This is it. There are 13 days until Christmas, when NBA fans around the globe will receive the best gift of all—the return of basketball.
With such minimal time remaining, the excitement is mounting; amid the free-agent frenzy, the fans are getting riled up.
Several teams are bolstering their lineups and beefing up for deep playoff runs, but one club has placed more pressure on itself than any other.
The Miami Heat are surely still stinging from the six-game defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks last spring. They, too, have made moves to round out their roster for the better and are getting ready to avenge their finals loss.
The Heat aren't only looking for revenge as a team. Superstar LeBron James not only needs to avenge that loss personally, but he also needs to repair his image as well.
Whether other teams see it coming or not, James' wrath will be hotter than the fiery basketball emblazoned on Miami's logo.
Love him or hate him, LeBron is unequaled in this league when he's on. Because when he's on, he's on.
He has the skill and the talent to run circles around any of his NBA contemporaries. Believe it or not, 2011-12 will be his breakout performance.
It's rather simple to see, actually. Over the course of the lockout and offseason following the finals defeat, James has been, well, the un-LeBron. He's been having a good time, enjoying himself with light-spirited basketball games and college football visits.
He is trying to change the way he presents himself to the endless ocean of media outlets and is becoming the humble-yet-driven star we all hoped he would evolve into.
Let's break it down.
Last year's team was, for lack of a better word, an experiment. The Big Three was assembled, surrounded by a handful of young guns and over-the-hill veterans, and appeared to be on fire. In a perfect world, Miami would have won the NBA title. However, science is rarely conducted in a perfect setting and this particular experiment fell short.
This season, though, Miami has altered the recipe and is improving in the places they faltered in last time around.
Shane Battier and Eddy Curry are in. Magloire and Bibby are out. Chalmers and Jones are hanging around. The roster is starting to form into the ideal group that could help the Big Three fully reach their potential.
LeBron is only going to flourish within this team.
LeBron will have a bigger and stronger lineup to take the pressure off and allow him to work his magic in the triple threat on the wing. The new, big bodies will be able to set big screens and help force the defenders out of the lane for him to slam down some big points.
Chalmers' and Jones' three-point abilities will allow LeBron to attempt some deep shots of his own or rack up assists on the drive-and-kick sort of plays.
He has Wade to work off of, just like last year, and Bosh to turn to as well. In short, this team seems to be built for making LeBron look good.
A huge hindrance in James' game last year was, as we all know, himself. He brought his own towering skill down in one strong blow of self-consciousness and mental doubt.
Nonetheless, LeBron seems to have focused on improving his image in the media, and he wants to make amends for the two cities he let down over the past year. He no longer wants to be the villain and is hellbent on avenging the loss to the Mavericks.
Sure, he made some semi-ridiculous tweets about wanting to play in the NFL and was on the Internet's hit-list for a while, but come on, let the man breathe a little.
It's still nearly impossible to tell if James has overcome those mental obstacles, but as the league and its fans are well aware, this season is a clean slate for professional basketball.
A new CBA, big-name players on new teams and new hopes. LeBron, too, deserves a fresh start in South Beach and he will make the best of it.
During the playoffs last year, Miami made quick work of some of the best the NBA had to offer on its way to the finals. This year, the team is even better, with what seems to be a new and improved LeBron (if that's even possible).
Even though we are entering the Big Three Year II, this is a new Miami Heat team. One connected by a single, overall goal of winning a second franchise title.
LeBron will be at the forefront of that mission. With his new roster, new outlook and determination, he will be a force to reckoned with.
No matter what trades opposing teams make, it's time they start fearing what LeBron is capable of. Watch out, he's coming for you.