Miami Heat: 8 Keys to Success for LeBron James and Co. During 2011-12
The Miami Heat certainly have their to-do list, just like any other team in the league. They most definitely have needs, such as depth, just like any other team in the league.
Nonetheless with what they have now, the Heat have everything they need to win a title, provided they don't forget to do/work on certain things.
Aside from the compulsory need to sign free agents— which will be no walk in the park aside from more discount bin players—the Heat have shown many weaknesses and/or liabilities.
These issues would also need to be addressed if they plan to be the unstoppable auto-pilot juggernaut these guys envisioned when they all came together.
On to it, then.
1. Stay Healthy
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Eureka! I think I've figured it out... injuries are not a good thing.
In Miami's case, obviously they need D-Wade and LeBron to play as close as possible to 82 games apiece. Not too many teams would lament having "only" one super-duper star on the court, but in Miami's case, it's a huge step down into "beatable."
Sure, a healthy Chris Bosh is good too, but a healthy Udonis Haslem is what should be on everybody's radar for this team to excel. Haslem's foot is still a question mark, and losing him again would suck the toughness out of this team.
You lose Haslem, and you lose a hard worker with a hard nose and then who do you look to? Anthony and Dampier can only do so much. Bosh? Insert chuckling emoticon here.
Mike Miller, as shaky as he can be at times, needs to be at the team's full disposal as well, to round out Miami's little battalion of three-point-only shooters (Jones, House, Bibby). More bombers means LeBron will always have someone to bail him out when he leaves his feet.
All in all, these guys need to make life easier for the Three Amigos. They don't want all the pressure of scoring 90 points per game; that's what drove them into each other's arms in the first place.
2. Finish Them!
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The Heat were notorious for squandering leads throughout the regular season, and then they went and did it particularly big at a particularly bad time.
This team will do what it ought to do, which is step on the gas until they crack the game open, but once they've built what they judge to be a safe lead (e.g. 15 with seven minutes to play) they inexplicably take their foot off the gas.
Granted, it took a team like the Mavericks (whose guts I can't find the words to describe) to take full advantage, for several games, of the Heat's bad habits when playing with the lead.
What if next year, it's Chicago or someone else who has an excess of inspiration and fights them into the ground the way Dallas did?
This has to stop and they need to close every game out regardless. Otherwise, they could conceivably be on the wrong end of the largest fourth quarter comeback one day. Plus, it leaves them vulnerable to defeat in otherwise easily-won games.
If two of those one-possession Dallas comeback wins didn't happen... well, you did pass second-grade math, didn't you?
3. Re-Learn What They Un-Learned
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Remember when LeBron wasn't the biggest failure in the universe?
Remember when he was actually the almighty ruler of said universe?
It was pretty much the entire month of May, from the beginning of the Boston series to Game 2 of the Finals. LeBron, to the dismay of myself among so many others, had finally arrived.
He had finally figured it all out. His team, aside from one good beatdown in C-town, also seemed to have picked up the rhythm of his steaming locomotive. Even with a struggling D-Wade, they became what everybody outside Miami feared they'd become.The world was theirs.*
And then the wheels came off the bullet train.
It was as if the entire team had been on something all season that made them underachieve at key times, then they gave it up for a month, and then relapsed in the Finals. Whatever was in their juice against Dallas, needs to go down the drain with the 2010-11 season.
Last May put the world on notice that the Miami Heat are already capable of playing to their full potential. If they're going to go back to one-dimensional offensive sets and late-game pussyfooting, then they've done themselves a colossal disservice.
Because they won't have that excuse any more.
4. Work with Joel Anthony
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Joel Anthony is many things.
Undersized... unpolished... unskilled... unsavvy, even.
He's also hard-nosed, energetic, coachable and young.
With the limited cap space the Heat have—and likely even more so when this cartoonish tussling cloud of players and owners finally clears—they won't be in the market for too many big men of worth. It follows logically that they should spare no effort building from within.
Erick Dampier is not the way, and Z just hung up his ankle tape, so where else are you gonna look?*
A tougher, more experience Anthony coupled with a recently returned Udonis Haslem will give Miami an even tougher defensive presence down low. Plus, who knows? Maybe somebody will be able to squeeze some offense out of him...
Even if he just brings enough to the table to be a (dirt) poor man's Charles Oakley, that just happens to be something this team has in short supply.
*Yes, I do understand that the word "gonna" is still not in the dictionary.
5. Mario Chalmers' Finals Performance Must Become the Norm
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Chalmers played uncharacteristically solid ball throughout much of the Finals, and it earned him a starting nod just in time for Game 6. Now granted, he had his difficulties like the rest of this team against Dallas (God bless ''em). but he was still a major bright spot when there were few for Miami.
Many times, I dare say he played with more focus and courage than ol' Talents over there...
His over-achievement in the championship series probably had something to do with his experience at Kansas, which would explain a lot. It would, however, also beg a question...
The question is whether that was a breakthrough or merely a spike in production from an inspired player? Let's not forget that there is such a thing, as rare as it may be, as a guy who only performs under pressure.
Will Chalmers pull a Boobie Gibson and revert to his "original" self, or will he continue to play well enough that Miami will not have to worry so much about their quarterback position?
No offense, Mike Bibby, but you are the past; Miami needs a future at the point. Chalmers is showing flashes, and this team better be hoping that's not all they were.
6. LeBron James Must Find His Mental Game
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I sighed long and loud before typing this sentence.
Forget not having a post game (though that would be nice,) LeBron James needs a mental game. His kung-fu must come from the mind before the body sometimes, because newsflash: forget what you heard, that's what makes greatness.
Who's going to dispute that there's no good reason why this guy shouldn't own the NBA by now? With all those physical gifts and the court-vision to boot, he's got the tools one would make the perfect ballplayer with. It's just unfair.
But, dear God, the hubris. Miami critics worry about LeBron's sense of entitlement, while many Miami fans now worry that he somehow believes events will bend to it.
As is customary, he will of course be amazing all season long and likely through the beginning of the Playoffs.
But deep in the postseason, LeBron needs to stop acting like the Larry O'Brien trophy is cosmically drawn to him. Championships don't just happen, no matter how amazing you are as an athlete or how perfectly it fits the narrative of previous amazing athletes.
When he finally understands this, he will accept the responsibility of the next "now or never" game.
I'm no genius, but Miami's going to be in the Finals again sooner than later, and if LeBron has learned so little that history repeats itself... well, you can take it from there. As of now, this is a completely unanswered question. I'm not saying it will, I'm not saying it won't.
7. Erik Spoelstra Must Mature as a Coach... Just in Case
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Erik Spoelstra is a pretty decent coach. He definitely doesn't merit the constant talk of being fired, but I guess that's just a reflection of the pressure that comes with coaching the basketball equivalent of Voltron on steroids.
That said, he's not exactly the hardest guy to out-coach. In the Finals, he allowed Miami's offense to stagnate in the face of unorthodox D, with predictable results. He could also be seen looking and talking like a guy who is out of his league at this level.
Pat Riley is the quintessential replacement for him, not because Spo's no good, or because Riley is already two offices down. But because only a Hall of Fame coach like himself makes more sense at the helm of this behemoth.
Forgive me for saying it... Pat Riley could have coached LeBron through those fourth quarters.
I'm not saying pull the trigger; I'm just saying Spoelstra has a ways to go before you can call him an elite coach. It actually takes more than simply coaching an elite team. He's coached worse, and done well, so he has skills to build on, however slowly.
Still there are times I feel sorry for Spoelstra because he's had such a sudden embarrassment of riches in the 2010, you can't blame him if plugging his two megastars together with spare parts hasn't been a seamless process.
I will say this in Spoelstra's favor: He has a rare and rather impressive gift for maintaining the respect of his stars despite being completely incapable of controlling their egos.
8. Just Show Up
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Because come on...
Just come on. Any team with these two men, plus Chris Bosh, should be in a natural state of constantly winning. All they need to do is adjust their attitude and not screw up too much, which really has been the only thing to stand in their way thus far.
If LeBron keeps playing like he did before the Finals, and Wade keeps playing like he always does, these guys are in contention by default. Meanwhile, if Bosh can keep up his production, and Haslem can be tough enough for the two of them. They can take 27 teams or so with relative ease.
People said after the Finals that pure talent doesn't trump teamwork, which glosses over the fact that it damn near did.
It's a platitude for the ages, but the only team that can defeat Miami Heat is the Miami Heat. In fact, they're so loaded that it takes a perfect storm of self-sabotage and world-beating opposition to even threaten their chances.