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NBA Season Preview: Miami Heat

Oct 3, 2012, 3:25 PM EDT

Miami Heat player LeBron James hoists the championship trophy as team mate Dwyane Wade looks on stage at a rally in Miami, Florida Reuters

Last season: It was not flawless, but it was superb. It was not easy, but it was rewarding. And it was not what they thought it would be, but it was spectacular.

The Miami Heat accomplished all of their goals in the 2012 season, that being the only goal they had: win the title. They vanquished Boston after going down 3-2, they overcame injuries to Dwane Wade and Chris Bosh, and maybe most notably, LeBron James silenced every critic of his game with arguably the best seven games of his career.

So yeah, it was a pretty good year.

Miami still had to make adjustments along the way. They discovered that instead of a steady diet of the Big 3, LeBron James needed the ball to start every possession. They found that smallball was their best attack, because it emphasized their speed. And they found that their defense was at its best when it was forcing turnovers. They had moments where they looked overwhelmed, a shell of what they were supposed to be, particularly Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

But they rose, again and again, on the back of James who went to the post and played point-forward-center, controlling the offense, scoring for himself and creating. There was nothing anyone could do when he got into that mode.

The Heat are a long way from the “not six, not seven…” standard they set for themselves. But it was validation of all the criticism they suffered, and a certification of their team concept. Now they just have to go out and do it again.

And again. And again…

Key Departures: No one. The core of the team is intact. James-Wade-Bosh-Battier-Chalmers-Haslem-Anthony-Cole-Miller-Jones are all back. Ronny Turiaf departed but by the end, the Heat had largely abandoned the concept of a center anyway.

Key Additions: Oh, you know, only arguably the best three-point shooter in history, Ray Allen. That guy.

They also added Rashard Lewis as another veteran perimeter threat.

Three keys to the Heat season:
1) Can age sustain the velocity? Erik Spoelstra went to Pat Riley last year and advocated for an approach to use speed and athleticism to push the Heat to a new level. It worked out brilliantly, despite Riley’s hesitance towards going away from traditional big men.

This year, the Heat have pledged to be faster than ever, and Chris Bosh says he’s accepted his role at center. Dwyane Wade is recovering from surgery, Ray Allen’s admitted that his ankle isn’t 100 percent, and much of the roster is getting up there in years. Is a fast way to play going to be conducive to keeping them healthy? Even with a move away from physicality and grinding and more into a wide-open style, there’s still the essential problem of contact and impact at high velocity.

It remains to be seen if the Heat’s best approach can be sustained by a roster that doesn’t feature many spring chickens.

2) LeBron keeping his edge. He’s reached the top of Olympus, took King Arthur’s sword and took control of the Matrix. Will James have the same edge he did at the last year, playing desperately?

Bear in mind that there’s often a slide-back after you win a title because you recognize that you’re playing for June now. The regular season become less important due to the comfort that you know how to accomplish your goal. Will James want to pursue that bruising inside game for even half the season? And if he abandons the post for his perimeter game to save is body, will he be able to slide right back into it?

Most important is if James stays hungry. He’s accomplished it all. He’s on top of the NBA globe right now, only his road to a repeat is that much harder with the Lakers and an ever-developing Thunder. Will be be able to keep his mind focused on getting better and staying on top or will he coast on his laurels. We’ve seen that the Heat go as LeBron does.

So how will LeBron go?

3) Can the shooters stay hot? Shane Battier has never been a great three-point shooter, and yet he absolutely killed both Boston and Oklahoma City in the playoffs, enough for fans to grumble a bit about flukes. Mike Miller has been falling apart for years, physically, and yet nailed enough threes to destroy OKC.

Their four primary shooters, Battier, Miller, Allen, and Rashard Lewis are all well over 30. Allen and Miller have injury issues. Lewis hasn’t been effective since 2009. And Battier’s never been reliable from deep. Do they have enough balance? Mario Chalmers is likely to keep improving, but when those shots don’t fall and the defense packs the paint to deter James and Wade’s driving, the offense stalls.

For the Heat to be in the elite offensive category, they need those guys to keep shooting well. And that’s a tall order when you look at their age, despite their career accomplishments.

What Heat fans should fear: Injury, injury, injury.

Dwyane Wade still isn’t 100 percent and may never be… again, ever. Chris Bosh is recovering. Mike Miller feels good enough to play, because he didn’t get back surgery that he needed. Ray Allen says his ankle is an ongoing problem. The list goes on and on. The Heat are always one major injury from falling way behind, and just because they managed to survive last year on the back of LeBron doesn’t mean it’ll be enough this year with a tougher slate than ever.

Every team worries about injuries, but the Heat worry about them a little bit more.

How it likely works out: The Heat have not gotten the top overall seed in the Triad era. This may be their best chance with the Bulls without Derrick Rose. They don’t need it, though, and will be more likely to coast for long stretches and rest players. But for all the questions of their longevity and sustainability, this is still the established team in the league, the defending champions with the best player in the league.

There is no reason to think the Heat will not win the Eastern Conference for the third year in a row. What happens after that is an entirely more complicated question, and one we’ll need to address throughout the year as it evolves.

Prediction: 60-22: The Heat finally crack the 60-mark in the Triad era, but don’t do anything outlandish. A great team, but one still with flaws whose stars miss too many games to win it all. Their offense still stagnates and their bench never gives them enough of a boost to overcome a bad night from the starters. But a small step forward for the best team in the East behind a kinder schedule and the addition of Allen.

  1. passerby23 - Oct 3, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    I think that’s a perfect analysis of the Heat.

  2. cantonbound13 - Oct 3, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    Good idea not allowing Kurt to write this. He’d predict 82-0.

  3. dysraw1 - Oct 3, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    there’s an asterisk next to this championship, the Heat have proven nothing, its not the fact that it was a strike shorten yr. i still don’t buy that they beat an OKC. who dealt the roughest west teams lost. like i said before undeniable yet questionable champs

    • southbeachtalent - Oct 3, 2012 at 5:01 PM

      “like i said before undeniable yet questionable champs”

      oxyMORON

    • miamatt - Oct 3, 2012 at 5:07 PM

      Yeah, I guess a “gentleman’s sweep” wasn’t enough. The Heat will have to make it a full-on four game sweep next time. A close five game series is still a five game series, i.e., the same length the Knicks-Heat series went.

      And I know that this is a blog and the replys are blog comments, but c’mon, your sentences and your inexplicable period placement puts you on about a 2nd grade education in my book. Take that asterisk and stick it up your A$$.

      • passerby23 - Oct 3, 2012 at 9:34 PM

        You might want to spell REPLIES (not replys) properly. I don’t care what you guys are arguing about, but when someone criticizes someone for having a second-grade education and then misspells obvious words in the same sentence, it just looks bad.

    • hehateme2 - Oct 4, 2012 at 1:32 PM

      Gotta be the dumbest comment I’ve seen in a while…. and that’s saying alot. Living in such a delusional state must be scary for you. Go seek the help you need.

  4. liljere24 - Oct 3, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    You Must have broken Kurt’s heart writing this article instead of him

  5. liljere24 - Oct 3, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    How do you not mention the Celtics as a threat? The C’s are loaded and WILL give them a run for their money. If you think the Heat are cruising to another title you are sadly mistaken.

    • passerby23 - Oct 3, 2012 at 9:48 PM

      Surprisingly, all the talk was previously about how old the Celtics are. Yes, they’re still old, but they are adding some young bodies – Sullinger, Lee, Christmas, Joseph, Green. They will get Bradley back.

      The Heat, meanwhile, got older with Lewis and Allen and pretty sure Mike Miller is playing in a 60-year old man’s body. The points about Wade’s and Allen’s bodies is well taken as Boston’s depth is superior to Miami’s. Health will dictate who the better team is.

      Boston is just the kind of team that gives the Heat trouble: a stifling defense, a slow pace, a PG who can create, and veteran players. OKC’s uptempo game played right into the Heat’s hands. I think the Lakers would be a tough matchup for the Heat too.

    • hehateme2 - Oct 4, 2012 at 1:32 PM

      the celts are not more than a doormat to step over… as usge

  6. rodge1 - Oct 3, 2012 at 6:40 PM

    dysraw1 and liljere24 are morons.

  7. biggestredmiami - Oct 3, 2012 at 11:18 PM

    Mike Miller did not NEED that surgery, he opted to rehab it, which was an option. It’s better for him in the long run. You can’t expect Spo to throw him out there immediately when they have Allen and Lewis now. This is key for the Heat because with all the vets on the roster, he may be the most rested one come June, which now we know is Mike Miller’s healthy month.

  8. mungman69 - Oct 4, 2012 at 6:11 AM

    Miami is the best team in the East, period. They will coast to the finals. Then it will become interesting.

    • passerby23 - Oct 4, 2012 at 7:53 PM

      I still like Miami to get to the Finals, but the East got a lot better than it was last year. They will have some tests before getting to the Finals. The Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, and Sixers all got better. I think Miami will rip through whoever the 8th seed is, but a second round matchup and potentially the Celtics in the ECF are no pushovers. And I think the Lakers are a terrible matchup for the Heat.

  9. miamatt - Oct 4, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    Heat-peat!!!

  10. michaeljordanseviltwin - Oct 4, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Tougher slate than ever? The Heat have the easiest schedule in the league this year thanks to their terrible division. And they aren’t one injury away from disaster either. This team, for once, is deep. 10 guys deep.

    • passerby23 - Oct 4, 2012 at 8:06 PM

      That’s a good point. They are in an awful division that should allow them to pile up wins. I agree with you an injury (unless it’s Lebron) is not disaster for the Heat, but they did get older and the other playoff teams did get better.

      Assuming the starting five is Chalmers, Wade, James, Haslem, Bosh:

      I don’t know what to make of their bench. Certainly, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis seem good on paper, but that’s 30 seasons of mileage on those legs between the two of them. Lewis has put up pedestrian numbers the last few seasons and now the news that Allen’s ankle may be a recurring issue have to be concerns. Then there’s the 500 injuries Mike Miller has. Battier had a good playoff run which overshadowed his sub-par regular season, and now he’s older. Cole is a good spark off the bench. That leaves Joel Anthony who can give them 10-15 minutes a game. The rest are rookies or non-impact journeymen. I think the jury is still out on their bench. Could be pretty solid or suddenly suspect.

  11. KOBEshigawa - Oct 15, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    It’s scary to think how good the Heat COULD be if Ray Allen and Mike Miller stay healthy, and Rashard Lewis has anything left. On paper, other teams might have the edge in terms of talent (Lakers, Boston, OKC), but LeBron is playing at such an extremely high level right now that I don’t know how the Heat are anything but prohibitive favorites to repeat.
    http://thegreatmambino.blogspot.com/2012/09/miami-heat-season-preview.html

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