The Miami Heat are going into All-Star weekend with the league's best record at 27-7. They lead the league in offense averaging 103.7 PPG and just shut down Jeremy Lin and the high powered New York Knicks that had been receiving non stop media coverage since his emergence.
When Lin and the Knicks came into Miami on Thursday, the pressure and excitement surrounding the team proved to be a little too much to handle. Something the Heat can empathize with since they faced similar circumstances in just about every game they played last year.
The Heat are firing at all cylinders with constant fast-break points, lock-down defense and have all but dominated their opponents in the last two weeks leading up the break. They have managed to win eight straight games and all by double digits. This is what we expected from them, right?
There were many unreasonable predictions made by the media heading into last season, including Jeff Van Gundy saying they would break every record. No matter how much skill a team has, facing those kind of expectations and exceeding them is a hard task.
The Heat came within two games of winning a championship in their first season together, but many considered the outcome a failure. This team was built to win championships. "Not one, not two, not three.."
Through all the trials and tribulations, the Heat are proving this year exactly what they had envisioned when they came together in the frenzy that surrounded free agency in the summer of 2010.
Many factors came into play to why the Heat failed to win the title last year and struggled at times. There were doubts if LeBron James and Dwyane Wade could exist on the same team, whether Chris Bosh was tough enough, if Erik Spoelstra should be the head coach and if the team had the right bench players to compete at the elite level that was expected.
This year, most of those questions have been answered in the first 34 games of the shortened 66-game season. James and Wade seem to make the top 10 ESPN highlights nightly with their play together.
Spoelstra spent the offseason learning from his mistakes from last season, tweaking his offense to be more fast-paced, inspired by non other than the Oregon football head coach, Chip Kelly.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Miami's success this year is the health of both Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. With constant nagging injuries that kept both Haslem and Miller out of the Heat lineup for most of last season, Pat Riley never really got to see what he anticipated when putting together the pieces he felt could fit best. Now that both players are healthy and with the addition of Shane Battier, we are witnessing what a key component bench play is to the Heat's success thus far.
While the Heat still have a long way to go in achieving the goal set forth by LeBron in winning multiple championships, it's becoming apparent that the plan Pat Riley pitched to him during the free agency period is actually coming into fruition.