What's next for the Heat?
Can the Big Three keep it together to win three in a row?
Three seasons into the Miami Experiment, here's what we have: Two championships, three Eastern Conference titles and a scintillating, seven-game victory over the dynastic San Antonio Spurs. What's next? For no team did the answer to that question depend more upon one game. If Miami had lost on Thursday, we'd be talking about the shocking decline and fall of the Heat as we know them. Now, we're celebrating Pat Riley's star-powered project, one which by any measure can be judged a resounding success.
Riley and Erik Spoelstra constructed a team around LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that was all about supporting that trio. They loaded up with role players, especially shooters. They went with veterans over young talent. They went with speed over size. In short, they developed a philosophy and a style of play that was entirely about showcasing the Big Three. And who could blame them?
At times in this postseason, the pace-and-space brand sputtered once Miami ran into other high-level teams with strengths in all the areas in which the Heat were vulnerable, first against Indiana in the East finals, then the Spurs. With Wade and Bosh looking at times like mere outlines of their normal selves, the Heat barely had enough weapons, or enough balance, to withstand the Pacers' battering in the paint. Then Miami barely survived San Antonio's inside-outside barrage over the past couple of weeks.
The Heat will certainly be at the forefront of the championship conversation next season, but unless they continue to adapt to a league that has evolved to beat them, can we expect next spring's outcome to be any different? The Heat have made good on the Miami Experiment's initial promise of bringing multiple championships to South Beach, but what does Riley have to do for his squad to add to the tally?
The regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs. From the first day of training camp, the only criterion for evaluating the 2012-13 Miami Heat was this: Did they win the championship? A loss to San Antonio wouldn't have completely invalidated everything that happened over the past seven months, but it would have come close. There isn't another current franchise that you'd say that about.
Everything through the second round of the postseason was all good, even if the cracks that eventually led to Miami's downfall were evident -- if you looked hard enough. Beginning on Feb. 2, the Heat ran off 27 straight wins, the second-longest streak in league history. Miami won a franchise-record 66 games, landed the No. 1 seed in the East and, through the second-round win over Chicago, had won 45 of 48 games. James won the MVP award for the second time during his three seasons with the Heat.
The last two rounds were far from disappointing, of course. Flags fly forever. You do have to wonder if the Pacers and Spurs exposed Miami in a way that will prevent a three-peat come next June.
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