We're about to see if they had the right approach.
To win another title, Miami will likely have to overcome not having home-court advantage in the playoffs' most pivotal series. The Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets would all get to host Game 7 on their floor in a playoff series with the Heat.
That's a lot to ask. But nobody ever said three-peating would be easy, did they?
Final Regular-Season Record: 54-28
Playoff Seed: No. 2 Seed in the Eastern Conference
First-Round Opponent: Charlotte Bobcats (43-39)—Seventh Place in Eastern Conference
Top Three Storylines Going into NBA Playoffs
Dwyane Wade's Health
The Heat were extremely cautious with Dwyane Wade's health during the regular season and it looks to have been a success. Miami had Wade on a maintenance plan that had him sit in back-to-back sets to protect his knees. They also sat him much of March and April due to a hamstring injury. In total, he missed 28 games in the regular season.
Dwyane recently told Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald he will enter the postseason healthy.
Time off always helps, but you still got to focus on it. So by the time the playoffs come, I can feel as good as I want to feel … right now I’m in a good place, and I just want to continue to move forward.
However, it's still impossible to know whether or not Wade's health is going to hold up come postseason time.
His knees completely betrayed him in the 2013 playoffs. Dwyane fought through the injury, but he averaged just 15.9 points per game in the playoffs (career postseason average is 23.7) and the Heat transformed from an invincible juggernaut that won 27 straight games in the 2012-13 regular season to a fairly vulnerable squad.
Miami can't afford such a setback with Wade this year; another grueling playoff run will require all hands on deck.
Will Miami Tire?
The Heat have played a lot of basketball over the past few years. The prior three seasons Miami played 297 combined regular season and postseason games, the most in the NBA.
And while Miami did a lot to minimize the impact of all those games by coasting in this year's regular season, tired legs still has to be a concern.
It's not as if the Heat are a young team. This is a veteran-laden squad that's always playing deep into June. Some, like Jeff Van Gundy, think that could cost Miami, per Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick:
Although LeBron James has proved to superhuman, the amount of time he's spent on the court recently is absolutely absurd, as pointed out by ESPN's Tom Haberstroh:
If there's a reason to pick against Miami in their quest for another South Beach parade, this is a pretty good one. The Heat are clearly the most talented team in a sport whose champion typically represents the best team.
However, there's a reason the three-peat is so special in the NBA. It's extremely exhausting to pull off.
Miami's energy level as the playoffs progress is absolutely something to keep a close eye on.
Can the Heat Role Players Step Up?
Entering the season, it was fair to say this Miami team was the deepest in franchise history. However, this year's results didn't prove it to be so.
After a great first half of the season in which Norris Cole appeared to have made great strides in regards to his offensive game, he fell apart in the second half of the season. Cole scored just 4.4 points per game on 34.3 percent shooting from the field and 27.1 percent outside shooting after the All-Star break.
Things have gotten so bad for Norris that coach Erik Spoelstra felt the need to defend his postseason rotation spot this week.
While he's picked things up as of late, Ray Allen's shot slumped for much of the year and he posted his worst three-point shooting percentage (37.5 percent) in the past four seasons.
Also, Shane Battier wasn't the outside shooting weapon many expected him to be (34.8 percent) and appears to be running on fumes.
Those three guys in particular each played notable roles in helping Miami win playoff games in 2013. If they don't perform in the coming weeks, Miami may find themselves in a bit of trouble.
First-Round Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
- Brendan Haywood—foot; out for season
- Jeff Taylor—achilles; out for season
Key First-Round Matchup to Watch
Since this series swings so much in Miami's favor, let's take a look at the one matchup that Charlotte can exploit to possibly make this series somewhat interesting. Of course, I'm referring to Chris Bosh vs. Al Jefferson.
Bosh has developed into a skilled defender; however, he's no match for Jefferson. Big Al is one of the most talented offensive post players in the league today and has over 50 pounds on Bosh.
Jefferson has absolutely destroyed Miami in three games this season, averaging 25.3 points and 15.3 rebounds. While LeBron's 61 points might have been the story from the Heat-Bobcats March 3 matchup, Jefferson's 38 points and 19 rebounds were awfully impressive and illustrative of the damage he can do to Miami.
Bosh is going to have to work his tail off to keep Jefferson in check.
Wade is undoubtedly the Heat's X-factor. Miami needs him on the court and playing like his normal self if they are to go all the way.
For all the talk about Dwyane's demise, he was one of the game's best players this season when out there. Wade averaged 20.8 points on 54.5 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes this season. Yep, he's really fallen off.
The question, which we touched on earlier, is will the Heat get that Wade? Will they get the guy who's explosive attacking the basket, lethal finishing once there and has developed an effective mid-range jumper?
If Dwyane can't be the guy, then Miami's in big trouble, especially considering the struggles of some of their key role players that we outlined earlier.
While LeBron is obviously Miami's best player, there's no player that has the ability to swing the Heat's title chances like Wade does.
Keys to a First Round Heat Victory
Don't Play Down to Competition
Let's get this out of the way now: The Heat are going to win this series. But this series could last a little longer than it should if Miami struggles with something they have all season. Miami dropped 13 games to teams with sub-.500 records this season.
Now, Charlotte is 43-39, but the point remains that the Heat have let inferior teams hang around this season, and the Bobcats are most certainly that.
However, Miami is known for flipping the on/off switch once postseason play begins, so Charlotte shouldn't count on the Heat dogging it.
Give the Ball to LeBron
Genius, I know. But the truth is the Bobcats have no one on its team that can contain LeBron, as evident by his 61-point outburst.
Charlotte is one heck of a defensive team (fifth in defensive rating this year), but James is at the peak of his powers and averaged 37.8 points on 62.9 percent shooting in four games against them this season.
The Heat are simply too much for the Bobcats and nobody brings home that point more than James.
Exploit Charlotte's Three-Point Defense
One of the few holes in the Bobcats defense is they have difficultly defending the outside shot, allowing opponents to shoot 36.9 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Unfortunately for Charlotte, Miami is loaded with shooters (even if they haven't played their best this season). Not only will shooting three-pointers against this defense help the Heat win this series, it could also provide benefits down the line.
If guys like Norris Cole and Shane Battier start feeling it from outside, perhaps it will spur further postseason success from them.
At the very least, the Heat are the overwhelming favorites to reach the NBA Finals from the East.
As we've detailed, Miami is a lock to win its first-round series.
While the Brooklyn Nets' 4-0 record against Miami this season might make some fans in South Beach nervous about a potential second-round matchup with Brooklyn, it can't be ignored that there's a big difference between regular-season Heat and playoff Heat.
This Miami team is about to ratchet up the intensity and energy to levels not approached in the regular season. Brooklyn has a great offense right now, but the Heat can utilize their insanely-aggressive playoff defense to slow it down.
Past Brooklyn, the Heat are likely to meet the Chicago Bulls or Indiana Pacers in the conference finals.
The Bulls, while a tough, physical team, lack the offensive firepower to keep up with Miami.
And the Pacers are an absolute mess right now. If Indiana can recover and return to form, then, yes, they obviously could knock out Miami due to their size, length and athleticism. But it's far from a foregone conclusion the Pacers will be able to overcome their late-season collapse and reach the conference finals.
If the Heat are able to reach the league finals, they'll face a tough matchup regardless. Though, the Heat better hope it's not the Spurs. With their top talent, depth and coaching, the Spurs are as evenly matched with Miami as any team in the league.
Still, the Heat have to be the favorites to win it all, even accounting for the fact they're unlikely to have home-court advantage in the Finals.
They're back-to-back champions for a reason. They'll have the best trio of guys in any series they play in, including having the best player in the world, along with a competent supporting cast.
No more coasting. This team is about to go all out, and the rest of the NBA should beware.
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