Miami Heat: The Once and Future Kings of the NBA
Less than one week after it began, the 2011-'12 NBA season is merely a formality.
Typically, three games is not nearly enough time to come to any sort of conclusion about a team's outlook for an entire season.
In the case of the Miami Heat, normal conventions can be thrown out of the window.
A year later than many had originally expected, the official coronation of the Miami Heat will finally take place this summer. Feel free to pay attention during the regular season, but the show truly won't get underway until sometime in early May.
Mark your calendars now.
The number of games Miami will win during the regular season is irrelevant. The very nature of the compressed schedule this season will cause the Heat to lose to teams that are far less talented.
Why? Because no one can stop them.
The Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics are already showing their age. The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of turmoil. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls represent the only true competition, but both must battle youth and inexperience in order to get to the mountaintop.
The Heat already knows what it takes to get there and if critics are a motivating factor, then Miami has more than enough fuel for their journey.
It's only fitting that Kanye West's "All of the Lights" is the soundtrack for the team's intro video this season.
The blinding, white-hot lights of the NBA have all shone on the Heat ever since James proclaimed he was taking his talents to Ocean Drive some 17 months ago.
But this isn't the same team that was two victories shy of hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy last June. There is a certain inconvenient truth that many are slow to embrace, despite the evidence we've seen thus far this season.
During the lockout, the Miami Heat got better.
Not only does James boast an improved post game, but he's a much more efficient scorer than ever before. Through three games this season, James hasn't even attempted a three-pointer, yet he's still averaging 32.7 points per night.
Wade has been an absolute terror defensively, and has greatly improved his playmaking skills on offense. Bosh added 15-20 pounds to his frame during the offseason—bulk that will allow him to be more physical in the low post.
Even head coach Erik Spolestra improved, taking the lessons learned from last season to craft an entirely new offensive strategy. Miami's "pace and space" attack maximizes the team's opportunities in the transition game—an area in which they excelled in 2010-'11. The new philosophy led to 31 fast-break points against the Dallas Mavericks in the season opener.
Critics will argue the Heat may falter this season after failing to address the center position during free agency. However, according to Hoopdata, Miami held opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage in the league last season in shots attempted at the rim (58 percent).
So with interior defense not an issue and Wade, James and Bosh providing 65 to 70 percent of the scoring output each night, how much more does Miami need from the 5 position?
Point guard is still an area of weakness for the Heat, despite Norris Cole's 20-point coming-out party against the Boston Celtics on Dec. 27.
But again, how much does that really matter? With Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby as its primary ball-handlers, the Heat made it to Game 6 of the NBA Finals last season.
In crucial situations, either James or Wade typically initiate the offense and the point guard is nothing more than a safety valve incase the play breaks down. More than anything, the Heat needs a competent playmaker so Wade and James don't expend too much energy working for baskets during the first three quarters.
The two already spend their fair share of energy on the defensive end, which is why the Heat acquired Shane Battier this offseason. A solid defender who can play multiple positions, Battier will take some of the onus off of Wade and James to guard the opposing team's best wing player.
Even with a 3-0 start, the newly configured Heat is still a work in progress. In fact, their near-loss to the Bobcats might have been their most impressive win to date.
Down by 15 at halftime, Miami looked every bit a team playing its third game in four nights. But at the start of the third quarter, the second inconvenient truth about the Heat became apparent for all to see.
When Miami is playing at its absolute best, there is no other team in the NBA that can match them.
Bosh and James had their way with the Bobcats after intermission, scoring 35 of their 60 points after halftime. But it was Wade who after missing the third quarter due to a bruised left foot, sank a bank shot with 2.9 seconds to go to put the Heat up 96-95.
After hitting the eventual game-winner, Wade turned to Carolina Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton (who was sitting courtside) and emulated Newton's "Superman" touchdown celebration.
Without provocation, James mimicked Wade's gesture. The only thing missing was the phone booth.
Heroic theatrics aside, the Miami Heat are referred to as a "superteam" for a reason. Simply put, the things they can do on the court necessitate the use of superlatives.
By the end of the season, however, there won't be any need to use flowery language when describing the Miami Heat. In fact, two words will suffice.
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