The Miami Heat, led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, were perhaps an incomplete success story. While they, along with Chris Bosh, promised “not one, not two, not three” championships in a bold press conference upon announcing the superteam, and while four NBA Finals appearances in as many years is impressive, fans perhaps expected more than two rings from the powerhouse roster.
Overall, the Heat were very good, going 58-24 in 2011, 46-20 (a 57-25 pace in the shortened lockout season) in 2012, and 54-28 in 2014. But a 58-win peak isn’t exactly the stuff of NBA legend. None of those seasons were better than what had previously been the Heat’s franchise record for wins in a season when they went 61-21 in 1997, the peak of the rough-and-tumble Pat Riley-coached years for the squad.
But 2013? 2013 was everything Miami fans and even their star players hoped for in the summer of 2010.
How dominant were the 2013 Heat? Let’s look at the second title team in more detail and find an answer, shall we?
The On-Court Record
66-16. Same record as the 2008 Celtics. The kind of record that comes along only when the best teams peak. That was how good the 2013 Heat were, finally putting it together over the course of 82 games in a way no other team in franchise history going back to 1988 had.
Miami cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping Milwaukee in the first round and beating Chicago in five games in Round 2.
They then ran into two teams who themselves had real shots at the title if it weren’t for LeBron and company peaking at the right time.
Indiana, with Danny Granger and Paul George, took them seven games in the conference finals, and then San Antonio took them the distance in the Finals. And if it hadn’t been for Ray Allen‘s legendary 3-pointer with five seconds left in regulation after fans had started filing out of the building when Miami trailed 94-89 with 28 seconds to play, the Heat would’ve lost the series on their home floor.
But none of that matters, because unlike plenty of teams that have put up gaudy regular-season records and then choked it all away in the postseason (the 2016 Warriors, 2009 Cavs, and 2007 Mavericks all wave hello), Miami capped off a fantastic regular season by actually winning the chip.
Interestingly, the Heat got one other industrial-sized break in 2013. Their previous year’s Finals opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder, had gone 60-22, but OKC’s Net Rating (plus-9.8) was actually best in the league, as they were first on offense and fourth on defense. Miami was second and ninth, finishing with the second-best Net Rating.
But they won the games, and more importantly, Patrick Beverley had changed the course of NBA history when he took out Russell Westbrook‘s leg in the second quarter of Game 2 in the first round. On paper, the Thunder were a better team than the Heat—would they have beaten Miami in a Finals rematch?
The world never got to find out. And Miami, playing the teams they got in front of them, beat those teams for the title.
The Featured Players
LeBron James put up a you-gotta-be-kidding-me 9.9 VORP on the 2013 Heat, throwing in a mind-blowing .322 WS/48 while he was at it. Depending on which version of advanced stats you like, that basically translated into LeBron winning something like 19 or 20 games for Miami by himself and somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 to 15 more than the Heat would’ve been expected to win with a league-average small forward.
There’s a big difference between 51 to 53 wins and 66. LeBron’s legacy got a huge boost from the stat sheet that year.
Speaking of guys who were better than league average, the .192 and .175 WS/48 from Wade and Bosh respectively were worth another nine wins relative to league average or so, and Wade’s 3.8 and Bosh’s 2.1 VORP made them worthy All-Stars on the 2013 team.
And for icing on the cake, when Ray Allen is the fourth-best player on your team, and when seven guys post 0.8 VORP or better—Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, and Shane Battier all achieved that mark in addition to the Big Four—that just screams “title contender.”
Were there some awful guys on the Heat? Sure. Norris Cole put up a wretched 7.9 PER, .015 WS/48, and minus-1.2 VORP as one of the worst rotation-minutes players in the entire league, Rashard Lewis did little to justify the veteran-minimum contract that would be the last money earned of his career, and other than Chris Andersen, nobody could do a thing with the ball in their hands other than James, Wade, Bosh, and Allen, but Miami had good defensive role players and that’s all they needed.
Erik Spoelstra has had just two losing seasons as coach of the Heat since he took over in 2008.
The 2014-15 team went 37-45 after LeBron skipped town and went back to Cleveland. Bosh played just 44 games as the blood clots that ended his career took hold. Goran Dragic couldn’t stay healthy, playing in just 26 games, and that meant Miami had to give 23 starts to Cole, who stunk out the joint and ended up with .027 WS/48. That “dropoff from LeBron to league average” came in the person of Luol Deng, who posted 1.2 VORP and just 5.4 WS and .108 WS/48 (contrast LeBron’s 19.3 WS in 2013.)
Can’t blame the coach for a roster that was utterly knackered from losing its superstar and running into massive injury and illness problems.
The other losing season Spo suffered was 2019, a lost season with a constantly-complaining Hassan Whiteside, a not-ready-for-prime-time Bam Adebayo, and Wade getting more focus than sense may have called for because it was his farewell tour.
The next year, Miami made the Finals, and much like Tyronn Lue with the Clippers a year later, Spoelstra came into his own as a coach and not just as LeBron’s perceived sideline puppet.
Some teams, any fool can coach. But Erik Spoelstra is nobody’s fool, and he deserves a measure of credit for managing the egos and talents of a team that could just as easily have imploded in that Finals Game 6 and limped home with nothing.
The 2006 title team deserves mention of its own, even if Mavericks fans will swear up and down that the referees and the league stole that title from them. Wade’s legacy was secure before LeBron even arrived, and winning the championship alongside Shaquille O’Neal is a big part of the reason why Wade’s own ego didn’t become a potential chemistry problem in Miami a few years later.
That ’97 team deserves mention as well, because it was a case of unfortunate timing. The Heat lost in five games to the Chicago Bulls, who followed up their 72-10 1996 campaign with a 69-13 season that was nearly every bit as dominant and which would be any other franchise in the league’s best year but is just Chicago’s second-best. It was that team that gave the world the “Alonzo Mourning acceptance meme” beloved of social media.
And, of course, the 2020 team, which made the Finals in the COVID bubble, showed what happens when you ship out one petulant star and…bring in another one? Jimmy Butler wasn’t exactly a team-first guy in Minnesota or Philadelphia, and when he was in Chicago he was something of a background figure compared to guys like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. But he did take the Heat back to the Finals, itself an impressive accomplishment.
But really, any discussion of Miami’s franchise peak has to include the LeBron years—James is second in WS in franchise history behind only Wade—and the best of those was 2013.
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