As Miami Heat goes for No. 3, here are six teams that stand in the way
Three-peat is so 1988.
The term purportedly coined by Byron Scott and definitively trademarked by Pat Riley amid the Lakers’ failed bid for a third consecutive NBA title in the late ‘80s should be discarded like the faded T-shirts bearing the slogan that were once standard attire inside the Great Western Forum.
It’s time for a new Rileyism, particularly with the current team president of the Miami Heat chasing another championship to go with the ones his team won in 2012 and ’13.
In the spirit of the quest, here’s a trio of alternatives for the Heat this season:
Big Three for Three. An homage to the collective success of Heat stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh since joining forces in 2010.
Three Down, Five to Go! A reference to James’ infamous tally of how many championships he intended to win in Miami.
Lords of the Rings: The New Trilogy. A sequel to the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy series, with presumably fewer casualties.
Standing in Miami’s way are at least a half-dozen teams that intend to break the spell the Heat has cast over the rest of the NBA.
Oddsmakers at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino make Miami 2-to-1 favorites to win the NBA championship in June, though it’s not going to be as easy as a stroll down Biscayne Boulevard. Nobody has won back-to-back-to-back titles since the Lakers in 2000-02 and nobody has been to four consecutive NBA Finals since the Boston Celtics in 1984-87.
“There’s a reason these teams don’t do it,” TNT analyst Steve Kerr said. “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.”
Kerr is picking the Bulls to unseat the Heat. Here’s a look at the top three threats to Miami from each conference:
1. San Antonio. The Spurs’ biggest challenge may be forgetting the final 28.2 seconds of regulation from their Game 6 collapse in the Finals in Miami. There’s also the ticktock of their aging core, though Tim Duncan is coming off his finest season in years and Kawhi Leonard, only 22, has supplanted Manu Ginobili as the team’s third-best player.
Coach Gregg Popovich also manages the fatigue factor better than anyone, even if it means writing a six-figure check payable to “The NBA” for sending his stars home early from a trip.
“At some time Duncan is not going to be able to do what he’s incredibly done, particularly the last year,” said Jeff Van Gundy, an analyst for ABC and ESPN. “But I’ll wait to see it go downhill before I predict it’s going downhill.”
2. Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may be the first 20-somethings to experience empty nest syndrome.
A year ago, their team unloaded budding superstar James Harden in a budget-conscious move. This summer it failed to retain his replacement, Kevin Martin, because of similar financial constraints, giving the promising but unproven Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb a shot.
We’d hate to hear about the five-year plan. Fortunately, Durant and Westbrook are enough to beat most teams.
3. Clippers. The new coach, Doc Rivers, is among the best in the league. The new cast of sharpshooters should make the offense even more dynamic. But the old concerns about the development of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan just won’t go away.
“Obviously, they’re at much different levels in their play,” Kerr said of the big men, “but the further improvement of each one is critical. Griffin took a step forward last year and I think he has to take another step this year offensively. They need to be able to go to him in a tight game where there’s no easy baskets and he needs to be that guy. He’s not quite there yet.
“Jordan needs to anchor the defense and be more consistent.”
1. Indiana. Rather than take offense at the notion that they needed more offense, the Pacers did something about it. They signed a more capable backup point guard in C.J. Watson, a proven scorer in Luis Scola and a prolific three-point shooter in Chris Copeland.
The biggest boost to a Pacers offense that averaged 94.7 points per game last season — 23rd in the league — isn’t a newcomer. The return of Danny Granger from a knee injury that kept him out for all but five games last season should give Indiana scoring punch at every position.
Plus there’s Paul George, the league’s reigning most improved player who is on the verge of helping the Pacers break through to the Finals.
2. Chicago. Derrick Rose has been sidelined for so long now that his return invites the skepticism of a Sasquatch sighting; you’ll believe it when you see it.
The hope is that an able-bodied Rose and still-improving mainstays Luol Deng and Joakim Noah give Coach Tom Thibodeau some traction after last season’s stuck-in-the-mud feel.
“I just feel like it’s all sort of teed up for Chicago with Rose coming back, guys like Noah and [Taj] Gibson entering their prime,” Kerr said. “I think Chicago will have something special this year.”
3. Brooklyn. The starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce has accounted for 35 All-Star game appearances.
Van Gundy dismissed concerns about the zero games the Nets have played together under rookie Coach Jason Kidd.
“When Garnett and Ray Allen came to the Celtics that first year,” Van Gundy said, “they won it and they had never played together. I think people make too much of people not playing together. Smart players playing together, it doesn’t take any time or very little time.”
And the NBA champion is…
The Pacers finally zoom past the Heat in the playoffs before being totaled by the more savvy Spurs. Ginobili and Leonard make their free throws in the final minute this time and Duncan gets to call every digit on one hand a ring finger.
Three-peat is forgotten. Just as it should be.
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