First the constant media attention, then the malaise from the opposing crowds would supercharge opposing teams to play their peak game. In 2012-13, they’ll be getting every team’s best shot merely because they are the world champs.
But Miami didn’t hold serve with their championship roster; rather, they improved upon their small-ball approach around LeBron James with new additions Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. If Miami wasn’t the most flexible team in the league already, their lineup combinations will be aplenty.
On the other hand, the Heat coaching staff has a ton of work ahead of them to sort out this rotation. In addition, the Heat talent has to avoid the championship hangover their predecessors, the Dallas Mavericks, had trouble with.
Obviously, there are more factors in play here, but this step-by-step guide covers the big issues surrounding a Heat repeat bid.
The reinvention of Chris Bosh started with his return in the tail-end of the Eastern Conference Finals. He went from three-point specialist (half-kidding, but 3-4 in pivotal Game 7, no less) to defensive stalwart against Oklahoma City, with a BIG performance that would be perfect for those NBA playoff ads.
The impact of Bosh’s playoff run has altered the Heat’s emphasis on small-ball this offseason from lukewarm to boiling hot. They plan on trotting out more lineups with Bosh at the 5, banking on his magnificent help defense in the finals was no fluke.
In addition, he’ll be able to pull out opposing centers with his shooting ability, granted there are all other wing shooters on the floor (Allen and Lewis will help in this sense). No more long nights of Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard patrolling the paint, unless those two want to let Bosh shoot open 18-footers all night.
The Heat will need experience in these scenarios, though, something that was devoid from the regular season. The total minutes Bosh played center does not come close to the Heat’s most prominent lineup (Chalmers-Wade-James-Bosh-Anthony) in 2011-12.
However, the caveat to this position-less lineup is that LeBron James will be seeing an ample amount of time next to Bosh at power forward. When the two played alongside each other as a 4-5 combination, their defensive points per 100 possessions was a 98 or lower.
The two did not get much playing time in this scenario up to the playoffs, though. That’s what the regular season is for: experience and repetition.
Miami will know what they can get out of Bosh in this slot by the quarter mark of the season.
Erik Spoelstra is widely regarded as an offensive guru in terms of creative offensive sets and use of statistical analysis. There’s no doubt he is in his video cave this offseason, finding out LeBron James' comfort zones in the post.
It will certainly be a fixture of their offense; look no further than Game 4 of the 2012 Finals, in which James was used in post-up possessions 19 times and scored 24 points from those tries, as Zach Lowe notes in The Point Forward.
You can bet that Spoelstra will know where LeBron likes the ball on each side of the block and what moves he likes to use from each spot, if he doesn’t know already. And that's where the problem lies—teams will have the same access to footage to find these same intricacies; it’s up to Spoelstra to stay one step ahead with LeBron’s usage.
By all indications, James frequenting on the block should transform the Heat’s gameplan into an efficient juggernaut with more shooters at his disposal. Defenses will have to choose: LeBron one on one, or guarding a 40 percent jump shot from a rotation player?
For the teams that go with the latter, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers, in particular, will make it an even more difficult choice.
By all accounts, Dwyane Wade’s left knee is surgically repaired. Rested too. A summer of R&R should not be spoiled with a hasty comeback. If Wade overextends himself early in the season, the wear and tear could be too severe down the stretch.
Not to say Wade shouldn’t suit up in the opening game; all the pain in the world wouldn’t keep him out of the home opener against Boston. A cautious watch of his minutes, though, would serve him good as he tries to adjust to the grind of the NBA season on fresh knees.
With the assorted complement of wing players on this roster, there should be no arguments for Wade taking it easy early on. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis need minutes to be able to adjust to their new roles, while Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers can further their development.
Besides, some of the Heat’s most efficient lineups numbers-wise were with Wade on the bench, including two that averaged over 124 points per possession (at least 100 minutes played).
Miami will need Wade’s knees to hold up come playoff time. Any worse condition than last year’s playoffs and a repeat may too much to ask from the supporting cast.
Miami’s new acquisitions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will give them rotation flexibility for the coaching staff to play around with. That is, if they can figure out their personnel between their excess of wing players.
Allen's role in the rotation will not differ too much from what he did in Boston. His defensive shortcomings will keep him out of Miami's defensive lineup; that’s where offense-defense substitutions could be in play between Allen and Shane Battier.
On offense, is where Allen will earn his minutes. The all-time three-point leader will hang around the arc for open looks, including a lot of corner opportunities that are generated through the Heat offense. Before, defenses would sag off on Chalmers or whichever big man Miami had on the floor to double team; now spacing is guaranteed when Allen takes the floor.
That's why when a supporting cast of Allen, Chalmers or Battier on the floor, the efficiency numbers could be unheard of. Allen has been averaging 44 percent on three-point attempts the last two seasons. While Mike Miller and James Jones have a similar talent, they do not provide enough on the defensive end as those three do.
What Miami saw in Lewis, also, was a ton of untapped potential. Even Lewis, who was shooting some of his worst percentages last season, managed to shoot 48 percent between 16 feet and the three-point line. In 2010-11, a heftier sample size, he went 45 percent between 10 feet and the arc and 39 percent on jumpers altogether. He will be an offensive changeup in place of Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem off the bench.
It won’t be an easy first few months figuring out the most efficient groups, but with the Big Three in tow, these aren’t bad problems to have.
While the "LeBron defying the odds" talk that engulfed the national landscape, the fact remains: Miami was fortunate to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.
While Miami rode their smaller lineups to a title, more frontcourt-laden teams in the Western Conference were left at home. The Heat's weakness inside was never truly exposed.
Even though I may be getting ahead of myself here, Miami looks to have gotten better his offseason while no other Eastern Conference opponent gained enough firepower to pose an overpowering threat.
In the West, however, there are a select few teams with the size down low to give the Miami “bigs” a lot of trouble in the paint; the most likely candidates? The Los Angeles Lakers (Bynum and Pau Gasol), San Antonio Spurs (Duncan and Diaw), Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol and Randolph) and Los Angeles Clippers (Griffin and D. Jordan).
The Heat will have to prepare for a ultimate scenario against these bigger foes in case OKC cannot replicate their finals run. All four of those teams mentioned feature an All-Star interior player alongside other top-level talent at other spots.
The Lakers, in particular, pose an interesting threat with their two seven-footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum alongside Kobe Bryant and newly-acquired Steve Nash. That foursome is unmatched compared to whom Miami will see in the Eastern Conference bracket.
The Heat will have to do their homework during the season when they get those few chances to play against the Western elite.