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Tough act to follow

Heat could learn, as Spurs did, that there's a barrier to winning back-to-back titles

June 20, 2013|BEN BOLCH

You mean we have to do it again?

Winning a second consecutive NBA title with the same core group of players can be like dealing with two children: It isn't twice as hard, it's exponentially more tiring and headache-inducing than handling the first.

There's the tendency for defending championship teams to largely stay the same while others revamp their rosters in a bid to overtake you (welcome to L.A., Dwight Howard!).

There's the fact that your veteran stars are one year older, making them more susceptible to injuries (hello, Dwyane Wade!).

There are also the distractions that can arise amid a season-long victory lap (nice to meet you, Mr. Obama!).

All of which makes the Miami Heat's coming within one victory of back-to-back championships impressive even for a team oozing talent. The Heat can get there Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena with a victory over the San Antonio Spurs in a winner-takes-all Game 7 of the Finals.

The only thing harder than capturing that elusive first title, it seems, is hoisting a second banner. Of the 66 NBA champions, only 21 have repeated as winners the following season.

"Simplistically, I think it's harder to repeat," said ESPN analyst P.J. Carlesimo, who was an assistant coach with the Spurs on their championship teams in 2003, '05 and '07. "Obviously, we were on a good run and were never able to solve the repeat part of it."

San Antonio won its first title in 1999 behind Tim Duncan and David Robinson before the Lakers of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant prevailed the next three seasons.

The Spurs' current core of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili then became lords of the rings by beating the New Jersey Nets in the 2003 Finals. Robinson retired after that season and Derek Fisher's 0.4 fling helped the Lakers beat the Spurs in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals.

The Spurs won the title the next year, only to come up short in another repeat bid when they lost a late three-point lead against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the 2006 conference semifinals.

A final attempt by San Antonio at back-to-back championships faltered in 2008 when the Pau Gasol-fortified Lakers beat the Spurs in a relatively breezy five-game conference finals.

San Antonio's roster didn't wildly fluctuate during its championship years, providing stability but also allowing other teams to close the gap in talent.

"If you've won a championship," Carlesimo said, "you've got some veteran players and I think if you're going to err, you're going to err on the side of believing in a guy for another year or not cutting loose a veteran guy."

After winning the first title of the LeBron James era last season, Miami added a veteran in Ray Allen, which proved particularly fortuitous when the sharpshooter's three-pointer from the corner tied the score in the final seconds of regulation in Game 6 on Tuesday.

Defending a championship with older players can come with a downside, though. Wade's balky knee has been a constant source of irritation for the Miami star throughout a playoff run that will include two Game 7s, one more than the Heat needed last year on the way to the title.

The Chicago Bulls won a third consecutive championship -- and a sixth title in eight years -- in 1998 with Scottie Pippen gutting out a back injury that contributed to a six-for-25 shooting effort in the last two games of a Finals series victory over the Utah Jazz.

The first championship of Chicago's second three-peat was perhaps the easiest; the Bulls won a regular-season record 72 games and were 15-3 in the playoffs.

"The next year we struggled; we only won 69" games, deadpanned Bill Wennington, a Bulls center for the last three of those championships.

Not that winning those second and third titles

in a row was easy. Wennington said they required something the first one didn't.

"The focus and getting up for every game is harder to do," Wennington said.

"The little things that start to pop up, it becomes harder the longer you go on to attain that focus and ability to go out there and compete at the top level every night."

Greg Anthony, a TNT analyst and former New York Knicks point guard who came within one victory of a title in 1994 before the Houston Rockets won the final two games of the Finals, said he understands both sides of the championship debate.

"I think they're both difficult for different reasons," Anthony said. "The first one, it's tough because you've never done it. Repeating, you're always going to get the best from everyone you play."

The Heat, one victory from elation and one defeat from despair, could tell you that.




Repeat feats

Of the 66 teams to win an NBA title, 21 have repeated as champions.

Team, years, consecutive titles:

*--* TEAM YEARS CT Minneapolis Lakers 1949-50 2 Minneapolis Lakers 1952-54 3 Boston Celtics 1959-66 8 Boston Celtics 1968-69 2 Lakers 1987-88 2 *--*

*--* Detroit Pistons 1989-90 2 Chicago Bulls 1991-93 3 Houston Rockets 1994-95 2 Chicago Bulls 1996-98 3 Lakers 2000-02 3 Lakers 2009-10 2 *--*

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