Here’s why the Heat aren’t just reeling off clichés the way they ran off wins when they speak of 66 victories showing the team’s “professionalism” and “consistency:” First-time NBA champions usually don’t improve their regular-season record the next year.
Whether it’s being every opponent’s big game, a natural curbing of the hunger after winning it all or just feeling like they can coast through the regular season, since the 1976 NBA/ABA merger, only five other NBA champions won more games the year after winning a first title with a new nucleus. None have done so in 21 years.
(“New nucleus” meaning, say, the Michael Jordan - Scottie Pippen early 1990s Bulls teams being taken as a separate entity from the late 1990s Jordan-Pippen- Dennis Rodman Bulls teams. Or, the Tim Duncan - David Robinson 1999 San Antonio champions considered differently than the Duncan- Tony Parker - Manu Ginobili group that took titles in the current millennium.)
Of the teams that improved their record, only 1991-92 Chicago repeated as NBA champions. One, 1978-79 Washington lost in the NBA Finals to Seattle in a rematch of the 1978 NBA Final. Two, 1979-80 Seattle and 1981-82 Boston, lost in their conference finals. And 1977-78 Portland remains one of the great “what might have been” teams in NBA history.
Coached by Dr. Jack Ramsay , featuring center Bill Walton , current Memphis coach Lionel Hollins and power forward Maurice Lucas , Portland ran over and away from the league. With the Trail Blazers at 50-10, on pace for a then-record 68-win season, Walton broke his foot.
Neither Portland nor Walton would be the same again. The Trail Blazers finished 58-24 and lost in the Western Conference semis to Seattle.
That 6-10 Chris Andersen can bang inside, play defense and finish around the basket by now is well-known. What might not be as well-known is when Andersen pulls up and fires from three-point range, it’s not the Heat’s first choice for a shot, but it doesn’t particularly mind.
“They start shootaround with Knockout: Ray [Allen] , James [Jones], Shane [Battier], Rio [Mario Chalmers] and Bird,” Heat forward LeBron James said. “Bird has been in the finals before. I don’t know if he has ever won one before, but he has been in the final with all those great shooters.”
Andersen said: “I’ve won a couple. Thing is, I’ve never gotten the opportunity to shoot that shot. My confidence level is up. The coaches know I work on it. I make a high percentage of them. That’s why I don’t get pulled every time I take that shot. I feel comfortable taking that shot.”
According to VegasInsider.com, the Heat is a 1-2 favorite to repeat as NBA champions and 1-6 favorites to win the Eastern Conference.