x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Heat take aim at three-peat of NBA championships

Miami still the team to beat with LeBron James and Co still in their prime – and some playing for new contracts.

From left: Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are all playing for new contracts this year. Duane Burleson / AP Photo
From left: Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are all playing for new contracts this year. Duane Burleson / AP Photo

And so we begin the new NBA season with the same question that began the last one. And the one before that.

Can anyone beat Miami Heat?

Plenty of teams would be quick to raise their hands, just as they did at this point in 2012 and 2011, but each of those seasons ended with the Heat’s players and coaches passing around the championship trophy.

It is easy to believe not much will change. LeBron James still wears the Miami colours, and is still the best player in the game. His two most prominent teammates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, remain in their prime. Scarier still? They all will be playing for a new contract.

This is the same team that went on a 27-game winning streak last season and then earned a second consecutive championship. They like to think they are even better this season, and if their mini-gambles in adding the fragile centre Greg Oden and the erratic Michael Beasley pay off, they well could be. Both are former No 1 draft picks.

The Heat will be attempting to become only the sixth team in NBA history to win three consecutive championships. That brings with it a certain amount of pressure.

“I’m sure our competition is trying to drive that narrative out there and get into our subconscious,” said Erik Spoelstra, the Heat coach.

“We can convince ourselves of anything. What we have is a tremendous opportunity and we have a very highly motivated group of guys in that locker room. And they understand what we’re playing for.”

Los Angeles Lakers were the last team to win three consecutive NBA titles (2000-02), and the third proved their most difficult.

“It’s a tough grind, more so than winning back to back, because everybody is gunning for you every single ballgame,” the Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis said.

Miami’s rivals have reason to hope. As overpowering as the Heat were in a 66-16 regular season, they showed some vulnerability in the play-offs.

The workaday Indiana Pacers took them to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals, and San Antonio Spurs almost won the finals in Game 6.

Their leading challengers figure to be Chicago Bulls, reinforced by the return of the 2011 MVP Derrick Rose. Brooklyn Nets have added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and the Pacers have back Danny Granger. The Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets will challenge from the West.

“Three-peats” are rare for good reason: teams who compete an extra six weeks in the play-offs tend to wear down, over time, and this would be the Heat’s fourth consecutive trip to the finals.

“We’re a mentally strong team,” Wade said. “And I think we understand that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as a group. We want to take advantage of it.”

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE