Certainly, it helped that Miami had the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers and a four-time league MVP on its roster, but the Heat’s second championship run in as many years was more about survival than domination. After steamrolling through the regular season — highlighted by a remarkable 27-game winning streak — the Heat was pushed to the limit in consecutive seven-game series that easily could’ve gone the other way if not for a few questionable decisions and good fortune.
“Everything plays into it,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said recently, as the Heat prepared to begin its pursuit of a third straight NBA championship on Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls. “When you finally climb that mountain, you look back on it, and reflect, you see how many factors have to be moving and clicking in the right direction and at the right time. Some of them you can control and some of them you can’t. You definitely have to have talent. Of course, you have to have some luck.”
For the Heat to join Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics (1959-66), Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (1991-93 and 1996-98), George Mikan’s Lakers (1952-54 in Minneapolis) and the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers (2000-02 in Los Angeles) as the only NBA franchises to win at least three consecutive titles, it will need much more to work out in its favor.
The Eastern Conference is stronger now that Derrick Rose has returned from his left knee injury to catapult Chicago back into the title hunt; since the Brooklyn Nets borrowed some Boston edge and swagger with the additions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett; and the Pacers have bolstered their bench and will eventually welcome back former all-star Danny Granger, who will miss the start of this season with a calf injury after a knee injury sidelined him last postseason.
If Miami can escape that grinder, usual suspects such as the Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder or emerging powers in the Los Angeles Clippers or Houston Rockets could be waiting on the other side.
“It’s tension, because you battle against certain teams, you battle against certain players, but it’s no rivalries,” James said, when asked about the threats to his crown. “It’s a lot of teams that want to knock us off. It’s a couple of teams in the Eastern Conference that hate us and we know who they are. We’re not going to hide behind that. We’re a focused group. We’re looking forward to the challenges that the season has to bring.”
Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst George Karl believes that, considering the difficulty of the last playoff run and lingering concerns about the health of Dwyane Wade, the obstacles ahead are too steep for Miami to overcome. “If you gave me a choice of betting the field versus Miami, I think I’d take the field,” Karl said.