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.
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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.