By the Blouin News Sports staff

The Miami Heat will struggle to three-peat

by in Basketball.

Christopher Trotman/Getty Images

Christopher Trotman/Getty Images

The Miami Heat have advanced to three consecutive NBA Finals — winning the last two — since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in Florida. This year they’re not atop the East, as they’re currently trailing the Indiana Pacers by two games, and they have just the fifth best record in the entire NBA. Their 69.6% winning percentage is the lowest in the James-Wade-Bosh era.

In last season’s NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs were seconds away from winning the championship. The Spurs uncharacteristically collapsed and handed the Heat a second straight NBA title. This season, the Spurs have the best record in the NBA and will head into the playoffs with a chip on their shoulder.

But a rematch may not even be on the schedule. The Heat have to get through the Pacers, who have struggled of late but will likely right their ship come playoff time. And the Spurs have to get through Western Conference powerhouses the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers before they would get a chance to return to the game’s biggest stage.

The Heat have been the favorites each of the past three seasons to win it all. Not so this season. Sure, James is still the best player in the world, but questions surround his supporting cast. Will Wade be able to stay healthy? Can Bosh hang down low with big men like Roy Hibbert and David West of the Pacers or Serge Ibaka of the Thunder?

There is a good chance the Heat do in fact return to the NBA Finals. They will have two easy opening rounds in the weak Eastern Conference playoffs before a potential showdown with the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers might still be too young and inexperienced to dethrone the Heat from their throne, but it will be a battle of a series that will in the very least exhaust the Heat before the NBA Finals. If the Heat do in fact get to the finals, they will be the underdogs against any of the top three aforementioned Western Conference teams.

With James and his sidekicks all set to become free agents this offseason, winning a third straight title would improve the chances that they stick together in Miami and attempt to fulfill their goals they set forth in 2010. James, who famously promised the Heat would win more than seven championships together in Miami before stepping onto the court, will need to win this year in order for that to be at all possible. But this year, and certainly the next handful of seasons, will not be as easy as the previous two years.

The Heat are getting older and more injury-prone. They’re not the most talented team in the NBA and the teams that have been too young in the past (e.g. the Thunder and the Pacers) seem to have matured enough to handle the pressure of dethroning one of the best squads in NBA history. The regular season is nearing its end, so we won’t have to wait long to see who can beat the Heat.

VISUAL CONTEXT: ESPN’S MOST RECENT NBA POWER RANKINGS

ESPN

ESPN