The Miami Heat have started off the 2011-12 campaign with a bang by winning their first three games of the year. This, of course, is much better than the rocky start of last season where Miami struggled to show their combined talents.
Miami has played five straight quarters with efforts below what they are capable of, but they are still pulling off wins in the process. A win is a win in the books no matter how pretty it is.
After dismantling the champion Dallas Mavericks to start the season, they have shown signs of both flaws and perseverance.
Now with that out of the way, what can we expect of a team that is considered to be the early title favorites in the NBA?
My guess is big things...
While some of these expectations are not bold, they are key points and aspects Miami will have to realize and meet to take their game to the next level.
Here are 10 of these expectations, but feel free to add your own via comment.
What can be said about Norris Cole's performance against the Boston Celtics?
Cole faced a tough, veteran team which would rattle most young players, but he managed to put up 20 points, four assists and three big steals off the bench.
To sum it up, I'll use two words: Clutch. Potential.
While many seem to think Cole is the point guard of the future in Miami, he remains a spark off the bench who has the ability to do big things in the NBA.
He was drafted in the perfect situation, surrounded by a star-studded team, and will likely be groomed to be a great fit in the rotation.
Does this sound like anyone in particular?
How about one Rajon Rondo?
No I'm not saying he will be as talented, but there is no reason he can't play the significant role Rondo has for the Boston Celtics.
Joel Anthony. Eddy Curry. Dexter Pittman.
Are we missing something here?
If you said a quality starting center, well, you are correct.
Miami's best frontcourt rotation brings in Udonis Haslem off the bench, however, he is a bit undersized to be an everyday 5-man. Although he is a physical player who brings great intensity, he will not be effective over a whole series guarding an elite center.
Luckily for Miami, there aren't many dominant centers in the game today...
Chris Bosh is a star in the NBA. Say what you want about him being a "third wheel," but he is a multiple-time All-Star who has the talent to average a double-double every season.
While Bosh seemed to be a bad fit for Miami in his first season, he will show the world just why he was signed by the Heat and exactly what he can do.
Being a versatile scorer with the ability to hit jumpers and beat slower defenders off the dribble, Bosh is key for many scenarios in Miami winning a championship. He can make up for a bad game from Wade or James as well as explode for his own memorable performance.
Bosh must focus on what he does best and put the pressure of winning on the back burner. If so, look for him to get the respect he deserves from the fans and media.
Shane Battier is a respectable veteran presence both on and off the floor. He remains a solid signing for Miami who will be a key player down the stretch.
Battier hasn't played significant minutes yet for the Heat, but he's been a gem when on the floor. He has been effective on the defensive end of the floor and will really help spread the offense when called upon.
Although he hasn't been healthy thus far in the season, Battier is a guy who can persevere through tough situations and really be a difference-maker for a contending Miami ball club.
Miami has a young defensive-minded coach who has done a fabulous job in orchestrating the attack. The team consists of some elite defenders and other role players who look great in the role they play.
This is a team who forced Rajon Rondo and the Celtics to turn the ball over an astounding 24 times on Tuesday night. Along with that, Miami swatted eight shots while only allowing four offensive rebounds, a big improvement from last year.
The Heat will find plenty of fast break opportunities based off their speed and efforts defensively which in turn will create instant offense.
Miami does have a weakness at the center position, but any player plugged into the spot is likely to be a defensively-inclined talent more that anything.
The backcourt is filled with guys with quick hands and one of the best shot-blocking shooting guards in NBA history with Dwyane Wade.
Overall, Miami looks like a team with many talents, but will most likely thrive based off tough defense.
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls own the record for best winning percentage in a season at 88 percent on the year. For Miami to tie that record, they can lose no more than eight games.
No, I'm not saying this Heat team is better than those Bulls, but they are currently the best team in the NBA and should win plenty of games in order to secure a top seed throughout the playoffs.
It's three up three down for Miami so far, but they have a long road ahead with many hungry opponents.
Miami has been plagued every time an opposing team decides to play a zone defense. They fail to do anything effective to break the zone and often settle for bad jump shots or become turnover prone.
If Miami wants to win, figuring out a zone-breaker is a must.
Whether it's spreading out the floor with knockdown wing shooters or putting Chris Bosh in the middle, look for the Heat to adjust and figure out a solution to the problem.
If not, we could see another situation similar to what the Heat faced against Dallas who shut them down.
Miami almost blew a big fourth quarter lead against the Celtics, largely based on Boston's ability to frustrate the Heat on offense.
We have heard the jokes about how LeBron James has never been a champion and will only be remembered as a former MVP.
Well if that's the case, this year James will become a three-time NBA MVP.
Simply put, he is the best talent currently in the game. He has the size, strength and speed to brutalize you on either end of the floor and does so every time he steps on the court.
There are many players capable and worthy enough to win an MVP in the league, but look for James to have a monster season and claim his award.
On a side note, I wouldn't be surprised to see teammate Dwyane Wade win the award either.
What was the biggest factor in Miami losing in the NBA Finals and not achieving their goal in year one? Whatever it was, the Heat might face a similar situation again.
While this is the most complete and scary team in the NBA, the fact is they are beatable. The scarier thing is Miami has the ability to beat themselves.
The South Beach team must improve on key areas and continue to grow as a unit. They have weaknesses, but they will need to learn to conquer those based off the strengths of the team.
Plenty of teams are poised and look forward to upsetting the Miami Heat in the playoffs, but the thing is many of them have the talent to do so.
New York possesses Tyson Chandler, who was a humongous factor in knocking off the Heat last season with his defensive work. They also contain two elite scorers who can possibly give Miami trouble in a seven-game series.
Then, of course, you have the Chicago Bulls. This is a team with the reigning MVP and a growing young core who could win in the near future. Along with that, Chicago plays tough defense and should not be looked over when it comes to being a contender.
Miami will win the East and advance to the NBA Finals for redemption, but expect at least one brutal series in the process.
Perhaps just what Miami needs going into the big show...
What else would you expect me to say to end this list?
The Miami Heat are the best team in the NBA and have the talent and poise to win now. They have two of the three best players in the league as well as an underrated supporting cast to back them up.
After a disappointing exit in the NBA Finals last season, Miami will only learn from that and show improved chemistry along the way.
The Heat remain the clear favorite to win a championship this season, and for good reason. With many teams trending upwards and downwards, Miami remains at the top of the ladder when it comes to the team to beat.
Anything besides a championship will be considered a failure for the contending Heat, but I look for them to clinch the second title in the franchise's history.
LeBron will win a ring.
Wade will continue to be the most beloved player in Heat history.
Bosh will prove why he should be considered a legitimate star in the league.
Love 'em or hate 'em, this could be Miami's year to win it all.