"The only easy season was last season."
That should be the Miami Heat's mantra coming into 2013-14.
Yes, the Heat won a second consecutive title and enjoy the distinction of being the favorites to win it all yet again, but there will be some immediate bumps on the road to their third title.
Wearing the Target
It seems like common sense, right?
When the best come to town, you want to bring your best.
This is the mind-set every team in the league has when Miami comes to its arena or the other way around.
Unless it's one of several teams tanking for Andrew Wiggins, Miami isn't necessarily going to roll over everybody in an opposing uniform.
The Heat have to deal with the nightly headache of being Public Enemy Number One. They are the benchmark every team in the NBA hopes to reach, and at the same time, they epitomize what a lot of teams in the league resent.
They are cool, cocky and, most of all, win a lot. Whether it's archrivals or casual fans rooting against Goliath, people want to see them fall short.
As a result, the Heat are in for a dogfight no matter who their opponents are—OK, maybe not the Charlotte Bobcats, but still, they can't let their guard down.
While they're more than likely used to being one of the most polarizing teams in the league, this season is yet another test for their collective resolve, and they'll realize this from the get-go.
New Year, New Friends
No matter how great you are, there is always a transitional phase whenever you add and subtract.
With the loss of Mike Miller and addition of Greg Oden, there will be a little bit of an initial "feeling it out" stage for Miami.
Remember, it's still early. Training camp, practice and preseason are all excellent opportunities for new teammates to get acclimated with one another, but the regular season is an entirely different animal, especially in the early goings.
As far as hurdles go, this one is about the height of a small anthill.
Every team in the NBA goes through these changes year in and year out, and Miami is no different.
Think of it as going into your senior year of high school. Sure, you've been through the previous three years of school and know what to expect, but this year there's different classes, classmates you've never seen before, and it's an overall new experience.
Miami as a squad and franchise is stepping into uncharted territory. It's never had the chance of going for a three-peat, but now, a third consecutive title is within its grasp, and it has a whole host of new teammates to join it in its quest.
Miami should work out all the kinks within the first month, but that first week or two could be a little wonky as the new rotations play out.
Staving Off Satisfaction
If you call yourself a Heat fan, then you're hoping Miami is still hungry.
Miami's biggest struggle is controlling its individual psyches.
Rather than staving off hunger, the Heat must stave off the dreaded sense of satisfaction.
If they're satisfied, they're already dead in the water.
Miami is essentially a champion-breed pit bull sitting among a bunch of lesser but possibly hungrier fight dogs that won't hesitate to clamp down on its neck if given the chance.
It isn't about the size of the dog in the fight; it's about the size of the fight in the dog.
This is the NBA; they're all professional basketball players—if you come out throwing jabs when you should be throwing haymakers, you're going to get dropped.
If the Heat come out with Hollywood-style "we made it" arrogance, one of the hungrier teams is going to shock them.
Shaking off a champagne-induced championship hangover is to be expected, but Miami can't let it become habitual.
Will Miami win a third straight title this season?
Miami has been one of the most mentally resilient teams in recent memory, so it's unlikely this will be a major threat, but could it be a small hurdle early on in the season?
Absolutely, without question.
No matter how great you are, you let some games get away from you.
The Heat just have to give it their all consistently and avoid long stretches that could throw them out of sync.
Assuming they are motivated yet again, everyone else should be very, very afraid.