The Miami Heat are on the warpath to another 16 postseason wins, but it's going to take a lot of work to get their second NBA Championship in as many seasons.
This year LeBron James is picking up where he left off, but guys like Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers are stepping up to take on a bit of the workload that was mostly his a season ago. That, plus the dead-eye shooting of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis off the bench don't hurt much.
Miami definitely has a nice pathway to take to make it back to the Finals, but they're going to have to make sure that they don't do anything to hurt their path back. There are quite a few brittle players in their lineup, and if they put too much torque on them they could start feeling like Andrew Bynum's knees.
Regular season games don't mean enough to put strain on your lineup, and home court advantage throughout the playoffs is nice, but it's not necessary. The point is this team should be playing for the playoffs, not playing to win every single game in the regular season.
In order to do that I've put together a nice comprehensive list of what they should do to take the surest path back to the Finals.
Erik Spoelstra has started to do what every basketball blogger has been shouting about for the past few years. Start your best players regardless of position. A Heat starting lineup including Joel Anthony was just too horribly put together to watch.
He switched to the smaller lineup in the playoffs, especially in the NBA Finals, which is a big reason why the Heat were able to win, but I think he might be wearing it out a bit too much early on.
Last season the Chris Bosh-LeBron James-Shane Battier-Dwyane Wade-Mario Chalmers quintet was on the floor for just 64 minutes during the regular season, they've already compiled 104 minutes in just eight games (Wade has only played in eight) this season.
The point here isn't that the lineup doesn't work, because it obviously does, just that Shane Battier having to guard power forwards every game is going to wear him down. Give him a bit of a break and run Joel Anthony or Udonis Haslem out there with Bosh from time-to-time, then come back to this lineup hard in the playoffs.
Dwyane Wade hasn't looked himself so far this season. He's averaging just 17 points per game and is having a very game-to-game season. One game he'll look like the Wade of old, the next he's just looking like an old Wade.
Miami did the right thing giving him time off for his sprained foot and keeping him out of the past two games, both of which were victories.
The problem is that Wade has become insanely injury-prone over the past few seasons, and if they want the freshest Wade possible in the playoffs, they need to let him sit for every little nick and bruise that he gets.
Keeping him healthy is one of the tent poles that's going to prop up a successful postseason for the Heat.
There's going to be a lot of talk this season about other teams having the ability to take down the Heat and keep them from repeating as NBA Champions. Don't listen to it all; words can't take a team down if they don't let them.
Already this season we've seen the media grab hold of the New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs as early-season upsetters, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are going to be talked about all season long.
The point is that the Heat remain the best team in the NBA, regardless of whom they've beaten and who has beaten them in the regular season. They won the title last season and went out and got themselves a bench, so if anything, they're more dangerous than they were last season.
Don't get caught up in the talk, just get caught up in playing basketball.
Ray Allen isn't playing too many minutes, Rashard Lewis is seeing even fewer and they're both playing as extremely productive additions to this team.
Even if they see the need for a little bit more help off the bench from some of their scorers, it seems like the right thing to limit their minutes until the playoffs come around and they really need them to play.
It's going to be a bummer if Allen or Lewis get hurt at some point throughout the season and are forced to miss games and work their way back into the lineup, or worse, get hurt and miss games in the playoffs.
There are options they could be using off the bench a bit more, like Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem to beef up their rotation at times. Otherwise, they're doing just fine.
There are quite a few little problems here and there in the Miami rotation, so the important thing for them to remember is to continue to attack the problems head on.
Udonis Haslem is having an increasingly ineffective start to the season. He may be shooting a fine percentage, but he's only taking a few shots per game in the flow of the offense. They may be slowly phasing him out, but they need his size in the game at times, and they need him to take and make shots in the flow of the offense.
Elsewhere, Norris Cole is having a horrible time getting shots to fall. He's not chucking them up; they're just not falling. There's no reason to go away from him just yet; just keep chugging away and hope for the best.
The same goes for Chris Bosh's problem boxing guys out. Miami is giving up a huge number of offensive rebounds with Bosh at center. He just needs to learn the ins and outs of the position a little bit better and be more aggressive on the glass.
Last season the Miami Heat relied on LeBron James guarding the best offensive player on the floor, while Shane Battier was usually glued to the next-best perimeter player. Sometimes they would switch it up, but that was the basic defensive scheme, unless of course a stellar point guard or power forward came to town.
The problem this season is that Chris Bosh is the main option at center, while LeBron James guards the team's best non-center, usually leaving Battier to deal with the other team's power forward.
This is a big problem when it comes to Miami's perimeter defense. It's possible that they can work things out with this lineup, they just need to see Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers to a better job on the outside.
Teams are shooting 38 percent for three against them, making them the fourth-worst perimeter defense team in the league.
This shouldn't really be a secret. When you need to win the game, give the ball to LeBron James. It's something Mike Brown did plenty of in his days coaching LeBron, and at times it's the best offense to go to.
I'm not saying abandon any kind of offensive play-set that's going on, just don't be afraid to give him the ball and get out of the way, the dude is a freak of nature.
Let him play the game the way he does best—distributing the ball, getting fouled in the lane, knocking down a few jumpers—but when it all comes down to it, they've got to continue to use their best player in the most important situations.
Of course, LeBron is usually smart enough to realize he's got great teammates, so if he ends up in trouble he's not going to force a hero-ball shot. He's more than willing to pass up a shot if it's wise.