I'll go ahead and get this out of the way: I think the Miami Heat will repeat as NBA champions. That being said, this is in no way going to be an easy task. Actually, you could say it's going to be harder than last season.
We know what Miami brings to the table. The team features three All-Star players, one being the league's best player in LeBron James. Along with that, the Heat have plenty of veteran role players and evolving guard that round up a superb and rather complete roster.
With that in mind, most of the Heat's obstacles do not come from within themselves. Instead, it stems from the fierce competition that the Heat are bound to meet in the playoffs. Current contenders are getting stronger while new ones emerge which could spell trouble for the defending champions.
Miami doesn't have many internal issues as they are a well-meshed team with a sure-fire game plan, but this road is not going to be easy by any means.
Let's check out Miami's seven biggest obstacles to another championship run.
They met Miami in the Finals last season, right? This team will only get better next season with age and could be due for a rematch fairly soon.
First and foremost, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook must learn their respective roles in order to win a championship.
Too often we witnessed Westbrook take over a game in crunch time. He was phenomenal in Game 4 against Miami but put up lackluster performances with way too many shots otherwise.
On the other hand, Durant averaged 30.6 points on 55 percent shooting, for the entire series. Wouldn't logic say you go more often to the best scorer in the NBA? Looking at those numbers, it seems like something went wrong there.
James Harden also has to find his flow in big games. He pulled a disappearing act after Game 2 and never seemed to find his touch. This team is built around a big three offensively and has the tendency to falter without optimal production from them.
If they are clicking, they can put on a competitive series with Miami. They are solid defensively and can run the floor with the frantic Heat pace.
I'll bank on a rematch this season, but the same results won't be as easy.
Dwyane Wade could be one of the toughest players in the game of basketball today, but at what point will these nagging injuries catch up? After another knee surgery in the offseason, you have to wonder just how long the 30-year-old can stay in his prime.
This is nothing new for Wade. He has had numerous surgeries and injuries before yet always seems to bounce back into tip-top shape. As long as his explosiveness remains, the All-Star remains one of the most dangerous players in the NBA.
Of course, having a player like LeBron James to carry the majority of regular season responsibilities never hurts either. Wade should use this to his advantage to focus on staying healthy for the playoffs.
Miami could make a playoff run with a hampered Wade but is the championship favorite with him at full health. If his nagging injuries continue, it could obviously be a big blow to a title repeat.
Besides the big three, Miami didn't have a consistent player at all last season. It would be Mario Chalmers one game and Shane Battier the next, but this team could use that comfortable fourth option.
With this problem last year, the Miami front office clearly took it into focus and signed future Hall of Famer Ray Allen. He's a perfect fit for the Heat off the bench based on his ability to spread the floor and put up bulk points.
Besides Allen, Miami will still need consistent efforts from other players. Expect Battier's defense to be a factor, but having guys like Chalmers and Norris Cole produce nightly will be key, deep in the playoffs.
The injury to Chris Bosh showed Miami's need for another consistent threat, but Allen might be the missing piece to this puzzle.
Through a brutal seven-game series, the Heat were tested by the veteran Celtics and eventually fell in a 3-2 hole. Miami eventually used superior talent to advance, but this was easily the hardest series the Heat faced all year.
The Celtics are still a contending team that drastically improved this offseason. They brought in more depth with sixth man Jason Terry and Courtney Lee and picked up some nice draft picks in Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.
With Rajon Rondo taking the driver's seat this season, he will lead a group filled with veterans and solid role players to another hopeful championship effort. If this team can once again advance and meet Miami in the playoffs, we should see another series filled with fireworks.
I'd go as far as saying this series would once again be the toughest test for the Heat all season, even if they do advance to the Finals.
Miami is best suited running the floor with a fast-paced offensive attack. The Heat have the overwhelming ability to create turnovers and get out on a fast break.
As for their half-court game, it could use some work.
With LeBron noticeably improving his post game, he takes a lot of pressure off both the shooters and big men of Miami. Wade is another guy who can dominate this area, but overall this team tends to stall in the half court.
Miami can fix this woe by focusing less on the isolation game. Yes, Wade and James are great when being ball dominant, but they could benefit from constantly moving the ball.
Utilizing the wing shooters is a vital tool for Miami that must receive attention. If the Heat continue to penetrate the paint, they can force defenses to collapse and open up opportunities on the outside.
Getting the ball to Chris Bosh around the free-throw line is also ideal. He's quick enough to blow past a slower defender yet possesses the jumper to draw any opponent out of the paint.
The Heat have the talent to succeed in the half court, but it does seem to weaken at times. If they fix this problem, they could potentially be the most balanced offensive team in the NBA.
The Heat shuffled plenty of fill-in guys to start the center position last season, but they didn't find the one that stuck through the playoffs.
Chris Bosh is the best option for Miami's game plan, but having a true center on the bench wouldn't hurt.
Unless Dexter Pittman drops weight and figures out how to play smart basketball, Miami will once again lack a valuable center. This didn't hurt them last year, yet they didn't face that dominating big man who could challenge them.
With Andrew Bynum now in the East and Dwight Howard on a championship caliber team, we have two chances to see that change.
The Heat obviously give up a size disadvantage to various teams in the NBA, but that didn't stop them last season. They continued to play with great defensive pressure and be aggressive to make up for it.
Every NBA team has a weakness. If Miami's is a big man, there are very few teams who can take advantage of that.
The Heat should mark out this trouble by putting Chris Bosh in the middle. He's not physical defensively, but he creates a nightmare scenario for other teams to guard.
This worked last year in the NBA Finals, so look for Miami to replace a weakness by focusing on strengths.
You read that right. Not the Los Angeles Lakers, but Dwight Howard.
I understand that the Lakers have a lot of hype heading into the upcoming season. They have the best starting lineup in basketball, as well as some new help off the bench, but they haven't played a game together yet.
If Dwight Howard comes in and imposes his size and ability, the Heat could be in serious trouble. He's the best defensive player in the league and really has the potential to expose Miami's inside weakness.
The Lakers' ending result relies on one man this season. Not Kobe or Steve Nash, but Dwight Howard.
If Los Angeles commits to going to him inside and making him a main focus in the offense, then we could see the Lakers franchise hoisting another championship next season.
However, just remember that while this team has the pieces, we must see just how they mesh on the court.
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