Breaking Down Why the Miami Heat Are Still the Best Team in the NBA
The defending champion Miami Heat had one of the more eventful offseasons in recent history...and still struggled to garner much national press.
Their summer opened with a victory parade down Biscayne Boulevard, unabashed in its brazenness marking the historical significance for the villains-turned-champions and their undisputed team leader, LeBron James.
Shortly thereafter, James (lovable loser turned MVP with the Midas touch) added Olympic gold in London, the coronation to perhaps the greatest year of basketball ever witnessed.
But that's about the last time Miami featured prominently on a national scale.
Despite Miami adding, among others, first ballot Hall of Famer Ray Allen and two-time All-Star Rashard Lewis, national attention shifted to the new look Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.
But students of the game know that the Miami Heat remain the league's best team and that the championship still runs through South Florida.
If anyone enjoyed the opportunity to create an NBA team from scratch, there's a great chance that the final product wouldn't look very different from what basketball guru Pat Riley has assembled.
Simply put, the team has no weaknesses.
They are a defensive juggernaut with one of the league's elite offenses; they are the proverbial immovable object and the unstoppable force.
A lot of the credit for their defensive acumen is typically extended to their trio of award-winning defenders (James, Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier), but it's their ability to play (and move) as one unit that held opponents to the fourth-fewest points in 2011-12 (92.50 per game).
They have the ability to smother opposing offenses, harassing 2011-12 opponents into shooting just 43.4 percent from the field (the fifth-lowest total in the league).
Despite the lack of a true center in their starting lineup, they have shown the ability to both contest shots (10th most blocks in 2011-12 with 5.38) and finish defensive possessions (sixth-best rebounding differential at +1.85).
Other than James and Wade, Miami doesn't have a lot of players that can physically overwhelm their opponents, so they are forced to simply outwork them.
Hustlers like Udonis Haslem and Norris Cole have made careers off of their work ethic, but Wade and James may be the hardest working superstar duo in the business. The energy level that these two expend on both ends of the floor is not only thrilling to watch from a fan's perspective, but also contagious for the rest of the roster.
Is Erik Spoelstra finally off the hot seat?
But head coach Erik Spoelstra's role in that energy level cannot be overstated.
Unlike some of his coaching peers, Spoelstra was not handed a job after a lengthy NBA career. In fact, his professional playing career consisted of two seasons as player/coach of TuS Herten in Germany following a respectable four-year career at the University of Portland.
He embraced the necessary climb up the coaching ranks in Miami, joining the organization as the team's video coordinator in 1995. When he was named head coach (and Riley's successor) in April 2008, his grind was something that his players could appreciate.
Since becoming head coach (and seemingly minutes later joining the hot seat musical chairs of the NBA coaching ranks), Spoelstra has embraced Hall of Famer Don Nelson's idea of positionless basketball.
His superstar, James, is both initiator (6.2 assists) and scorer (27.1) with the size (6'8", 240-lbs.), strength and skill to dominate both ends of the floor.
His aging superstar, Wade, has gracefully handed the reins to James. He has since been, at times, initiator, scorer, decoy and premier defender.
His other star, Bosh, has transitioned between stretch forward and post presence, sacrificing numbers (and preferences, according to ESPN.com's Justin Verrier) for the betterment of the team.
Credit Riley, too, for collecting firepower like he was auditioning for National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers. The spacing created by these shooters combined with the vision and playmaking of James and Wade has transformed Miami into one of the league's most potent offenses (98.49 in 2011-12, seventh-highest in the NBA).
The James-Jordan arguments are...
But at the end of the day, the Miami Heat are still the best team in the NBA because they still have the NBA's best player, James. He's the most physically gifted specimen to ever pick up a basketball, and his play continues to generate discussion (and support) as perhaps the greatest player of all time.
The national spotlight may have shifted toward the bright lights of Los Angeles and New York City over the summer, but expect Miami's talent (and the lure of South Beach) to kick-start what's quickly becoming an annual June migration to the Magic City for basketball fans and analysts alike.
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