5 Ways Miami Heat Can Ensure Title Repeat in 2012-13
No longer are they hopeful of simply vying for an NBA championship for their formerly ringless leader, LeBron James, or their seemingly endless number of hangers-on looking to end their careers in style.
This season marks the beginning of a new journey for James and Co.
This is their chance to turn last season's triumph into the latest dynasty of a league whose history values teams based on the number of championship banners flying above their home courts.
Recent history suggests that these aspirations are far from being pipe dreams.
In fact, since 1987 the NBA has seen nine successful championship defenses (most recently the Los Angeles Lakers—coincidentally a potential roadblock for the reigning champs—in 2010).
Miami may have reloaded since the last time that we saw them, but it's a little early to call Jacob the Jeweler with ring sizes and design ideas.
But, if they can manage to accomplish the following, it's a good idea to at least put him on speed dial.
5. Protect American Airlines Arena
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It's Sports 101, right? Winning starts at home.
Champions may set themselves apart with strong play on the road, but all good teams take care of their domestic duties.
The 2011-12 Heat were no exception to the rule, tying the San Antonio Spurs for the best regular season home record (28-5).
That home-court advantage extended into the postseason where the Heat captured 11 of the 13 games played inside The Triple A.
Any complacency hangover the Heat experience will likely appear inside their own comfortable arena. The Heat have a strong veteran contingency that knows what it takes to win games on the road.
They just have to muster up that same energy in the 305.
4. Full Support of Erik Spoelstra
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South Florida is hot, humid and muggy 300-plus days out of the year.
In other words, there simply aren't a lot of cool chairs out there. (This being the obvious exception, of course.)
But no chair has sweltered as hot as that of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Now entering his fifth season at the helm, his franchise entered championship-or-bust mode as soon as James set his sights on South Beach.
As it turns out, though, that bust could come even after he led his team to just the second title in franchise history.
Not one, not two, not three....remember?
Regardless of public perception, though, he remains the best candidate for the job and needs that public support from his front office and his locker room.
And it will take that same level of commitment (from Spoelstra to his players and from his players to Spoelstra) that led to creating Miami's secret championship trophy before the championship if they hope to march down Biscayne Boulevard in June 2013.
3. A Bigger Role for Cole
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If anyone in South Florida has had a hotter seat than Spoelstra, it's been Mario Chalmers.
Since Miami acquired his draft rights in 2008, the organization's point guard experiments have hinted at their comfort level with giving him major minutes.
From 2008-11, Chalmers battled the likes of Mike Bibby, Carlos Arroyo, Rafer Alston, Chris Quinn, Marcus Banks and (post-injury) Shaun Livingston for minutes.
And to be fair, the Heat rolled the dice when dealing for Norris Cole, who enjoyed a productive career at Cleveland State.
Chalmers has earned a reputation as Miami's "little brother" for the barrage of on-court "instructions" that his teammates throw his way, but that's nothing compared to the repeated slaps to the face he's been given by the front office.
He proved last season that he's a capable starting point guard on an NBA champion. But his new backup, Cole, showed flashes that he can be much more than that.
Chalmers' biggest strengths are his outside shooting (which has largely been negated by the arsenal assembled by team president Pat Riley) and his defense (which is stellar, but also appears to be on par with Cole's).
Cole, however, adds a new dimension to this offense. He can create his own shot off the dribble and his ability to up the tempo could do wonders when paired alongside the right combination of Miami's athletes.
Chalmers will enter the season as the starter and has earned that spot. But Cole has likewise earned an increase in playing time.
2. Identify Roles Early in the Season
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Did anyone else hear that cackling that permeated from somewhere out West during Miami's title run?
Somewhere along the white sands of Maui, basketball's mad scientist (and Hall of Famer, Don Nelson) joyously watched as his basketball brainchild came to life on the game's biggest stage.
Positionless basketball. What a concept.
Unfortunately for Nelson, he never had the talent to fully unleash his theory.
As for Spoelstra's Heat, though, the talent level has started approaching ridiculousness.
Talent and versatility are the two key ingredients in finding success in this scheme.
But perhaps what's even more important, is when the players not only buy in to the theory, but also embrace their roles inside of this idea.
With the resumes of the club's biggest offseason additions (Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis) and the title of NBA champion attached to all of the returning members, Spoelstra will need to balance egos in a game plan centered less on X's and O's and more on the flow of the game.
1. Let LeBron Be LeBron
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Miami's roster was arguably the league's most talented before adding Allen and Lewis to the fray.
But the reason that the Larry O'Brien trophy resides in Miami has less to do with depth or coaching and more to do with the fact that they have the greatest basketball player in the world on their roster.
James is coming off an historic season, accentuated by an NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP, NBA championship and Olympic gold.
He is the best offensive and defensive player in the league.
He is one of the few players who actually elevates the level of play from his teammates.
He cooled the seats of both Spoelstra and Chalmers.
He is the most interesting man in the world. OK, that might be a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.
Take James off this roster and Miami opens the postseason on the road. Add James to the mix, though, and the team becomes possibly the next great NBA dynasty.
It's important for Spoelstra to not overthink things with James. He doesn't need plays run for him or touches in certain areas of the floor. As long as Spoelstra remembers to keep him in the game, he'll find a way to put his fingerprints on it.