If the Heat thought winning a title the last two seasons was difficult, they haven’t seen anything yet. That’s the message conveyed by a couple of analysts this summer.
Stan Van Gundy said these Bulls, Pacers and Nets will be more difficult to beat than any Eastern Conference teams the Heat has faced the past three years.
And Steve Kerr’s public prediction that the Heat likely won’t make the Finals – which he expressed to me in August and also told the Los Angeles Times this week – is based partly on personal experience.
(I planned on writing Kerr’s August comments from our phone conversation shortly before training camp, when they seemed more timely, but I offer them now in light of Kerr talking to the Times a few days ago and 790 The Ticket this afternoon.)
“Having been a part of the three-peat in Chicago (1996-98) – I don’t know if anybody really understands how taxing it is emotionally and physically to go through this that many years in a row,” Kerr, TNT's lead analyst, told me several weeks ago. “Nobody has made it to four Finals in a row since Boston in the mid-80s. Miami has so much fatigue to overcome.”
Looking back on his Bulls experience, Kerr said: “It was dramatically different in year three than year two of the three-peat. In year two, we had a dominance about us that we felt like nobody could touch us.
“But in year three, we were just hoping to get out alive. We were exhausted. What Pat Riley calls the disease of me – there is always stuff going on that can get in the way – it’s more likely that stuff comes up in the third year. When we won that last game in Utah, it felt more like a relief than a moment of celebration. We were running on fumes. That third year, you lose your edge and it feels more like a relief to win it.
“You’re playing over 100 games three years in a row, and it’s well over 400 games in four years. But it’s also the magnitude of those games. Eighty-plus playoff games all bring with it a ton of stress and exertion and it’s really a difficult season. Miami is the best team in the league, but people don’t realize how exhausting it is to go for three in a row. Teams are hungrier than you. It just wears on you.”
He said it was tougher to maintain motivation for the Bulls in the third season of their three-peat “because it doesn’t matter as much and you have to fight the human instinct of, ‘We’re going to be in the playoffs and it won’t matter until April and May.’ You let your guard down and don’t have the same edge. And you don’t improve when you don’t have that edge.”
Kerr said coach Erik Spoelstra needs to be committed to resting his players some during the season, more so than last year.
“He did that this year with Dwyane Wade, and you are going to have rest LeBron James and Chris Bosh at times, too. And cutting LeBron’s minutes is important. You have to be willing to lose some games” for the greater good of saving their bodies for the playoffs. “This is not going to be a 60-win season.”
Kerr said the Heat will “miss Mike Miller. He helped them win huge games. [Potential replacements] James Jones and Rashard Lewis are older, and it’s tough to match what Miller did. Those guys are going to have to figure out a way to come through in the clutch.”
And Kerr has other concerns. “Shane Battier is older. His shooting suffered in the playoffs until the last big game. Ray Allen is older. The floor spacing won’t be quite as terrifying this year.
“I would be concerned about Wade because of the number of difficult games where he looked older and vulnerable far outnumbered the dominant ones. And you add another year to that body.”
He likes the Greg Oden pickup --- “it's a perfect fit because they need him especially to guard Roy Hibbert in the playoffs, and he gives them an emotional lift” – but said his health “is too big of an if” to predict the Heat will three-repeat because of him.
So who is Kerr’s favorite? “I’m picking Chicago. The Bulls have always played Miami so well and they get Derrick Rose back. Indiana poses more problems because of scoring inside with David West and Roy Hibbert.
“Indiana is more of a threat, but I like both of their chances to get past them because of the emotional impact of not having scaled the mountain yet. Both teams know this is the time get past the Heat.”
And what about Brooklyn? “I have the Nets fourth. They’re not as good as Miami, and when you have older players, it’s tough to proclaim them as great.”
AROUND THE DIAL
### Personnel moves: ABC/ESPN is talking to former 76ers coach and longtime announcer Doug Collins about joining the cast of its NBA Countdown studio show. He reportedly would replace Michael Wilbon, who would concentrate on Pardon the Interruption and other duties… ESPN parted ways with Chris Mullin, a decent analyst who took a job as a consultant to the Sacramento Kings' new ownership...
CBS moved Greg Anthony to its lead college basketball announcing team (with Jim Nantz) and re-assigned Clark Kellogg to the studio, where the network believes he is better suited. Nantz and Anthony likely will be joined by TNT’s Kerr for the Final Four.... Hopefully, ESPN Radio will allow Van Gundy to remain on Dan Le Batard's 790/104.3 The Ticket show when the program goes national beginning Sept. 30. The sides are still discussing it.
### Most weeks, South Florida gets three Sunday afternoon NFL games. So why only two this week (Ravens-Texans at 1 p.m., Dolphins-Falcons at 4 p.m.?) Because the Dolphins are home (on Fox), but are not on the network carrying the double-header (CBS). Only in that scenario do we get two afternoon games, instead of three.
### And for South Florida viewers, something odd will happen this weekend that only occurs once every year or two or three. Though CBS’ 4:25 p.m. doubleheader game cannot be televised locally, CBS says WFOR-4 will join one of CBS’ three NFL telecasts in progress at 7 p.m: likely Colts-49ers or Jets-Bills, to be determined. (Jaguars-Seahawks is the other CBS late game but might be a blowout by then.) CBS plans air NFL programming nationally until 8 p.m. Sunday night, leading into the Emmy Awards.
So when the Dolphins are done on Fox, switch over to CBS-4 to catch the fourth quarter of the Colts or Jets game.