The Miami Heat handily beat the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 last year to win their second NBA championship. This was the first title for LeBron James and the Big Three in Miami. Players that have won previous NBA championships have all later remarked on the difficulty that comes with trying to win the title again for the second consecutive season.
Whether it be complacency, an increase in competition or roster turnover, the second title is always more difficult to win than the first one. Let’s take a look at five keys to the Miami Heat wining back-to-back championships.
The Heat have flexed their collective muscle at various times this season against the NBA’s elite teams. In order for the Heat to duplicate last year’s postseason success it is imperative that they stay healthy. In a competitive playoff series, the importance of each individual matchup is magnified. A significant injury to James, Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh would likely prevent the Heat from successfully defending their title. Fortunately for the Heat they have been able to avoid serious injuries this season.
While James, Wade and Bosh deserve the attention they receive whether the Heat win or lose, the Heat bench will need to come through for Miami once again. Even a player as great as James or Wade will experience a stretch during a game in which their shots are not falling as they typically do.
These moments may arise in a pivotal game and is at that time that a player such as Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis or Norris Cole may be the difference. While it may sound unlikely, this happened last year in the NBA Finals against Oklahoma City.
Miller had only averaged three points per game over the first four games in the NBA Finals, but coach Erik Spoelstra continued to use the 12-year veteran off the bench. Spoelstra’s faith in Miller was rewarded in Game 5 as Miller erupted for Miami, hitting seven 3-pointers on his way to 23 points. This was the championship clinching victory for Miami and Miller played a key role. The Heat have a stronger bench and more depth this season and they will be counting on them once again this post-season.
LeBron James is having the most efficient season of his storied NBA career.
For the Heat to win back-to-back championships James will have to duplicate his stellar postseason play from the 2011-12 season. James won the NBA and Finals MVP awards last year with his absolutely spectacular play. While last season was historic for James, he is playing even better this year. James is still scoring 27 points per game, but he has improved his shooting percentage to a career-high 56.2 percent, while averaging a career-low 2.9 turnovers per game. Expectations could not be higher for James and the Miami Heat but he has now demonstrated that he is up to the task of carrying the Heat to a second consecutive NBA championship.
Chris Bosh came through in the NBA Finals for the Miami Heat, averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds as a starter. (Photo Credit/Keith Allison/Flickr)
Bosh played in only the first game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Indiana Pacers last year. The Heat were able to overcome his absence, defeating the Pacers 4-1 in the series, but they would sorely miss Bosh in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. Bosh was only able to return as a bench player beginning in Game 5 with limited minutes. The Celtics forced Game 7 and pushed the Heat to brink of playoff extinction. Fortunately the Heat and Bosh, he would still have time to play a key role in the Miami Heat’s championship run. Bosh returned to the starting lineup in Game 2 of the NBA finals and came up big for the Heat against Oklahoma City, averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds per game as a starter.
Bosh has the ability to stretch the court and pull the opposing center away from the basket, creating room for James and Wade to operate. If Bosh is able to establish his shot from the outside, the Heat’s half-court offense becomes incredibly difficult to defend.
If the Heat do have an Achilles heel, it is their rebounding and defense in the post. A team like the Pacers or Chicago Bulls with a strong inside presence could present a formidable challenge for the Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Heat currently rank 19th in defensive rebounding and 28th overall in offensive rebounds per game. The Heat are 0-2 on the season against the Pacers as they have struggled against the Pacers’ size and athleticism.
Fortunately for the Heat they are superior in virtually every other area on the court. Miami does not need outstanding interior play to win another championship; however, they must avoid being dominated on the glass and in the post. The Heat added former Denver Nugget Chris Anderson on Jan. 20 and he has provided the Heat with an athletic, shot-blocking presence they previously lacked.
The Heat are currently enjoying a 17-game winning streak and they are peaking as a team. While the Heat may be poised to repeat as NBA champions, they must receive strong play from their starters and bench alike to beat the best teams the NBA has to offer. The Heat players and coaching staff are all aware that anything less than a championship would be considered a huge disappointment. The Heat’s recent play has shown they have improved their focus and effort with the playoffs approaching. Winning consecutive championships would cement their place in history and the Heat are clearly set on doing just that.