LeBron James' Postgame Will Lead Miami Heat to an NBA Championship

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IJanuary 4, 2012

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 27:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat stands on the court during a game against the Boston Celtics at American Airlines Arena on December 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It certainly couldn't have been worse than last year's dreadful start to the NBA season for the Miami Heat.

This 5-1 start doesn't even compare to that 9-8 nightmare from last year when trade talks were already popping up. The most critics could complain out thus far is the team needing last second shots to beat Minnesota and Charlotte, and losing to the Atlanta Hawks thanks to a zone defense.

For one, it doesn't matter how much you win by. That's possibly the worst criticism you could make of a team. It doesn't matter if the win was by two or 20, it's a win either way.

Secondly, give credit to the Atlanta Hawks. Their zone defense definitely threw off the Heat, but it takes more than a gimmick defense to beat Miami since you also need to beat out a strong defense. Luckily for Atlanta, Tracy McGrady played like it was 2005 again and had one of his best games since he was still with Houston.

Otherwise else, it's been a great start to the season for the Heat. They got redemption against the Dallas Mavericks, beat their conference rivals in the Boston Celtics, won by 39 points against Charlotte, and proved just how clutch they could in their victories against Boston, Charlotte and Minnesota.

So what exactly is the difference from the team of the 2010-'11 season and the one of the 2011-'12 campaign?

It starts at the core where Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James have all elevated their games over the extended offseason. These three recognize that they're the driving force to this team. They know that if they win or lose, it's going to come down on their shoulders. With their loss in the NBA Finals, these three all made a vow to improve and we've already seen great strides.

Dwyane Wade got leaner and stronger over the offseason. By reducing his body fat level to below four percent, he has made himself equipped for this arduous 66 game season that is set to feature a myriad of back-to-back's and stretches where teams will have to play three games in three nights.

Nearing 30 years old, Wade made the right move in improving his overall health. He plays a risky style of basketball that usually showcases him driving to the rim with full force and then using all of his strength to finish over the taller, stronger defenders. His jump shot has been limited since a series of injuries ruined his wrist a few years back, but his prolific driving game has continued to support him.

Unfortunately for Wade, a bruised foot has been hampering over the past few games. After consecutive games where he scored 20 plus, he's gone three out of the past four games with 19 points or less.

Chris Bosh has been one of the greatest stories out of Heat camp. He was forced to endure a tough 2010-11 season where he was ruthlessly criticized for pretty much being a part of the Miami Heat. His passive play was also the subject of criticism as many deemed it to be "soft."

Despite averaging 18 points and eight boards per as a third option, no one was happy with his first year on the Heat.

Following the lockout, Bosh returned to training camp noticeably larger in his upper body than previous years. He was adamant about playing more aggressive and even stated that he would play center if he needed to. He's transitioned that aggressive style to the season as well. Long jumpers are hardly seen as we now see him taking it at a rate equal to his days with the Toronto Raptors.

Aside from a slow start in Dallas, Bosh has scored 19 points or better in five of the Heat's six games. He also managed to pull off one of the best poster dunks of the season on the Charlotte Bobcats D.J. White.

But what about that other Heat player that took all the flack for their loss in the NBA Finals? You remember him. It's the one that averaged 17 points per game, had eight points in a close loss, and only scored two points in the entire fourth quarter. He stayed out of the news for awhile so you may have forgotten, but it's LeBron James who I'm talking about.

James didn't deserve it, but the Finals loss all came upon his shoulders. Why wouldn't it either? The two-time MVP played so well in the Eastern Conference playoffs that we expected to see the same player in the NBA Finals. For game one and a small part of game two, we did experience that James, but that all took a turn for the worse later on.

Dallas got into James' head and they found out how to throw him out of his game. They ran a zone defense to limit his drives and forced him into long jumpers and post ups. Long jumpers should be out of James' repertoire, but how could a post game not be included in his skill set? He's 6'8" and 270 pounds of muscle, there's no possible way he could have forgotten to add on a post game.

As you can tell by the lack of a championship banner hanging from the rafters at the American Airlines Arena, he did. Guarded by the likes of Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and DeShawn Stevenson in the post, James playing with his back to the basket was as awkward as a middle school dance. He had no repertoire whatsoever and once the Mavericks found this out, it was all over.

So what did James do? He worked on it. He reached out to renowned post player Hakeem Olajuwon  over the offseason and got some tips on how to improve his back to the basket game. It was a great move by James not to make headlines this offseason, and it was even better knowing that he spent it improving his game rather than sulking about the Finals loss.

Olajuwon has done work with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard in the past. Both players showed immediate improvement in their games as Bryant now finds himself as one of the league's top post threats for guards, while Howard is coming off a season where he averaged a career high 22 points per game.

In six games, we've all see how LeBron's work with Hakeem Olajuwon has transitioned to an actual NBA game. It turns out that James has become an even more complete player than ever before, as that practice has appeared to pay off thus far. Don't think it's all about strength either, James is performing post moves that any player could pull off if they have the footwork.

Against everyone of his opponents, James has attempted to use his post game and it has usually paid off in the form of two points. He's finally recognizing the power and talent that he possesses when he's in the post and he's beginning to use that to his advantage against his smaller, weaker opponents.

If James can harness this post game and begin to use it as a large part of his game, the Miami Heat become immediate favorites to win a championship. It's already difficult enough to play James man-to-man on the perimeter, and it would only make it so much worse for the Heat's opponents if James can use his frame to his advantage in a different way.

In order to play efficient team basketball, you need to have everyone thriving off of each other. Because the Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on their side, that means opponents will have to focus all of their attention on those three rather than having it spread out to all five other players. That's the risk you have to take when you play a squad with three prolific scorers.

At the moment, the Heat may find themselves in a bind because of the zone defense. The Atlanta Hawks used it two nights ago and it worked wonders as the Heat found themselves jacking up long distance shot after long distance shot. That type of defense is specifically created to limit the slashers and drivers like Wade and James.

The only reason you don't see it in the NBA is because of the elite shooters that NBA squads possess, who can easily break the zone.

The Heat can't play into their opponents defense, they must find ways to break it as soon as possible. In order for this to happen, you need to either find shooters who can consistently make their shots or get as close to the rim without having to drive. Since the Heat currently lack on shooters that can play on both sides of the ball, that means posting up becomes a necessity.

That's where LeBron James, as well as Wade and Bosh, need to step it up. NBA teams are going to begin recognizing that this team doesn't play well against the zone. The Heat can't run fast breaks all night, at some time they're going to have to win games in a half-court setting where they can consistently score against any type of defense.

In order to do so, James will have to begin working his game inside without having to drive. That means he's going to have to begin posting up more than he's had to in his entire NBA career. If breaking something as simple as a zone defense means having James post up more than usual, so be it since he's ready to do anything to win a championship, even if it means playing out of his comfort zone.

James has already made great strides in his post game already, and we expect that trend to continue for the rest of the season. The only way to possibly limit this Heat team is to force them to play the traditional style of basketball, which means limiting their fast breaks and making them play in a half-court setting.

This is standard basketball. These players have been playing that style since they first began playing organized basketball, and it's not going to stop anytime soon either. Zone's are only used at the NCAA level because of the lack of quality, consistent shooters. There's no reason why the Heat should be suffering at the hands of a defense that they stopped playing against years ago.

The Heat need to find a way to counter that, which means post up's are going to have to be made early and often. James might not be able to break through two lines of defense, but he sure can get a lot closer if he sets himself up near the rim by using his strength to post up against the many smaller defenders he'll be set to face off against this season.

Miami is a consistent post player away from winning a title. Once again, this all comes upon the wide shoulders of James, and if he is ready to take his game to the next level.


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