The pressure on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the first week was unprecedented in the NBA. It goes without saying that the free agency period of 2010 not only lived up to the hype and expectations, but exceeded them, establishing the most anticipated season in the history of the NBA.
About one week ago, the Miami Thrice walked onto the court in Boston having played only three minutes together as members of the Miami Heat. Christmas came early for Dan Gilbert and the Miami Heat detractors. The Heat managed just nine points in their first quarter of the year in what would eventually be a loss to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics. Neither Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh ever looked comfortable on the floor.
Then, something changed.
In the following three games Miami would hold opponents on average to less than 80 points a game. The average margin of victory was just over 19 points.
Sure, one could point out that two of the opponents were New Jersey and Philadelphia, two teams that are not considered playoff contenders this season.
However, Miami's victory over Orlando on Friday was a statement. The Heat are not out to just win games this season. They are out to prove a point, to crush opposition, and to demonstrate that the construction of this team was the right choice for each individual involved.
So what has driven this 3-1 start for Miami, who have been so dominant following the initial Boston loss?
It starts on the defensive end. The Heat are holding opponents to just 80.8 points a game leading the NBA in that category. Not only is Miami dominating defensively, but the next best defensive team is allowing six more points per game. Driving this category is the fact that the Heat have held opponents to under 39 percent from the field.
Coach Erik Spoelstra deserves an enormous amount of credit for the Heat's defensive start. From his humble beginnings as Miami's video coordinator, Spoelstra has been brought up in the Pat Riley system of toughness and defensive intensity being key to winning games. Spoelstra's effort and preparation has been on display through his team's defensive performance.
Obviously, the credit does not just lie with Spoelstra or the defense. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have quickly generated chemistry on the court. In the four games that Miami has played, both Wade and James have led the Heat in scoring in two of the games. What has happened in Miami is a commitment to winning rather than statistics.
In fact, on Sunday against the New Jersey Nets, Dwyane Wade took just nine shots, half of the eighteen he has averaged throughout his career. It's not about the individual as Wade explained after Sunday's game.
Wade commented that "the balance is what we are here together for...to have an opportunity to make the game easy on everyone and we’re doing it. We’re playing great team basketball and we’re still not where we want to be, but we’re making sure everyone gets an opportunity.”
Individually, each of the Miami Thrice are averaging some of the least impressive statistics of their careers, yet this Miami Heat team is unquestionably the best team any of them have ever been on.
As for the supporting cast, it is difficult to criticize. James Jones is averaging over 10 points a game, almost entirely on three pointers. In fact, Jones has hit just one non-three point field goal this season. Eddie House is likewise shooting better than 50 percent from downtown and has evidently improved his defense under the tutelage of Spoelstra.
Carlos Arroyo has limited turnovers and has impressed with his efficiency as the starting point guard. Even Zydrunas Illgauskas, despite seeing limited minutes, is showing what made him an all-star for so many years in Cleveland. Joel Anthony remains a work in progress, but he has shown some flashes of defensive brilliance.
Overall, one has to be impressed with the first week of the Miami Heat. Had it not been for a clutch Ray Allen three pointer with just a couple minutes to play, Miami could have stolen a game from the Celtics despite a horrific start. Nevertheless, Miami's first week must be considered a great success.
As Dwayne Wade mentioned, there is still a lot of work to be done, but that doesn't mean Heat fans can't enjoy the ride.