Is LeBron James still improving from season to season or is he simply at a level so high the rest of the NBA still can’t catch up? For the Miami Heat to win a third consecutive NBA title, there’s a chance they might need him to be better than ever before.
Since joining the Miami Heat three seasons ago, James has been averaging 26.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists. He’s won two NBA MVPs during that time and probably would have won a third if it wasn’t for the anti-LeBron thing sweeping the nation during his first season with the Heat.
Three NBA finals, two NBA titles, two Finals MVPs. Can’t get much better than this.
But on a different note, it seems like the crew assembled around him is regressing. At their best, which was probably the 2011-2012 season, the Miami Heat were good and dominant enough to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to claim the title. Dwyane Wade was already struggling with his knee, but not in the same way he did last season and in the playoffs, especially against the Indiana Pacers.
Last season exposed some weakness in the Miami Heat, which the team doesn’t really have the cap-space to fix. Being physical with them, especially in the paint, gets them into trouble. There’s no wonder the Pacers and the Spurs managed to draw on their series 7 games. They have enough size in the paint to create problems for Miami on both ends of the floor, and forced them again and again to win the games by shooting from the outside and by going to their role players.
How did the Heat overcome? At home they’re a different team, especially against the Pacers. Indiana couldn’t even get close to the Heat in game 7 of the Eastern finals, as the defensive intensity from Miami, especially on the perimeter, was too much for the young team to handle.
The Spurs were something different. They didn’t lose the series because the Miami Heat defense was too much to handle. It came down to plays, because the two teams were too close to tell apart in the final two games. Manu Ginobili imploding, Tim Duncan missing that shot in the paint, Ray Allen’s crazy three and LeBron James/Dwyane Wade giving up on beating the Spurs through the paint, and simply hitting mid-range jumpers.
Next season is going to be even tougher. The Pacers aren’t going anywhere, while the Chicago Bulls, another team that constantly presents trouble to the Heat with their physicality, should be a lot better than last season. Chris Bosh isn’t a center, and even if the Miami Heat do sign Greg Oden, they remain with a problem against certain teams, having to work their way around it.
Mike Miller is gone. His shooting is replaceable, but other things might not be in James Jones. Ray Allen is getting older as we saw for most of the playoffs and last season. Maybe Mario Chalmers is going to step up and take a bigger role in the team’s scoring, if Wade continues to show signs of struggling with his knee.
The most likely scenario? LeBron James taking more on himself. Cleveland style? Not yet, but it mostly depends on how healthy Wade will be. James has said in the past that he could be the scoring champion if he’d focus on it. Maybe next season will be his chance, although that’s not the ideal setting for the Heat to complete their three-peat.