Heat thinking three-peat
At first glance, you would think that everything went according to plan for the Miami Heat in 2012-13.
They picked up an NBA-best 66 wins in the regular season and a second straight NBA championship.
While the end result was what they wanted, the Heat's road to the title was anything but a cakewalk. In fact, if Ray Allen doesn't nail a second-chance three with 5.2 seconds left in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, it's the Spurs, not the Heat hoisting the Larry O'Brien.
Instead of talking about a title, we'd be talking about how the Heat's vaunted big three came up short for the second time in three seasons. And LeBron James, instead of winning a second straight Finals MVP, is back to hearing about how he choked in the clutch after missing three straight shots prior to Allen's dagger through the heart of San Antonio.
Of course, Allen did hit that three and the Heat did go on to beat San Antonio in Game 7, capping one of the most thrilling NBA Finals ever.
The Heat remain one of the best teams in the NBA and lost only one significant piece from last year's team in Mike Miller. They still have the best player in the world and will be favoured to win a third straight title.
However, the more difficult than expected playoff run, particularly their trouble handling big, physical teams, has left questions as to whether or not the Heat have what it takes to three-peat. Or more specifically have other teams, expecially in the Eastern Conference caught up to the Heat?
Add in the fact that James, Wade and Bosh are all eligible to opt out of their contracts after this season and the situation in Miami isn't quite as sunny as you might think.
Who's In/Who's Out
Key Additions: Greg Oden, Michael Beasley
Key Losses: Mike Miller, Juwan Howard
LeBron James. James is quite simply the best basketball player in the world right now.
Still The Champs
Mid-Low Playoff Seed
Youth Making Strides
It Could Be Worse
We Want Wiggins
He rolled to a fourth MVP award last year after averaging 26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 7.3 apg while shooting career-highs of 56 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three. He also finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and probably should have won that too.
As long as James is in town, the Heat will be one of the favourites to win it all.
The other two members of the big three are also still in town and despite some struggles in the playoffs for Wade and Bosh, both are still All-Star level talents.
Besides the star power, the Heat also boast a good if not great supporting cast. Ray Allen may not be much more than a hired gun at this point in his career, but he remains one of the best shooters in the NBA.
Mario Chalmers improved his three-point shooting last season and played well in the playoffs. Chris Andersen also played a pivotal role in the playoffs for the Heat and is a great energy guy off the bench.
Gambles on Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, the No. 1 pick in 2007 and the No. 2 pick in 2008 could also prove to be a coup for the Heat if they are able to pretty much anything from them. And if they don't pay off, it's not like they gave up much to get either guy.
The Not So Good
The Heat have a hard time dealing with big, physical teams that pound them inside.
The Indiana Pacers pushed the Heat to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals and looked to be too much for the Heat inside at times. Roy Hibbert and David West simply controlled the paint for Indiana and Miami struggled to find an answer.
The Heat were also dead last in rebounding last season, averaging just 38.6 boards per game. The only moves the Heat really made to combat the problem during the off-season were to re-sign Andersen and sign Oden. Andersen is a great energy guy but not suited to punding inside for 30 minutes while Oden hasn't played since 2010 and has the knees of an old man. The Heat are still going to have a hard time stopping opponent's bigs.
At 31-years-old, Wade's knees are also not getting any younger. When healthy, Wade is still one of the best shooting guards in the NB, but that is becoming more and more of a problem as the injuries continue to mount.
Bosh is also coming off a playoffs where he averaged just 12.1 points and had games where he didn't manage a single rebound.
James can carry the Heat a long way on his broad shoulders, but at some point he is going to need his fellow All-Stars to help with the heavy lifting.
What To Expect
The Heat are still favourites to win the NBA title.
A team can't win two straight championships and boast the best player and be considered anything less. Even when they struggled in the playoffs, the Heat still managed to find a way to get the job done.
The Heat will probably finish with the best record in the East and are virtual locks for the Eastern Confernce Finals.
They'll probably make the Finals too. It just might not be as certain as it has been in the past.