Three-peat for Miami?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 30, 2013 - 12:00am

Miami has advanced to the last three NBA Finals and from all indications, coach Erik Spoelstra is headed for another Last Dance this season. The Heat is coming off back-to-back championships with the looming prospect of a three-peat as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Ray Allen not only return but are also reinforced by prodigal son Michael Beasley and one-time top overall draft pick Greg Oden.

Miami’s seven-game skirmish with Indiana in the last playoffs exposed the Heat’s vulnerability at the five spot. Pacers center Roy Hibbert accentuated the huge void. Spoelstra is taking a chance on the 7-foot Oden, who hasn’t played in four years because of five knee operations, to toughen up the Heat in the interior. Bosh will never become a scary monster in the middle. He’ll contribute at three or four but playing five is a bit out of his level of competence. So if Oden plays up to par, he’ll make a big difference for the Heat which is one of the oldest teams in the league.

In a poll of eight NBA writers conducted by USA Today, seven picked Miami to do it again with the only dissenting vote from Sam Amick who chose the Los Angeles Clippers with new coach Doc Rivers. Sports Illustrated chose the Oklahoma City Thunder to beat Miami in the Finals. The San Antonio Express News polled its five NBA writers and three chose the Heat, one the Chicago Bulls and one the Clippers. Rotoworld Basketball Magazine selected Miami, saying “As long as Wade can stay relatively healthy, the Heat will be the favorites to win it all again this season … and if Wade’s knees become a serious problem, Bron might throw the other 14 guys on his back and carry them to a championship anyway.”

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ESPN surveyed 12 NBA writers and eight picked Miami but four didn’t even consider the Heat for the Finals. Two chose the San Antonio Spurs, one over Indiana and the other over Chicago. Two selected the Indiana Pacers to wrest the crown. Pro Basketball Preview and Fantasy Guide Magazine chose Miami over Oklahoma City, 4-3, in the Finals. Lindy’s Pro Basketball Yearbook went for the Spurs in the Finals.

With 13 new head coaches and a slew of players changing addresses, it’s difficult to pinpoint which teams will shake up the league. Mike Brown is back at Cleveland, Jason Kidd makes his coaching debut with Brooklyn, Byron Scott takes over from George Karl at Denver and two former Gregg Popovich disciples are trying their luck at the helm – Brett Brown at Philadelphia and Mike Budenholzer at Atlanta.

 The biggest names to relocate are Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, Metta World Peace to New York, Monta Ellis to Dallas, O. J. Mayo to Milwaukee, Andrew Bynum to Cleveland, Andre Iguodala to Golden State, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday to New Orleans, J. J. Redick to the Clippers, Josh Smith to Detroit and Kevin Martin to Minnesota.

Alex Kennedy of USA Today said while Miami is loaded with talent, it isn’t untouchable. “It’s not hard to imagine the Heat’s reign over the rest of the NBA coming to an end during the upcoming season,” he said. “The Heat will win a lot of games and go deep in the postseason but it remains to be seen if they can successfully defend their crown as they continue to age and all of the contenders around them improve. James can become a free agent after this season so this could be the final opportunity for the Heat to continue their dominant run.”

It’s not surprising that the Spurs picked up a few first-place votes. Popovich has done a yeoman’s job of sustaining San Antonio’s competitiveness. He’s stressing defense more than anything else this season, probably to anticipate Tim Duncan’s dwindling role as a major scorer. Popovich is grooming Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter to emerge as San Antonio’s next generation of the Big 3 but at the moment, he’s still leaning on Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for bail-outs. Whether the “old” generation still has what it takes to pull off another miracle remains to be seen.

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“Too many talented teams, too many talented people, circumstances that can’t be controlled always seem to arise,” said Popovich. “Teams that overcome and come back year after year are really to be honored for it.” The Air Force Academy guard said he hopes to emulate Miami’s journey ride to the throne. “One has to take his hat off to an organization and a team like Miami that’s been able to do that year after year in the recent past because it’s a task that’s more than daunting to a lot of different ways. “They’ve figured out a way to keep it together and how to do that and they’ve done it with two different groups. They deserve a lot of credit.”

My personal view is San Antonio will trade for players who are ready to contribute here and now. No one is safe in the Spurs lineup, particularly those who didn’t crack the preseason lineup. Parker’s lack of a reliable back-up is a cause for concern as neither Cory Joseph nor Patty Mills appears ready to step in. Another possible trade bait is Boris Diaw although Parker may not want to part ways with his fellow Frenchman.

“Why not try to do it again?” asked Popovich. “That’s what we’re here for. We will or we won’t win but we’ll certainly give it our best effort.” To prepare for the season, Ginobili was inked to a fresh two-year contract and Brazilian center Splitter signed a new “reupped” $36 Million to expire in four years.

Chicago, Indiana and the Clippers are others in contention for the title. As the season moves along, experts will zero in on the high and low performers. Coaches have been known to get fired even during the season so no job is secure. It’s the same deal with players who are marketable. The dynamism is what makes the NBA tick.

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