The Heat, like every team in the NBA, have hurdles they will need to overcome at the start of a new season if they are to win at the extremely high level they have the past three seasons.
For Miami, those hurdles are Dwyane Wade's health, staying interested in the regular season and ignoring outside noise. Let's explore each of them further.
Dwyane Wade's Health
There's no bigger X-factor for the Heat than Wade. We've seen in two straight postseasons just how vulnerable this team is when D-Wade isn't playing up to his standards.
All indications from training camp were that Dwyane is healthy after offseason shock treatment on both of his knees, but there still has to be concern how he's going to hold up when the regular season gets going. He's had knee problems for years now, and at 31, he's not getting any younger.
Also, not only does Wade have to stay healthy, but he has to prove that his struggles in the 2013 playoffs were strictly knee-related and that he's still one of the elite players in the NBA when healthy.
I'm confident that Wade will return to form (he's just proved us wrong so many times), but this is certainly a situation to monitor at the season's onset.
Staying Interested in the Regular Season
In the grand scheme of things, regular-season success doesn't matter to a team like the Heat. It's championship or bust. And with that comes potential issues, issues that appeared last season
In November and December, the Heat played nothing like the juggernaut we saw win 27 straight games in the second half of the season.
While the Heat still won plenty of games in the early months based off their talent advantage, they didn't play with the intensity they are known for, which led to pains on the defensive end. The Heat were 23rd in the NBA in points allowed per possession 18 games in the 2012-13 season, according to Zach Lowe of Grantland.
Now we know everything worked out for Miami in the end, but it's never good to play with fire. And the Heat understand that, which is why we saw quotes like the following from Mario Chalmers emerge from Miami's training camp, according to the Associated Press via ESPN.com:
Last year I think we had a little hangover coming off that first championship. Maybe we celebrated a little bit too much. We didn't come into camp as focused and ready as we did last year. You can tell right now, everybody's hungry for that threepeat.
The Heat better hope Chalmers is right, because Miami could be in a bit of trouble this year if those issues repeat themselves, considering there's less room for error with an improved Eastern Conference.
Ignoring the Outside Noise
The Big Three Heat have always had a media circus following them, but this year should be especially crazy. This, of course, stems from the fact that LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade can become free agents at the end of this season.
Those guys, primarily LeBron, are going to be asked repeatedly about their plans for next summer. And all season talking heads and writers are going to be speculating about where they will go.
The Heat can really do themselves a huge favor by getting off to a hot start. Because if they struggle, cue the columns and SportsCenter segments about LeBron leaving, especially if D-Wade's health is a problem.
Regardless of on-the-court success, the speculation is unavoidable. The Heat are constantly going to be reminded that this could be the last year of the Big Three era. And if they can block out that talk and play great basketball, the more likely that LeBron, Wade and Bosh stay for years to come.