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With the heat on higher than ever, Miami tries to make history

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
POSTED: Oct 16, 2013 8:14 AM ET

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Four-time MVP LeBron James has won The Finals MVP award each of the past two years.

The Miami Heat are chasing a three-peat. But this is a different type of chase altogether.

Heat Preview: Number 3

The Showtime Lakers and the Big Three Boston Celtics of the 1980s didn't have around-the-clock offseason pressure on them, courtesy of the 24-hour sports networks.

The Bill Russell-led Celtics didn't have to worry about Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social media pressures the Heat have to deal with now.

Sustaining the energy and effort to win three straight championships is work that only a select few teams have been able to muster. Making four straight appearances in The Finals, as the Heat are attempting to do this season, would place them in the same hallowed company as those aforementioned teams.

That kind of extreme and unprecedented pressure might have taken a toll on the Heat, a toll that will be difficult to break through, even for a team that boasts the greatest player, LeBron James, on the planet.

"Who comes up with that?" Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I'm sure our competition's trying to drive that narrative out there and get into our subconscious. 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."

Heat Preview: LBJ On-court Impact

Playing for a place in history, for the right to own their era in NBA history, has to be a motivator for the Heat. There are subplots, though, plenty of them.

James is amassing a body of work that already is putting him in the conversation of the greatest players of all time. Dwyane Wade is trying to stay healthy long enough to cement his legacy as arguably the greatest player in Heat franchise history, a title that might not last long if James finishes his career there. And Chris Bosh has redemption on his mind after a tumultuous playoff run last season that, had the San Antonio Spurs finished the Heat off in Game 6 of The Finals, would have left Bosh in the crosshairs during the free agency/trade frenzy over the summer.

They all have faced challenges before, of course, and overcome them. But it gets tougher as the years go by. History doesn't lie.

"We understand that no season is easy, whether you're trying to three-peat, back-to-back or trying to win a championship," Wade said. "No season is easy. There's going to be challenges throughout the way. There's going to be times when it looks great. There's going to be times when it doesn't look as great for you. But I think we're a mentally strong team. And I think we understand the team that we have and understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us as a group. And we want to take advantage of it as much as possible. So our goal is to hopefully stay together as a unit as much as possible, not have too many injuries, too many guys in and out and to be healthy. We're built for the long haul, to be healthy when the time comes."

"Obviously, we've been fortunate to win two championships in a row, but not having Chris healthy the first one, not having myself healthy the second one, we would like to see how it all works if all of us together are really strong. So hopefully, in year four of us together, we can have that."

Heat Preview: Level of Play

No one could have imagined just how difficult last year's title run would be when the Heat were in the midst of that 27-game win streak that had the sports world watching their every move -- even more than usual. The Heat looked invincible and played like it every night, no matter who was in uniform.

The Eastern Conference playoffs were supposed to be a formality on the Heat's march to The Finals. Then the Indiana Pacers and the seven-game epic Eastern Conference finals happened. A juggernaut was nearly derailed before claiming that second straight title.

An ailing Wade and an exposed Bosh gave the Spurs an ideal opening in The Finals and they took every advantage, stealing Game 1 in Miami and forcing the Heat to play catch up from the start. It was a turn of events that forced the Heat to dig deeper than they had in either of the previous two Finals runs.

That competition, inside the Eastern Conference and from the other side, figures to be at its zenith now that everyone has had the chance to take good measure of the champs. Couple that with the typical drama any team faces, and the looming free agency drama hanging over James in particular, and there should be no shortage of storylines on South Beach this season.

"It's the same challenges that every season presents for a championship-contending team," James said. "You're going to have ups and downs. You're going to have periods of time where teammates don't like each other, coaches don't like the players, players don't like the coaches."

The difference this time around, though, is the experience factor is on the Heat's side. They've seen all sorts of adversity over the course of the past three seasons. They've failed on the biggest stage and come back to triumph under that same spotlight in back-to-back seasons.

If they don't reach their goals this time around ... there will be no manhunt for the culprit.

"The No. 1 key thing is health. If we're healthy as a ball club, no matter who you put up against us, we can compete with anybody," James said. "If we're not healthy, then it's going to be tougher. It was tougher last year when we weren't healthy. It was tougher the year before when we weren't healthy. And we weren't fully healthy in year one. So if we can stay as close to healthy as possible, then we're going to be fine.

"But we have to work at it. We cannot take any shortcuts and try to get to April right now in September or in October. We can't do it and we know that. We preach it every day. We know how exciting April basketball is, and if you're fortunate enough to be able to play in May, and if you're very fortunate enough to be able to play in June. But we have to accept the process and we have to work at it every day to get better throughout the months."

Three points

1. If this is the final season with Miami's Big 3 intact (free agency is looming), they have to muster the energy to go out with a bang ... It's three-peat or bust in Miami this season.

2. If Greg Oden has anything at all left in the tank the Heat are going to need it. Their one deficiency remains their lack of interior size and depth. Oden could provide a boost in both areas.

3. Someone has to provide the spark Mike Miller did in each of the past two trips to The Finals. But who?

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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