The NBA: Can the Heat Three-Peat?

Will South Florida celebrate a 3rd straight victory rally next year?

The Miami Heat just finished a successful defense of their Larry O'Brien trophy. They have now won back-to-back NBA titles which elevates them to a special group. So, can they do better? YES! A rarer, more elite company awaits them if they can win their 3rd straight trophy in the 2013-14 season. Only Bill Russell's Celtics, Michael Jordan's Bulls and the Kobe-Shaq Lakers are in this exclusive group.

For Miami to achieve their three-peat goal, a few factors need to work in their favor for next season.

1. Motivation
LeBron James said that winning their second straight title was much harder than the first one. Winning a third straight will be harder than the first two combined. The rest of the league will make sure that they give maximum effort and deliver their best games when they play the Heat. A bigger target will be reserved for the two-time champions. Miami needs to be focused and motivated for the regular season to assure themselves of home-court advantage which served them well in their two Game 7 wins in the past playoffs. They also need to be continually hungry to become better players. It's very possible that Miami relaxes and coasts through the regular season because of their previous success. That cockiness and possibly lack of effort could certainly derail their chances of winning a 3rd straight title.

2. Health
Miami has been fortunate in the last 2 years that the Heat 3 and their major role players have all avoided serious or nagging injuries that could have prevented them from playing. In their first year together (2011), Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller were both out a significant amount of time due to injuries but Miami still made it to the Finals. Dwyane Wade was bothered by knee problems again last season but he was still healthy enough to play most of their regular season games. He played poorly during the first 3 rounds but Wade played better in the Finals. D-Wade only missed 1 game in the playoffs while no other rotational players missed any games due to injuries. Miami also has capable role players to ease the minutes from Wade (Allen, Battier, Jones). The most important thing is to keep LeBron James healthy and to a lesser degree, Chris Bosh who is still their most important player when playing small ball.
3. Luck
Winning a championship takes a lot of hard work, preparation and dedication. It also needs a bit of luck. The Heat won in Game 6 and Game 7 of the Finals with some help coming from the Spurs who missed shots and fumbled possessions while Lady Luck was also on Miami's side. A made FT here or a better substitution by Coach Pop (Example: Duncan in to get a rebound from a missed three) could have given the Spurs their 5th title. The Heat also benefitted from unlucky breaks coming from other contenders. If the Pacers had Danny Granger, maybe they beat the Heat. The Bulls did not have Derrick Rose while the Thunder got eliminated early due to Westbrook's injury. If the Lakers were healthy, maybe they might have challenged the Heat.

4. Role Players
Miami needed to have most of their core players back for 2013-14 to have a chance at a 3-Peat. The Heat 3 are all under contract for at least one more year so the focus is on the supporting players. They achieved that by retaining Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers while Rashard Lewis and James Jones who don't play as much will also be coming back. Still, they lost Mike Miller via amnesty who was a key contributor during the Finals of 2012 and 2013. Miller helped Miami win back-to-back titles but he played sparingly in his 3 seasons with them. He was often injured or limited which allowed the Heat to decide that he was expendable. Truth be told, Miami could afford to let Miller go because they have Allen, Lewis, Cole and Jones to fill the gap. If Miller was more productive, maybe Miami bites the bullet and keeps him. The signing of Greg Oden was a low risk and high reward scenario that could work wonders for the Heat. Miami wont need a lot from him until the playoffs come along.

5. Personal Growth
Each and everyone on the Heat need to become better players for the upcoming season. LeBron, Wade and Bosh all shot career-highs in shooting efficiency and productivity but Miami barely escaped with the title. They had a 27-game win streak but the playoffs was not an easy route. They could have lost in the Eastern Finals and they were never ahead in the Finals until the Game 7 victory. Miami cannot rely on the status quo because every team around them got better. LeBron needs to keep working on his post game, Wade needs to finally improve his perimeter game with his athleticism diminishing while Bosh needs to work on his interior defense and rebounding. The Heat coaching staff must also expand and tweak their game plans and strategies. Other teams already have a blueprint on how to beat the Heat and it is up to Coach Spo to make adjustments and bring something new to the table.

6. The Field
Most of the other teams got better during the summer. The list of contenders has grown (Nets, Rockets, Bulls) while the elite from last season improved and matured (Clippers, Spurs, Pacers, Grizzlies, Warriors, Thunder). Even a handful of non-playoff teams made major strides in making the postseason next year (Pelicans, Blazers, Wizards, Cavaliers). On paper, Miami appears to have a harder and tougher road to a 3rd straight title. Injured stars are projected to come back stronger and hungrier while the Miami core is a year older. The Heat needs favorable match-ups in the playoffs to help them reach the top again while the rest of the elite in the Western Conference must beat each other up.

Prediction: It is very early and definitely not a guarantee, but Miami seems poised to get a 3rd straight title.
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