Miami Heat: Still the Team to Beat in NBA Eastern Conference

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Miami Heat: Still the Team to Beat in NBA Eastern Conference
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Miami Heat starters from last year's 2011 NBA Finals loss to Dallas Mavericks.

Following last June's surprise ending to a season so rich in expectation, the Miami Heat started the strike-shortened 2011-2012 NBA campaign as a different team.

The frenzied media coverage following the team's unprecedented 2010 free-agent signings of three of the league's best players quietly dissipated like the morning tide on South Beach.

The brimming confidence emanating from the lips of its star players has been replaced with a guarded optimism articulated with measured words.

The tall, lean, athletic lineup of last year's Heat has been shrewdly upgraded to a slightly taller, leaner and more athletic lineup for this year's reigning Eastern Conference NBA Champion.  

The smug satisfaction of other NBA teams as they witnessed the more ballyhooed Heat fall to the Dallas Mavericks in last year's NBA Finals has unquestionably motivated them. 

Expect the Miami Heat to return to the 2012 NBA Finals in spite of formidable competition from other Eastern Conference foes.

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