From winning the title to getting swept in the first round of the playoffs. That was Miami Heat’s two-year stretch between ’06 and ’07, denoting one of the biggest season-to-season fall-offs the NBA has ever seen. So what went wrong?
I think our hangover was just too long. We celebrated for too long, and we had that target on our back that we wasn’t used to. We were the underdogs, we slid under the rug and got to the Finals, but that following year was like, ‘Hey man, those are the champs, so we got to prove every single night why we’re a better team than them.’Dorell Wright
That’s the burden of winning a championship. Going from hunter to hunted is inevitable, and being the team to beat only adds up to the pressure of living up to last years’ performance. According to Dorrell – the ’06 champion with the Heat – that’s exactly where the breaking point for Miami was.
Having a target on your back is a whole other dynamic. The teams’ preparation process is different, players’ approach to the matchup is different, the overall feel about you is different, and it’s all part of the magnification that comes with the label of an NBA champion. Finding that internal strength to have to go through the whole process again is extremely challenging, and having maximized their opportunity in ’06, Miami wasn’t up for such a challenge.
“I don’t want to say we were surprised that we won, but it just felt so good with everything we went through that year because everything wasn’t all bells and whistles that ’06 year.”Dorell Wright
Going through turmoils and ups and downs that intertwine with the championship run is wearing, and doing it again after you’ve received your piece of validation is demanding, to say the least. It seems that the Heat gave it their all with that ’06 title and simply didn’t have anything left in them to match such a success.
That’s the only thing that makes sense to justify such a fall-off. Because when you compare their season-to-season talent pools and the way they were organized, both teams were pretty much the same. D-Wade was still there, Shaq was still there, guys like Udonis Haslem, Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, The Glove, and Zo were still there, and most importantly, Pat Riley was still there. And sure, their veteran core got a year older, but so did their young guys, with progress and regress balancing each other out.
The only sensible rationalization is that they simply peaked in ’06, and that holding that Miami group to the same standard, later on, was unfair. They became a victim of their one-season wonderness and were never able to reach that bar.