The Heat’s players, who have looked sharper this preseason than in years past, say they are more focused on defeating the Bulls than on adding to their jewelry collections.
“I wish we could get the rings on the day of the parade,” said Udonis Haslem, who will receive his third championship ring before Tuesday’s game. “That’d be great, but obviously it’s something we got to do. We earned it, and it’s great for us and for the fans, but we got work to do and we got to understand that we got a team that’s coming in here and wanting to kick our butts.”
Rose’s return is just one example of how the top contenders in the Eastern Conference improved over the offseason in a push to topple the Heat’s dynasty. On paper, the roster moves and additions of the East’s top teams suggest the Heat might have a tougher time making it to the NBA Finals this season.
Then again, consider how difficult it was to obtain the second championship. It can’t get much harder than back-to-back, seven-game series with Ray Allen bailing out the Heat in Game 6 of the Finals.
It could be argued that winning another championship is entirely the wrong measure of success for the Heat. A team hasn’t played in four straight Finals since the 1987 Boston Celtics.
“It’s competitive, and we know it is,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The entire Eastern Conference has gotten better. The younger teams that dealt with some injuries last year made some changes. They’ll be much stronger as well.”
Five teams spread across three franchises — Celtics, Lakers and Bulls — have won back-to-back-to-back championships in the NBA. For the Heat to join that exclusive club would be nothing short of sports immortality, but it wouldn’t exactly be unprecedented, either. Five teams have failed to win three in a row after back-to-back championships, which means 50 percent of the teams in the NBA that have won back-to-back championships have gone on to win three straight.
Those are good odds, but these are better: Like last year, the Heat is the heavy favorite (21/10) to win the 2013-14 championship, according to online sports book bodog.net, and, in a recent survey, 75.9 percent of the NBA’s 30 general managers selected the Heat to win it all.
For the Heat, everything really boils down to one simple factor, and that’s the health of its players. When its stars are healthy, the Heat is the best team in the league. So far, so good.
“The most important thing is guys got through the preseason healthy, and now we go in at full strength,” Haslem said.
It should also be noted that winning three championships in a row, while never easy, historically has been less difficult in the NBA than in any other professional sports league in North America. The NBA, the youngest of the four major leagues (founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America), has produced just as many back-to-back-to-back champions as the NHL, which is 38 years older. An NFL team has never won three consecutive Super Bowls, although the Green Bay Packers won three championships in a row twice before the introduction of the America’s biggest game.
Smartly, the Heat has tried to temper expectations, but, in all seriousness, good luck with that.
“I know how hard it is to win a championship period, to win one,” Wade said.
“To go to the Finals, it never gets easy, it never will be easy for [any] team. . . .” he said. “To win one, to win two, to win three, whatever the case may be, to even get there, a lot of guys haven’t even done that, so it’s just not easy to be a champion in this league, and that’s why there are only a small amount of organizations that have won a championship.”