Miami Heat's LeBron James, Dwyane Wade
The Miami Heat must defend their title by employing in-game strategies specific to defeating each of their key challengers during the 2013-14 campaign.
These strategies are unique to the strengths of each team and highlight what Miami must accomplish in a one-game scenario in order to win.
Some of the keys for Miami include collectively crashing the glass, out-scoring opponents in the paint and properly defending the pick-and-roll.
Each team is listed in terms of who projects to challenge the Heat the most heading into 2013-14.
Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol
Game Keys: Overload the paint defensively against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph
The Memphis Grizzlies are strongest offensively where the Miami Heat are defensively weak—on the interior. To combat this, the Heat must send consistent defensive help in the direction of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside.
Miami would begin by attempting to defend Gasol and Randolph with Chris Bosh and Chris "Birdman" Andersen, respectively. The Heat will then have to pinch down off both wings, while allowing the perimeter shot, in order to flood the paint with multiple help defenders.
This will create open looks from the outside for players like Mike Conley, Tony Allen and others, but the Heat will take their chances with Memphis from long range.
In 2012-13, the Grizzlies ranked 24th overall from three-point territory by shooting only 34.5 percent collectively. Memphis hasn't done much this summer to address that need heading into next season, either.
Meanwhile, Gasol and Randolph combined to average 34.6 points and 18.5 rebounds combined during 15 playoff games in 2013 and must be slowed down in order to beat Memphis.
Brooklyn Nets Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry
Game Keys: Out-athlete the aging Brooklyn Nets
While adding to a core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez this summer, the Brooklyn Nets acquired a formidable list of NBA veterans.
Andrei Kirilenko, who was signed away from the Minnesota Timberwolves in free agency, will also play a critical role for Brooklyn as a 32-year-old forward who has battled injuries in the past.
The Miami Heat, meanwhile, led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and a center in Chris Bosh who is capable of beating a player like Lopez down the court in transition, have an opportunity to overwhelm a team like the Nets athletically.
If Miami is able to get out in transition consistently, Brooklyn will not be able to keep up effectively for 48 minutes.
New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony
Game Keys: Don't let Carmelo Anthony beat you by himself
Carmelo Anthony is the single biggest reason why the New York Knicks could potentially beat the more collectively talented Miami Heat.
In a matchup with the Knicks, the Heat simply cannot allow Anthony to get off.
On the interior, Miami should be able to survive one-on-one matchups with Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen defending any two of Andrea Bargnani, Tyson Chandler or Amar'e Stoudemire.
But even assuming a healthy J.R. Smith—which isn't expected for at least three months according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York—the Heat will be able to send defensive help at Anthony from all over the perimeter.
Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni, for example, averaged only 6.8 and 3.5 points respectively last season. Each player is expected to see considerable time alongside Anthony in 2013-14 and neither is capable of taking a game over offensively themselves.
If the Heat are focused on shutting Anthony down exclusively, there does not appear to be enough help around him to beat Miami in a survive-and-advance scenario.
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry
Game Keys: Defend the three-point line against Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson must be turned into penetrators in order to beat the Golden State Warriors in 2013-14.
While both guards are capable scorers off the bounce, the Warriors are a more dangerous team when they're spreading the floor by knocking down shots from the perimeter. Last season, Curry and Thompson combined to attempt 1,126 three-point field goals while connecting on 45.3 and 40.1 percent, respectively.
Neither player needs much space to get his shot off, however, so defending the three-point line against Golden State is easier said than done. In order for the Miami Heat to accomplish as much, LeBron James' length will be needed at times to defend Curry or Thompson.
This strategy would also include Dwyane Wade sliding over to defend the less offensively-inclined Andre Iguodala while Norris Cole or Mario Chalmers defended the other guard.
Once the "Splash Brothers" are neutralized on the perimeter, the interior games of Andrew Bogut, David Lee and the newly acquired Marreese Speights should become less effective.
Miami Heat's Chris Bosh, Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah
Game Keys: Outscore the Chicago Bulls in the paint
During Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Miami Heat were outscored in the paint, 40-32, by the Chicago Bulls. Miami ended up losing the opening-game of that series by seven points, 93-86.
The Heat would come back to win Game 2 by a score of 115-78, however, while outscoring the Bulls 56-18 in the paint before eliminating Chicago in five games.
Even though Derrick Rose will return to add a superstar dynamic in replacing Nate Robinson at point guard in 2013-14, the blueprint for beating Chicago's defensive attack will remain the same for Miami.
Whether in the half-court set or out on the break in transition, the Heat will need to attack Tom Thibodeau's defense by scoring at the rim. If they are able to do so consistently, like they eventually were last year, the Heat's offense will be too much for the Bulls to slow down.
Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford
Game Keys: Play the Clippers' bench to a draw
The Miami Heat, conversely, ranked 24th in bench scoring while averaging just 28.8.
The Heat waived Mike Miller via the amnesty clause this summer and the Clippers brought in Darren Collison to replace Eric Bledsoe along with adding J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and rookie Reggie Bullock.
Los Angeles will be deep again off the bench, led by Jamal Crawford, regardless of how the starting lineup shakes out. In a 48-minute game, the Heat's second unit must find a way to play even with the Clippers' reserves.
Led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami's starting five is certainly at an advantage against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and company. What the Heat can ill-afford, however, is to give that advantage back as soon as their Big Three sits down.
Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert
Game Keys: Attack the glass collectively against Pacers
As each roster is currently constructed, the Heat will not be necessarily capable of out-rebounding the Pacers moving forward. But starting with the guard position, all the way down to Chris Bosh at center, each player who steps onto the floor for Miami must be more conscious of boxing out and attacking the glass.
During that Game 6 loss, for example, Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade and Bosh combined for only eight total rebounds. That can't happen in 2013-14, and Miami must do more collectively to minimize the Pacers' rebounding advantage.
If Miami does not collectively attack the glass more effectively, as we saw in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, they become vulnerable to defeat.
San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan, Tony Parker
Game Keys: Defend the entire action associated with Spurs' pick-and-roll
It might take 15 seconds to develop, but the pick-and-roll is coming in the half-court when you play against Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
Better than any other team in the NBA, however, the Spurs are also able to capitalize on secondary action that results from the initial screen-and-roll offensively.
Like they eventually did during the NBA Finals when it mattered most, the Heat cannot allow the Spurs to capitalize on this by finding open shooters like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard spotted up on the perimeter.
In order to effectively execute defensively, the Heat will need to attack the Spurs' pick-and-roll while being specifically mindful of those shooters.
Keyed by either Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole, along with Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen, Miami must keep the pick-and-roll in front of them without helping off Green and company on the outside.
Houston Rockets' Kevin McHale, Dwight Howard
Game Keys: Let Dwight Howard get his, limit everyone else
This strategy is easier to employ when a player like James Harden is not included in the "everyone else" category.
Regardless, the Miami Heat cannot allow Dwight Howard to make Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and the rest of the Houston Rockets' supporting cast more effective.
In a matchup with Houston, Miami would do more harm than good by trying to send double and triple teams at a healthy Howard. All this would inevitably do is open up shot opportunities and driving lanes for Howard's teammates.
The most effective approach for Miami is to allow Chris Andersen to play Howard one-on-one, accept the results while resisting the urge to double-team, and focus the defensive effort on stopping Harden and company on the perimeter.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook
Game Keys: Defend a healthy Russell Westbrook with LeBron James
Russell Westbrook will eventually return to action for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Once he does, the Thunder are still the most capable team in the NBA of disrupting the Miami Heat's bid for a three-peat.
When healthy, Westbrook is among the league's most athletic players. The speed and power he brings to the point guard position makes Kevin Durant and everyone else around him that much more effective.
The Heat can take that element of athleticism away from Oklahoma City, however, by matching LeBron James up with Westbrook defensively.
At 6'8", with similar speed, James has proven to be a difficult cover for Westbrook in the past and will continue to be moving forward.
Once isolated, Kevin Durant's ability to score in a one-on-four scenario against the rest of the Heat's defense becomes increasingly more difficult.