The Heat and the difficulty of making 4 straight NBA Finals trips

Alexander Tamargo

Miami is the favorite to come out of the East yet again next season, which would mark its fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. However, reaching the Finals four straight times has proven difficult throughout history, and it certainly won't be easy for these Heat.

Three years. Three NBA Finals appearances and two championships.

That's what the Big Three of the Miami Heat have accomplished since infamously joining forces in the summer of 2010. There have been some bumps along the way, but it's hard not to call the Heat's grand experiment a success thus far.

Heading into the 2013-14 season, the two-time defending champions are the favorites to make it a three-peat and four straight Finals appearances. Miami was the unanimous No. 1 in an offseason edition of SB Nation NBA's team blogger power rankings, and barring some major injury, they'll likely remain the favorites heading into the postseason regardless of seeding.

However, history isn't exactly on the Heat's side when it comes to their quest of making four straight trips to the Finals. Since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics went to 10 straight Finals, only two teams have made it to the championship round four seasons in a row. Those two teams were Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers from 1982-85 and Larry Bird's Celtics from 1984-87.

It's tough to keep such sustained success going, because there are so many factors that can derail a title run. Health is obviously a huge one, and as it stands, it will be a question mark for Miami. LeBron James may be an indestructible cyborg, but Dwyane Wade is not. Wade has dealt with injury issues the past several years that have affected his postseason performance (much more so last season), and while the Heat will likely do all they can to keep him healthy next season, there are no guarantees.

Improved competition could also throw a wrench into Miami's plans. Looking at the Eastern Conference, the Heat may face their toughest road yet to the Finals. The Indiana Pacers have only gotten better since taking the Heat to seven games in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, boasting an improved bench and a possibly healthy Danny Granger. The Chicago Bulls get Derrick Rose back from his torn ACL, and the Brooklyn Nets have added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko. Even the lower half of the East playoff picture should be better than in years past, with teams such as the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons potentially capable of making the Heat work in a playoff series.

Will the Heat overcome the obstacles and become just the third team since Russell's Celtics to make it to four straight Finals? Or will they stumble and join these following squads who fell short of that lofty accomplishment?

1970-71 Lakers

The Lakers had gotten to the Finals the previous three years ... and lost all three of them. Two of those were to Russell's Celtics, and the third was to the Knicks. In 1970-71, a squad led by Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain went 48-34 and finished first in the Pacific Division.

After dispatching the Bulls in seven games, the Lakers were promptly steamrolled in five by a Milwaukee Bucks team that featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The Bucks won all four of their games by double-digits and went on to sweep the Baltimore Bullets in the Finals.

The Lakers went to the Finals the next two years, but those pesky Bucks ruined what could have been a run of seven straight Finals appearances.

1989-90 Lakers

The Lakers were swept by the Pistons the year before, but they had won two titles in the two years before that. And after a 63-19 regular season behind Magic and James Worthy, it looked like Los Angeles was sure to make it four straight Finals appearances despite losing Abdul-Jabbar to retirement.

But the Lakers were shocked by the Phoenix Suns in five games in the second round. There were no significant injuries in the postseason, and Magic was remarkable, averaging 25.2 points and 12.8 assists. The Lakers just couldn't stop the Suns, who were led by Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers.

Following the early playoff exit, head coach Pat Riley decided to step down.

1990-91 Pistons

The Pistons were in the same position as the Heat, having lost a Finals before winning two in a row. Led by Isiah Thomas, Detroit had dreams of a three-peat, but a wrist injury to Thomas helped derail the team. The Pistons did beat the Hawks and Celtics on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they were no match for Michael Jordan's Bulls.

A healthy Thomas may not have made much difference against Chicago, but he was certainly not his usual self. The Bulls swept away the Pistons, ending one potential dynasty in Detroit and starting another one in Chicago.

That series may best be known for the Pistons refusing to shake hands with the Bulls and walking off the court before the buzzer even sounded in Game 4.

1993-94 and 1998-99 Bulls

Jordan retired. And that was that.

2002-03 Lakers

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant had led the Lakers to a three-peat, and there was little reason to think they couldn't make it four straight titles. However, a toe injury to O'Neal kept him out at the beginning of the year, and the Lakers got off to an 11-19 start.

L.A. rebounded to finish 50-32, but it only managed the No. 5 seed in the West. And after defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves in six games, the Lakers lost in six to the San Antonio Spurs, the eventual champions.

That series loss marked the beginning of the end for the Bryant/O'Neal duo, who would feud the following season, which ultimately helped lead to the big man's departure from Los Angeles.

2010-11 Lakers

The Lakers were going for yet another three-peat after losing to the Celtics in 2008, and they entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the West behind San Antonio. After a first-round series win over the New Orleans Hornets, the Lakers ran into a buzzsaw in the Dallas Mavericks.

The Lakers were swept away by the Mavs, with the season ending in horrific fashion on a Sunday in Dallas. Los Angeles lost Game 4 by 36 points, allowing the Mavs to shoot 60.3 percent from the field.

Dallas, of course, went on to be the only team to eliminate Miami in the last three years.

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