Listed as the top-heavy title darlings at 11/5 odds, the Miami Heat are still largely considered the favorites to win the title this season. LeBron James is playing at an all-time top-5 individual basketball level while also seemingly leaving enough in the tank to win 16 games again in late April, May and June.
Yet, oddsmakers and the general public seem to forget how incredibly difficult it is to threepeat in the NBA. Only three NBA franchises (Celtics, Lakers, Bulls) have been successful in completing the feat of winning three championships in a row in NBA history.
“There’s a reason these teams don’t do it,” Steve Kerr tells Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. “Emotionally, it’s just exhausting to keep doing it year after year, particularly when you have to deal with everything Miami has to deal with on a daily basis, just the constant critiquing and scrutiny on the team, and then you factor in the injuries with Wade and Bosh and their health. I don’t think Miami will get out of the East this year.”
While other contenders have been constantly tweaking their rotations up until the trade deadline, the Heat have stood pat with what they’ve had, other than shedding the contract of Joel Anthony for unserviceable guard Toney Douglass. Miami's rotation this season is much thinner than in previous seasons, and the pressure of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden to produce consistently would be a stretch.
The Indiana Pacers swapped Danny Granger for the talented former second overall pick Evan Turner to help provide more consistency as a swingman off the bench. Additionally, the Pacers were able to add Andrew Bynum as insurance for big man depth on their roster. Through 60 games, the Pacers bench has produced a solid positive 0.6-point differential compared to a negative 0.7-point differential last year per NBA.com.
Over the past two years, the Pacers have closed the gap on the Heat. Fused with the drastic annual improvements to now superstar Paul George, breakout player Lance Stephenson, a relentless pit bull-like mentality from David West, and the ruthless interior defense from Roy Hibbert, the Pacers are hungrier than ever to get past the Heat.
Comparing the rotations of the Heat last season to this one can give us a solid idea of its lack of depth. The loss of Mike Miller has pushed veteran Shane Battier to play even more meaningful minutes than what he signed up for. Outside of Battier, Erik Spoelstra is forced to use Beasley in hopes of spelling LeBron and Battier minutes in the playoffs. Miller was crucial in huge moments in last year’s playoffs hitting timely three-point shots as he did in 2012. Except for Ray Allen, the Heat have been unable to find a consistent three-point shooter that could take pressure off the Big Three.
Additionally, the loss of Anthony in favor of Oden should be looked at intently. Sure Oden beats Anthony from a talent standpoint, but trusting him to play a solid 15-20 minutes off the bench to spell Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen in the playoffs would be taking a huge risk, considering how brittle Oden’s knees are.
Lastly, we all know how much of an X-factor Dwayne Wade is for the title chances of the Heat. Last year, the Heat were in serious trouble against both the Pacers and Spurs, but Wade was able to string together a couple of old vintage performances. Because of Wade’s career long knee woes, we have only seen ‘flashes’ of his superstar play, rather than the old Flash we have all come to know. Wade’s knees aren’t getting any healthier even though he has been more strategic about rest throughout the regular season. Through the past three years, Dwayne Wade’s usage rate and PER has dropped each year, 28.9, 27, 25.4, and 26.37, 24.04, 22.43, respectively.
“As you get older, your game has to change and you have to think the game,” Wade tells Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald, “more than anything when you’re young, you just react….now you got to think the game, and so certain games when I’m frustrated with myself because I’m not thinking the game like I should, but for the majority of it, I do a good job of reading the game and thinking the game a little.”
Wade knows he can no longer rely on his athletic ability and must develop a craftier skill-set in order to prolong his basketball career. The Heat personnel put even more pressure on guys like Wade in order to produce by not providing much depth to back him up. Turner cost the Pacers merely $500,000 in order to acquire him, so while the Heat didn't have a huge expiring contract to cash in for a player like him, it is hard to imagine a deal for depth couldn't be made. Because of the talent in June's draft, this season has produced an even larger than normal surplus of teams trying to tank; therefore its quite strange to see the Heat not even make a minor move to help insure their team even a bit of depth on their quest for the rare threepeat.
During these upcoming playoffs, we will witness James realize his supporting cast is weaker than previous seasons, thus raising his game to another level. Similar to the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals in Game 5 when James scored the final 29 of 30 points for his Cavaliers, there is a good chance this type of performance will be required from him. His usage rate and stats will all be at all-time highs, yet it is still difficult to see the Heat winning a third straight title without the suitable supporting cast.