After an elongated preseason, equipped with obsession over two losses to the Brooklyn Nets, the Miami Heat conclude a successful offseason that has them in position for a fourth consecutive run at making the NBA Finals.
The Heat look to become the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s to make it to four consecutive NBA Finals. They also look to become the first team to win three consecutive titles since the Lakers of the prime-Shaquille O'Neal days from 2000 to 2003.
Finishing 5-3 this preseason, the Heat made the most of their meaningless contests with observations of Chris Bosh in a more increased role, Dwyane Wade playing at the elite level we expect from him and several roster hopefuls cashing in on their non-guaranteed deals by making it onto the final roster.
Before we look into the preseason, however, let's delve into the Heat's offseason as a whole.
You will not be witness to what the Heat were able to produce from this year's draft, unless you have a television feed that brings you broadcasting from Australia. If you are that interested in professional basketball overseas, might I suggest some new hobbies?
The Heat traded into the 2013 draft to select forward James Ennis out of Long Beach State University with the 50th pick. The wildly athletic swingman played for the Heat's summer league team, impressing with solid numbers, but was ultimately shipped off to play for the Perth Wildcats.
Ennis has become a household name for those interested in the NBL. In his first three games, Ennis dropped at least 21 points in each contest, topping off at 27. Michael DiFabrizio writes that "not a single player has averaged more than 20 points per game" over the past two seasons, yet Ennis has been dropping over 20-plus with ease.
DiFabrizio also includes some highlights of Ennis's antics in Australia, where he has drawn hysterics from fans and announcers alike for his exceptional athleticism.
Fortunately for the Heat, Ennis remains under contract and is a phone call away from being a member of the roster. However, it seems unlikely with this Heat team being the most stacked in years, as well as there being a reluctance to work on developing projects, evidenced by the releases of Jarvis Varnado, Eric Griffin and other developmental pieces.
Either way, the Heat appear to have received a steal in the draft with the acquisition of Ennis, who could very well be a part of this team next year when nearly every player on the roster becomes a free agent.
The Heat didn't exactly have the funds to go out and create some waves in the free-agency pool. All they had was a mid-level deal they were reluctant to give away, a few veteran's minimum deals and the promise of a deep title run.
It wasn't much, but it was enough to entice a former No. 1 pick, a former No. 2 pick and one of the league's most underrated sharpshooters to fill out the roster.
Greg Oden, Roger Mason Jr. and Michael Beasley essentially replace the departed Mike Miller (amnesty), Jarvis Varnado and Juwan Howard. Adding those three to the end of the bench gives the Heat in the Big Three era their deepest rotation yet.
It's doubtful the current bench rotation of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole changes, but there are now options that can perform feats that no former bench player on the Heat could complete.
Beasley provides the Heat with a versatility off the pine they've never possessed before. The bench had primarily been filled with niche players, those who could shoot or defend specifically well, yet Beasley goes against the norm, providing the Heat with a jump shot and an ability to take defenders off the dribble.
Although Beasley still lacks in several significant areas, especially on defense, he's still a volume scorer who can provide the Heat with a scoring touch in the second unit. Miami usually employs at least one member of the Big Three on the court at all times, mainly Wade or James to facilitate, but Beasley is one of the few players who can come off the bench and not need the assistance of Wade or James to score.
Oden is as intriguing a case as Beasley, which is really saying something. He made his debut for the Heat in their win over the New Orleans Pelicans, representing the first time he's played professional basketball since December 5, 2009. Since then, Oden has dealt with numerous surgeries and setbacks as a result.
The sky is the limit with Oden in the rotation. He's a tweak away from having a possible career-ending injury, but what he can provide for the Heat if healthy cannot be overstated. Miami brought Oden in for the sole purpose of getting out of the East, needing someone to battle with the East's resident All-Star bigs in Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez.
It's safe to say the Heat learned their lesson from last year's postseason run. They were abused by Hibbert and Noah on the glass, and it cost them a few games as a result. With little wiggle room to sign a quality big, they made a huge reach at signing Oden, a dominant rebounder and post defender when healthy.
Oden played quality ball in the four minutes he was featured against the Pelicans. He dunked on his first possession, got open on a perfectly run pick-and-roll with LeBron and made himself a presence on the defensive end. It was all the Heat could ask for from their center-stopper.
Even Mason brings something new to the table. He's not as expendable as some may think since many believe him to be just as much a shooter as other rotation-outcasts in Rashard Lewis and James Jones.
However, those two fail to bring in the facilitation and intangibles that Mason is able to provide. He's a solid ball-handler and shooter on one end and can frustrate defenders in a one-on-one setting on the other.
He's coming off a season where he shot 42 percent as a seldom-starter for the Hornets, yet wasn't signed by the Heat until a few days prior to the start of training camp. It'll be interesting to see if he is integrated into the role Miller possessed, that of a seldom-used player who can provide more than just a shooting touch when needed.
Oh, how we long for the days of preseason where Jarvis Varnado and Joel Anthony once shared a frontcourt!
Seriously, that happened. Arguably two of the league's most inept players on the offensive end shared the court together, and it surprisingly yielded little to nothing on that half of the court. How perplexed were we to see the Heat eventually score 62 points in that same game.
But this is what the preseason is made for. Yes, it's used for players to get their legs back, but it's mainly just an exhibition for coaches to figure out who is going to make the final roster and who should be in the rotation. On occasion, you'll find starting lineups decided, but that's not the case in Miami.
For the Heat, training camp was mainly utilized for everyone to get back into basketball shape. Every player seemed to come back in incredible physical conditioning, but it still needs to be translated to the game itself, which is what the preseason was for.
Which is why we got to see some vintage Dwyane Wade, going for 25 and 27 points in back-to-back performances. It's why we got to see Chris Bosh elevated to a role he hasn't seen since Toronto, taking advantage and dropping as much as 28 points against Detroit.
LeBron James appeared to truly need the preseason. He admitted to having heavy legs prior to the start of preseason. Sure enough, it was noticeable as LeBron's missed jumpers usually came by way of the shot coming up short.
It didn't take long enough for LeBron to work out the kinks, becoming the four-time MVP we have come to know him as and making plays like this happen:
Miami also received some positive surprises from their roster hopefuls, specifically Roger Mason, who shot 44 percent from beyond the arc and showcased a great deal of intangibles, Oden, who actually played, and Beasley, who had his moments on both ends of the floor.
The main purpose of this preseason was just to get the Heat back in the mindset of being competitive. It couldn't have come any sooner with the Chicago Bulls to start off and then a visit to the Brooklyn Nets two games later.
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