, there will be as much media attention on that as their on the court endeavors. That is unless they struggle. There’s also the putting of Dwyane Wade under the microscope, and the signings of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley to distract from the ultimate goal.
For the Heat to have a chance at the 3-peat, they need to stay focused, avoid complacency and play hard; history will accept nothing less.
4. Keep learning, adapting and adjusting
In their first year together the Miami Heat relied on pure talent and suffocating defense to get them to the promised land. If not for a three minute stretch in game two of the 2011 NBA finals, they may have been able to ride that “style” to a championship. After that series loss, it was back to the drawing board, the Heat took on a style that better suited its personnel, giving LeBron more leeway in the offense. Having their stars better play off one another helped them win their first championship together. Last year the team added more three point threats, better spread the floor and evolved a position-less offensive rotation. This newest adaptation allowed them to win a second championship even with their star, Dwyane Wade, hurting.
Winning the first two championships was hard. Getting a third will be even more difficult. Teams are specifically tooling their rosters and styles to “beat the Heat.” The Heat need to provide the rest of the league a moving target. To do this, they will need to continue adapting their game, raising it to a higher level. There should be little doubt that the big three will continue to grow their games, but there needs to be more. Whether it is the player’s continuing to play more seamlessly with each other, or the coaching staff adding more wrinkles, the Heat need to continue to grow.
Once again, Pat Riley has provided new “toys/tools” for coach Erik Spoelstra to integrate into the team. Coach Spoelstra should find a way to use this new infusion of talent to further adapt and grow the Heat’s game. Which is a perfect segue into…
3. Integrate Oden and Beasley into rotation minutes
There is only so much tweaking that you can do to a defending champion. Although the Heat’s bid to 3-peat certainly isn’t going to hinge on the performances of either Greg Oden or Michael Beasley, getting productive minutes out of one or both of them would make the path much easier. Certain teams have given the Heat trouble, usually teams with size on the inside (Pacers/Spurs). Having a big man that can change the dynamic, even if only for short bursts, like Greg Oden, can’t hurt.
Counting on Oden to provide productive minutes is speculation at best. Beasley, on the other hand, is a proven NBA performer, who had his best years as a member of the Heat. Picking up the troubled Beasley and surrounding him with influences like Wade, James, Bosh and Allen, could help him gain the focus he needs. Even though scoring and off court issues dominate the discussion on Beasley, rebounding is something he could bring to help the Heat. Most of us forget that Beasley led the NCAA in rebounding his final collegiate year. If there is one glaring statistical weakness in Miami, it is rebounding.
The cultivation and emergence of one or both of these young and talented players could be a big difference in Miami’s quest.
2. Keep Wade healthy
It could be argued that had Dwyane Wade stayed healthy for the playoff run, the Miami Heat would have cruised through the playoffs to back-to-back championships. When Wade was able to give a close to 100% effort, the Heat won, and usually won big. Wade was a key to the 27 game winning streak (remember he hurt his knee in game 23 in a row). Wade finished seventh in the NBA in PER (player efficiency rating), and was the top two guard; an amazing fact considering how much of the run of play is controlled by LeBron.
There has been a lot of white noise coming from everywhere about how vulnerable the Heat were in the playoffs. Although they did come very close to not winning, I believe this to be as much a product of Wade’s injuries as to teams catching up to them.
If Wade can start healthy, have management use him in a more conservative way, and Wade himself can adapt and expand his game, the Heat will have a huge advantage going into next year’s playoffs. As much as home court advantage was huge for the Heat in last year’s playoffs, this year it shouldn’t be the focus. Limiting the minutes of it’s stars, especially Wade, and having them close to 100% for the playoffs should be the major goal of 2013’s season.
1. Ride LeBron
He is the best player, hands down, in basketball. This early in his career and he already belongs in the discussion of best ever. As long as LeBron James is a member of the Miami Heat, the best course of action for the team is to ride his talent, leadership and production. The only two NBA three time consecutive champions of my life-time, the Lakers and the Bulls were both led by the best player in the league; Shaq and Michael. As long as LeBron is leading, it will be extremely difficult for any team to beat the Heat four times in seven games. Last year against the greatest coach the NBA has ever known, LeBron adapted his game and still led his team to a championship.
There is much to be done. The path will be difficult. There are no guarantees. However, the Heat are still the odds-on-favorites to win another title. So get ready, the quest begins in earnest on October 1st, the start of training camp. Say it with me….
#LET’S GO HEAT
#LET’S GO HEAT
#LET’S GO HEAT