Oct 3, 2012, 3:25 PM EST
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.
Dec 8, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
Coming into Saturday night’s game against Dallas, the Blazers had used the top-ranked offense in the league to get out to a 17-3 start to the season, best in the Western Conference. Portland’s defense is ranked just 20th, however, and playing against a Mavericks team whose offense is ranked fourth and can score almost as…
Dec 8, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
The Nets are going through an especially rough time right now, and even mentioning as much seems like a gross understatement of the facts. Brooklyn has lost several of its key players due to injury, including Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, and Jason Terry. Head coach Jason Kidd parted ways with assistant Lawrence Frank…
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 PM EST
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are simply devastating together when the Heat get out in transition, and this highlight from Miami’s easy win over a Timberwolves team playing without Kevin Love is a perfect example. Now of course, a two-on-none fast break will always result in points. But LeBron and Wade often make a spectacle…
Dec 7, 2013, 9:30 PM EST
Remember last season when an idiot fan in Cleveland ran into the court during live game action? Apparently, there are plenty more like him in that lovely city. During the second quarter of Saturday’s contest between the Cavaliers and the Clippers, we once again had a fan walk onto the court while the game was…
Dec 7, 2013, 8:00 PM EST
Luol Deng missed Saturday night’s game against the Pistons with a sore left Achilles, head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed before tip-off. Deng’s status is listed as day-to-day, and it’s not believed to be anything serious. After averaging 48.5 minutes per game over the last two contests thanks to logging 56 minutes in a triple-overtime loss…
Dec 7, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
So, I had this whole thing written and ready about how Sixers coach Brett Brown doesn’t believe that Michael Carter-Williams is injury-prone, despite the fact that after sitting out Saturday, the rookie will have missed six of his team’s first 21 games. But then the news broke that Carter-Williams had been hospitalized with a bacterial…
Dec 7, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
Kobe Bryant will take the court on Sunday against the Raptors, seeing his first action of the season since suffering a torn Achilles injury this past April. The buzz surrounding Bryant’s long-awaited debut continued at the Lakers practice facility on Saturday, when Mike D’Antoni answered questions about how much Bryant will play, at what level,…
Dec 7, 2013, 3:31 PM EST
It’s all on Jason Kidd now. Lawrence Frank is gone as a scapegoat, Kidd is in charge of the ship — a 5-14 ship with the worst defense in the NBA. You can see how bad the defense is by looking at the stats, where you see the Nets give up a league-worst 108.6 points…
Dec 7, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
Kyrie Irving has been far from the dominating, game-changing point guard he showed capable of last season, and people around the league are beginning to take notice. He’s had games where he’s put up some decent numbers, but has done so inefficiently in recent weeks. After an 0-9 performance in Cleveland’s blowout loss to the…
Dec 7, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
If you’ve only been paying cursory attention to the NBA in its early stages this season, you may not have noticed the rise of the Portland Trail Blazers. But following Friday night’s 130-98 pasting of the Utah Jazz, Portland now has a record of 17-3 — the best in a very deep Western Conference. Guys…
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
The Knicks have won two straight in blowout fashion, looking a little like last year’s club with the hot three-point shooting and briefly returning some sense of sanity to the team and its fan base. The media has yet to catch up, however, as the reports and rumors continue to fly about Carmelo Anthony‘s future…
Dec 7, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
The Knicks rolled the Magic 121-83 on Friday to earn a much-needed second straight victory, but Orlando rookie Victor Oladipo came up with at least one play that was worthy of the highlight reel. As Carmelo Anthony drives the lane for what looks to be a certain slam, Oladipo rises up and rejects him at…
Dec 7, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
Kobe Bryant‘s return — and the Lakers’ decision to announce it with a video on Facebook of Kobe’s jersey — is the focus of the latest edition of NBC’s ProBasketballTalk Podcast with myself and Eyton Shander of NBC Sports Radio. We talk about what this means for the Lakers, both in the short-term this season…
Dec 6, 2013, 11:47 PM EST
Russell Westbrook wasn’t the only one showcasing his range under pressure on Friday. Paul Millsap of the Hawks heaved a shot from well beyond half court to beat the first quarter buzzer against the Cavaliers, and it found nothing but the bottom of the net. We’d like to tell you that this particular heave mattered…
Dec 6, 2013, 10:31 PM EST
Anytime a player on either team hits a shot from a distance that borders on the absurd, the announcers on the telecast seemingly can’t wait to break out the local references in describing just how far away the attempt actually was. In this case, we had Russell Westbrook hitting a shot from near halfcourt to…
Dec 6, 2013, 9:23 PM EST
Ray Allen couldn’t do it. Neither could Reggie Miller or Stephen Curry or any of the other three-point marksman you can name. Kyle Korver has now made a three in 90 consecutive games, breaking the record Dana Barros set in 1996. He did it midway through the first quarter from above the break on the…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:52 PM EST
Otto Porter, the No. 3 pick of the Washington Wizards and the guy seen as their small forward of the future, could make his NBA debut Friday night. Porter, who strained his hip flexor in September and missed all of training camp and the start of the season, is active for the Wizards Friday night…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:04 PM EST
Kobe Bryant decided to stay home from Sacramento, but he will be in the Lakers lineup Sunday night against Toronto. Steve Nash went with the Lakers up to Sacramento after a week of limited practices but nobody has any idea when we will see him. Or even if we ever will. Nash spoke with reporters…
Dec 6, 2013, 5:23 PM EST
Kobe Bryant’s jersey has faced snow, rain and wind. Yet, it’s endured. That’s the lesson I took from the above video, which Kobe posted to Facebook today. Oh, and that Kobe will return Sunday against the Raptors. I guess he’s been through a lot, too. Sunday will mark just 240 days since he tore his…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:59 PM EST
Kevin Love will not suit up Saturday night when the Timberwolves host the Miami Heat for the one time this season. Love’s grandmother has passed away and he is not with the team right now. Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter said Friday Love will not play Saturday, tweets the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Timberwolves…
- Report: Jason Kidd safe as Nets coach until team gets healthy 1
- League execs on Kyrie Irving’s recent struggles: ‘He’s pouting’ 24
- Report: Knicks have ‘zero intention’ of trading Carmelo Anthony 12
- PBT Podcast for Dec. 7: Kobe’s back and for the Lakers that means…. 8
- Kobe Bryant returning Sunday against Raptors 22
- LeBron says Wade is “getting that Kobe deal” in next contract. Should he? (64)
- Dwight Howard frustrated with Rockets’ effort in recent losses (48)
- Kobe Bryant dunks, looks good in Lakers practice; Friday return possible (45)
- Michael Beasley finding a role, groove in Miami (44)
- The Extra Pass: Our awards at the quarter pole, plus Monday recaps (42)