LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers organization as a free agent in 2010. Many fans couldn’t understand why the Akron, Ohio, native would leave his home to play elsewhere. Well, this is why he did it.
James may have exaggerated when he made the statement that the Miami Heat would win “not two, not three … not seven” championships after signing there, but the Heat are well on their way to claiming back-to-back titles with a core of James and perennial All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The Heat haven’t lost in nearly two months. Their last loss came on Feb. 1 against the Indiana Pacers. Twenty-five wins later and Miami sits atop the NBA with the best record in the league and in the midst of the second-longest win streak in NBA history.
The only team with a longer streak is the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, which won 33 consecutive games en route to an NBA championship that season. That team featured two Hall of Fame guards who averaged about 26 points per game in Gail Goodrich and Jerry West, a Hall of Fame center in Wilt Chamberlain who averaged almost 15 points and 19 rebounds and two more double-digit scorers in Happy Hairston and Jim McMillian. What’s even more surprising is the fact that another Hall of Famer, Elgin Baylor, retired nine games into that season, and the streak began on the Lakers’ next game.
But if they haven’t already, James and the Heat are proving why they will win multiple championships and possibly break the Lakers’ streak. James, the three-time league MVP, has proven that he’s impossible to guard. He has the vision of an elite point guard, can finish at the rim with either hand and has improved his jump shot. In addition to averaging 26.7 points this season, James has put up career-highs in field goal percentage (55.4 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (39.3 percent), rebounds (8.2) and blocks (0.9).
Even at 31, Wade is still among the top shooting guards in the NBA. In a lesser role than when he led Miami to its first championship in 2006, Wade has managed to have his most efficient season shooting the ball at a career-high rate of 51.9 percent, while still averaging 21.1 points as a top-10 scorer.
And though Bosh’s points, rebounds and assists have declined each year in Miami, he is still an asset to the team. The 6-foot-11 forward’s ability to step away from the basket opens driving lanes for James and Wade. And despite Bosh’s declining numbers, he is shooting a career-high 54 percent and has increased his blocks per game each season in Miami.
As if having to gameplan against three All-Stars wasn’t enough, 3-point shooters are scattered throughout Miami’s roster. Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers are shooting career-bests behind the arc, and Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis and James Jones have made their livings off of their ability to drain 3-point shots.
Realistically, only three teams – a hungry, defensive-minded Chicago Bulls team, a well-coached San Antonio Spurs team and the streaking New York Knicks, with a healthy Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler – can put out the fire before the Heat break the all-time record.
But even if the streak stops short, the Heat players are gelling at the perfect time. They have won more games during this run than seven NBA teams have won this entire season. The league has seen what this group of players is capable of, from overcoming a 27-point deficit on the road to double-digit margins of victory against top teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
I can’t guarantee that the Heat will extend the streak to or past 33, but barring a serious injury, Miami will win its second consecutive championship this season. Only Indiana and the Boston Celtics can put up a fight in the Eastern Conference, but neither is seen as a serious title contender. In the Western Conference, the top teams all have their faults. The Spurs are an aging team, the Clippers struggle shooting free throws, the Thunder haven’t really been impacted by the absence of reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden yet, the Nuggets don’t have a true superstar or go-to player and the Grizzlies traded who I believe to be their best player in Rudy Gay.
James will win his second ring this season. And when you watch him hoist the trophy again, you’ll know: This is why he did it.