The season is over and the Indiana Pacers are the number one seed, while the Miami Heat are the number two. It almost feels anti-climactic considering only a week ago all anyone could talk about was which team was going to be in which spot. After all the jockeying for position, the Indiana Pacers won the top spot, but still, it feels like they are not even close to contending for the championship, let alone making it out of the second round. The honor of NBA Championship favorite falls on the shoulders of the Miami Heat, but the feeling around the league is that in order to three-peat, they will have to play their best basketball yet.
The Heat had a down season, compared to the previous two, but they were always considered a contender for the championship. In the East, the only other possible outcome was the Pacers, but they have fallen considerably from grace, despite their number one seed. Turning to the West, there are three teams that are possible answers to the Heat’s big-three. The Los Angeles Clippers are a high-flying, strong, well coached team. They can run with the Heat and have more size, but they have not proven themselves to be a playoff team, and until they do, they can not be trusted to take down the defending champs. The San Antonio Spurs have, quietly, had one of the best regular seasons for any NBA team, ever. They almost disposed of the Heat last year, and seem primed to do it again. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the other team poised to make a run to the Finals. They are finally healthy and Kevin Durrant looks to nab his first MVP award over LeBron James. This is the most uncertain playoffs in recent memory. The Heat are expected to come out of the East, but if Indiana plays like they did in the beginning of the season, they may not. Not to mention that Brooklyn, Chicago and Toronto have proven they can win against anyone, and there could be upsets on the horizon. The same can go with the West. The problem with that conference is they may beat each up on other up too much en route to the Finals and have nothing left to face the East’s representative.
With all the speculation about who will beat who, and which team has the best odds to win, the main reason for all the back and forth can get lost in the shuffle: to win championships. That is the ultimate goal for every team, and not just to win one championship, but multiple. Just look to the faces of Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. Their season is over and they are devastated because their teams failed. The Thunder are happy to be in the playoffs, but no one sees Kevin Durrant celebrating. Even the two-time defending champs are in a sour mood, because they know it is crunch time and winning two in a row is great, but not the ultimate goal. The new gold standard for dominant NBA teams is the three-peat, which is winning the championship three years in a row. The three-peat signifies a team’s total dominance over the league. One win could be the result of all players having an above-average season, and back-to-back wins signifies a team has chemistry, plays consistent ball and is coached well, but is not part of the upper echelon. But a three-peat? That is the pedestal every team wants to sit on; there are no flukes when it comes to three-peats. Everyone cares about legacy now-a-days, sometimes even decades before a player will retire. This can add un-necessary pressure to an already mentally draining playoff season. For LeBron James and the Miami Heat, that is the feeling they have, and to three-peat would mean the legacy of the team is secured with the all-time basketball greats.
There have only been five times a team has three-peated in the history of the NBA, and that includes the Boston Celtics winning eight championships in a row; which could be considered six three-peats in a way. The first team to do it was the, formally known as, Minneapolis Lakers who won the 1952-1954 championships. They were led by George Mikran who averaged 23 points, over 13 rebounds per game, and is considered the first NBA superstar. The next team to gain the three-peat were the aforementioned Boston Celtics who won eight championships in a row from 1959-1966. This is the ultimate mark of dominance and is the most championship wins in a row for any team, in any American sport. There were many greats on those Celtic teams, but the one constant, and the best, was Bill Russell.
There were many dominant teams in the 1970s and 1980’s as well, but none were able to achieve the three-peat; the Lakers won three out of four championships between 1985-1988, but not in a row. The last three three-peats are fairly recent, and the stars of the teams are all household names. The Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan won between 1991-1993, and again between 1996-1998. The other team to do it was the Los Angeles Lakers, fueled by the tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil between 2000-2002. What all these teams that three-peated have in common is that their best player(s) are now considered the best of all time. That is what LeBron James wants his legacy to stand for, one of the best ever, and to get there means he has to find a way to three-peat. It is also an important factor for the big-three, who know their time together may be coming to an end. LeBron will soon be a free-agent and Dwayne Wade continues to suffer injuries with age. Opinions of the team aside, the NBA may not see a team with the ability to three-peat like the Miami Heat for some time, and they are feeling that pressure and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.
Commentary by Chris Dragicevich
Follow Chris on Twitter