5 Biggest Threats to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat's NBA Title Quest
It turns out this wasn't going to be the cakewalk that many envisioned the Miami Heat winning a championship would be. For some reason, it takes more than three elite players and a below average supporting cast to win titles.
Actually, it just might because the Heat came two games away and a mental collapse of a star player away from winning an NBA title in their first season together. Even with Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem dealing with injuries for the majority of the season, the big three still nearly got it done before reaching the NBA Finals and becoming a part of one of the worst choke jobs in postseason history.
The 2010-11 season is in the past. The team must now look toward new challenges in the 2011-12 season that includes these five reasons that includes the outside influences that they will be taking on and more importantly, the inside reasons as to why they didn't win last year and what could be holding them back this upcoming season.
These five threats will be the biggest influences in holding the Heat back on their quest for a title, and they'll need to find ways to overcome each and every one of them in order to take it to the next level.
Dilemma at Center
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That idea of possibly landing Samuel Dalembert is becoming more and more of a dream as the days pass. With the Dallas Mavericks possibly targeting him and Dalembert turning off of the idea of signing with the Miami Heat, the team may be back to exactly where they were at the beginning of the off season period with only a few possible answers being acquired.
The Heat took a shot in the dark this off season by signing former Chicago Bull and New York Knick center Eddy Curry to the veteran's minimum. Curry has only played ten games in the past three years, he didn't even play last season, and was reported at weighing in at 350 pounds when he had his first workout with the Heat earlier this year in March. Since then, however, Curry has dropped 70 pounds and now looks like a completely different person.
For a player that was believed to be selfish and uncommitted to the league, Curry is showing an enormous change of heart by dropping a significant amount of weight and losing it all just for the purpose of coming back to the NBA and proving to himself, and his doubters, that he is capable of being a player that could be relied on. I wouldn't expect the Heat to start Curry, but he should be receiving minutes due to the lack of depth.
That's exactly where the problem lies. Signing Curry was a low risk and high reward situation, but for him to receive significant minutes early in the season is a clear sign that the Heat do not have the pieces at center that they were hoping to get this off season. For a player that's only played ten games in three years to be at the center of talks of possibly starting, it's not a good sign by the organization on where they stand at center.
Aside from Curry, the teams only two other options include second year center Dexter Pittman, 6'9" Joel Anthony, and free agent Erick Dampier who should be out the door soon. Pittman may be the next in line to take over the starters job, but that too is a tremendous risk as he hardly received any sort of playing time in the NBA last season.
The Chicago Bulls
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The biggest threat in the Eastern Conference to stealing the throne out from under the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls are sure to come back with a vengeance next season.
The Bulls will feature the same starting lineup next year with a huge upgrade at the shooting guard position after adding the recently waived Richard Hamilton. The longtime Piston, who helped lead the team to a championship in 2004, is just what the doctor ordered for the Bulls as they potentially add a player that could greatly assist the team on offense while also taking the scoring load off of Derrick Rose.
Chicago struggled in their Conference Finals loss to the Heat as Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng couldn't provide any sort of offensive relief to Rose, who struggled in the fourth quarter on account of incredible defense by LeBron James. With center Joakim Noah or shooting guard Keith Bogans providing little to nothing, the Bulls suffered as it became a one-man team.
Adding Hamilton addresses a number of issues as it helps to spread the floor with a solid mid-range threat and allows more defense to be added to the bench with Bogans set to join 'the bench mob' that now features himself, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, and Omer Asik. None of those players are scorers in anyway, but they make up for it with incredible defense that's huge for a second unit.
The Heat might have won their series in five games, but it's not as if the Bulls were completely dominated as Miami utilized the fourth quarter to their advantage in each game. The problem for Chicago was that once James began to defend Rose in the fourth, they had no answers on offense and weren't able to keep up with the athletic play of James and Dwyane Wade nor the play of Chris Bosh.
While many may overrate the Hamilton signing (he is 33 years old and will be defending Wade), it stills provides some much needed offense from a secondary source that has been consistent and has proved that he can step up in pressure situations.
Not to mention that Rose will only improve. At 23 years old, the stars are the limit for the former Memphis Wildcat.
Mike Miller's Shooting Ability
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To amnesty or not to amnesty, that is the question.
The Miami Heat answered to not utilize the amnesty clause on Mike Miller, and instead keep it in their back pocket for the future. I was a strong proponent against those claiming to use the amnesty clause on Miller following the conclusion of the lockout because I did truly think that his injuries were healed up and that his health, emotions, and confidence would be back in working order prior to joining the Heat.
That is up until Udonis Haslem surprised us all when claiming that Miller was just coming off a hernia surgery that would keep him out until at least the end of January, a month after the start of the regular season. A sports hernia doesn't carry as much negative influence as hand injuries do to a shooter, but these injuries that are piling up are going to have some sort of affect on any player in a discouraging fashion.
Many believed that Miller would be one of the first amnesty casualties, but it turns out that we were all surprised once again as the team elected to not do so. Rather than cutting Miller and creating some cap space to possibly sign Dalembert or Grant Hill, the Heat are sticking to their guns by keeping the faith in their sharp shooter and hoping that he ends up becoming the perimeter threat they gave him $30 million to be.
Losing Miller at the beginning of the season and then seeing him play hampered through the rest of the year was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the Heat. On a team where Chris Bosh is spending time in the mid-range and James and Wade are slashing on every drive, you have to find a way for defenses to focus their attention elsewhere which should have been the perimeter. However, with no Miller, teams were allowed to pack the paint with no consequences.
Miller shot 36% from beyond the arc in 41 regular season games with the Heat last season and then stunk it up a little more with a three-point percentage of 30% in the post season.
The team did re-sign James Jones recently, but he doesn't provide the intangibles that Miller provides. Jones can't play the defense, rebound, or hustle after loose balls like Miller does and that's what makes Mike such a valuable player to have on the floor, aside from his influence along the perimeter.
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The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers aren't as scary as they used to be to a team like the Miami Heat. Sorry to break it to those teams overzealous fan bases, but they're just not to a team as athletic and youthful as the Heat. A 33 year old Kobe Bryant and a Lakers team that's coming off of an incredibly disappointing end to their 2011 post season run just doesn't carry the same fear that they previously instilled in their opponents.
As for the Celtics, we saw how they matched-up with the Heat in last years post season. Boston may have the deeper and more well-rounded team, but they can't keep up with Miami for 48 minutes. The Heat were able to win so many fourth quarters against Boston in their five game series win because of how worn out the Celtics were by the start of the fourth quarter from having to chase Wade and James on the offensive end, while also having to deal with them on defense.
For those that want to say Rajon Rondo's injury greatly affected the outcome: he couldn't shoot before and a shoulder injury doesn't carry that much of an impact on a pass first point guard.
Instead of veteran teams like the Celtics and Lakers, the Heat should be worried about these new crop of young, up and coming teams that are popping up across the league. Perhaps their biggest worry should be the Oklahoma City Thunder, who sport an unbelievable starting lineup with threats at every position and a deep bench littered with defenders and perimeter threats.
Aside from having prolific scorers in Durant and Westbrook, perimeter threats in James Harden and Daequan Cook, and defensive specialists in Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, they also sport a possible Heat kryptonite in center Kendrick Perkins who has a long history with James and Wade when he was a member of the Celtics. Perkins adds a lot of size and physicality in the middle, which means a lot to any team that wants to end the driving of the league's two most prolific slashers.
One of the latest teams to be added to this short list is the New York Knicks. After dropping out of the race for Chris Paul, the team decided to set their sights on creating a solid all-around roster by adding center Tyson Chandler to the equation. The former Dallas Maverick was a driving force in the teams title win last year as he helped bring about a defensive philosophy that no Maverick team had ever seen before.
Trust me, it's no coincidence that the team won a championship in the one year he was there. Chandler is one of the smartest defenders in the game and proves that with his stellar lateral quickness and timing and awareness on deterring shots in the middle.
Adding Chandler helps bring about a defensive philosophy that a team like the Knicks could greatly use. The two biggest stars in Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have shown little concern for playing defense in the past and adding Chandler might just have his influence rub off on his two superstars teammates.
The Knicks need defensive stoppers if they want to beat a team like the Heat and they made the right move by signing an elite post presence in Tyson.
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Did the Dallas Mavericks truly beat the Miami Heat? They were clearly the better all-around team and the stronger squad from the perimeter, but are they really better than the Heat just because of a gimmick defense that's rarely utilized in the NBA? The Mavericks were the hungrier team by the end of the series, but how could they defeat a team that had just steamrolled their way through two superior defenses in Chicago and Boston.
It just doesn't seem to make much sense. A zone defense beating the Miami Heat? Even though that's strictly designed to stop slashers from driving, it still doesn't carry as much weight as aggressive and physical defenses like the Bulls and Celtics. Even in those series when Chi-town and Beantown attempted to pack the paint, the slashers would step it up from the perimeter and make their shots when it counted.
What stopped the Heat from walking away from a title in 2011 was themselves. I'll give all the credit in the world to the Mavericks because they made their shots on offense and made their stands on defense, but for a player of LeBron James caliber to average 17 points per game, it's not because of the oppositions defense. A superstar like James carrying that little of a positive impact is a mental thing and has nothing to do with the defense.
To simply put it, James couldn't respond to the pressure and the coaching staff didn't know how to react. Rather than allowing Chris Bosh to step into the role of second option behind Wade, they attempted to force feed James as a means to get him going and showing that they still have confidence in him. The problem was that LeBron was shying away from the competition and wanted no part of being in that spotlight, which speaks too much of James' mentality in these types of settings.
Until James can overcome the thought of being in that type of pressure situation, the Heat are going to be in trouble when they reach the NBA Finals. They need their top players in elite form and includes the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the rest of this team who need to step it up in case a situation like last season arises again.
The only people stopping the Heat from winning a title is themselves and no one else. They have the best team in the NBA and they need to play the other half of the game, the mental part, if they want to win that title that they are so adamant about winning.