It might only be the start of preseason, but just hearing the sounds and commentary of an NBA game is enough to get us back into the spirit of watching the most exciting professional sporting event.
The layoff was so long that we thought we would actually go an entire season without having basketball. It appeared that the league would go the route of the NHL by missing an entire season, but we were lucky enough that they would reach a deal at the last minute to preserve a season. There won't be 82 games, but we'll appreciate the fact that they're 66.
The Heat didn't appear to miss a beat in their first preseason game. Playing in their first game since the Game 6 Finals loss that gave the Dallas Mavericks the championship, the Heat won win 118-85 over an Orlando Magic team that had won its 22 previous preseason matchups. Much like last year when they would use the opening minutes of the second half to pull away, the Heat used a 29-15 third frame advantage to pull away.
Miami outscored the Magic 65-39 in the second half. I know it's only preseason, but this team is looking as scary as ever. LeBron James, who led the way with 19 points, was unbelievably consistent with his jump shot; Dwyane Wade appeared stronger and faster than ever; and Chris Bosh continued to hit his mid-range shots at an impressive rate.
Perhaps the best stat of the night would be Udonis Haslem with 11 points and nine rebounds. After missing every regular season from November 20th on last season, it was a pleasing sight to see Haslem posting up the same numbers that he was posting up before his injury.
With the first preseason game in the books and opening day creeping up closer and closer, we have 10 bold predictions for the Miami Heat in the 2011-12 campaign. This team is destined for greatness and their run towards redemption starts less than a week from now.
Over the offseason, the Miami Heat didn't do too much in terms of acquiring a solid point guard or center. Their biggest offseason acquisition was small forward Shane Battier, who addresses the issue of consistency off the bench on both sides of the ball. Center Eddy Curry also joined the team, but with only 18 games in the past three seasons, he's not going to be making too large of an impact any time soon.
The center is a completely different issue, but there is still the dilemma at point guard, where Mario Chalmers currently resides as the starter. Miami went through three different point guards last season, including Chalmers, and the team now expects him to start after an impressive postseason run, as well as the loss of Mike Bibby.
Chalmers has been a member of the Heat for his entire career and has had the starting role a number of times, including upon his entrance in the league. After a solid rookie season where he averaged 10 points per game and led all rookies in steals per with two, Chalmers suffered a drop off, struggled with inconsistencies and ended up losing his job.
Chalmers now has the starting job by default, but could end up losing that job soon if he doesn't maintain a level of acceptable consistency. With Cleveland State's finest, and the most recent Heat draft pick, Norris Cole waiting in the wings, Chalmers may be on the bench by years end if he doesn't make his open shots and limit his turnovers.
After being taken late in the first round, Cole may end up being the steal of the draft. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound point guard may appear to be undersized, but don't judge him on either of those listings. He's extremely aggressive on defense, has the speed to keep up with opposing point guards on defense and burn them on offense, and the strength to matchup with any other point guard.
Cole has a solid mid-range game, can attack the basket and may be one of the best rebounding point guards we've ever seen. In fact, Cole's rebounding is so prolific that he ended up having a 20 rebound game in his senior season at Cleveland State.
With Cole's athleticism and speed with the ball playing well into the Heat's offensive system, he could have a job by the midway point of the season if he can continue playing hard on both sides of the ball—and if Chalmers regresses.
This could be the boldest of all the predictions. After playing only in 18 games over two seasons and then following that up with a season-long layoff, former Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks center Eddy Curry will now be one of the Miami Heat's two pure centers.
Alongside Dexter Pittman, Curry represents the lone sliver of hope for the Heat finding their starting center of the future on the current roster. While the Heat still list the 6-foot-9 Joel Anthony as the starter, they'll be looking towards a stronger source of size and consistency to reside in the middle. Anthony will continually be pushed around by the bigger post presences, which means Pittman or Curry will have to step up.
Pittman still has plenty to work on, including his weight issues and his lack of agility. He'll only be in his second year and with only three games of professional basketball under his belt, receiving a starting job would be a shocking development. He'll receive significant minutes due to the overall lack of a center, but he won't be a starter anytime soon.
Look no further than the 29-year-old Curry, who was a force in the paint on offense in a past life, once averaging as many as 20 points per game before weight issues and a lack of commitment began to plague his career. With his commitment to the team being brought into the question, Curry found himself riding the end of the bench with New York before finding himself without a job.
Curry has shown a great deal of commitment over the past few months. This isn't a player just looking for a paycheck (he'll only be making $1 million this season). Curry's looking to make a statement by dropping nearly 100 pounds in order to make it back into the league, and is looking to prove to himself that he can become a relevant piece of an NBA franchise.
With motivation, commitment and a lack of depth being on his side, Curry should find himself as a starter near the same time that Norris Cole finds himself becoming the starting point guard.
It didn't seem possible, but the Miami Heat are actually lacking at center even more than last season.
Heading into the 2011-12 season, this Heat team does not have nearly as much depth as it did last year at center. With a myriad of centers in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and Erick Dampier, the Heat could have at least looked towards their bench for momentary answers against a specific opponent.
This year's Heat roster now features only two true centers—second-year Dexter Pittman and Eddy Curry. Pittman might as well be a rookie after playing in only three games and spending the majority of the season in the D-League. Dexter averaged 14 points and eight boards per, but he wasn't able to throw his weight around properly. Weighing in at over 300 pounds, the Heat optioned Dexter to the D-League so that he may work the weight off and improve his overall game in an environment that doesn't ail the team.
Curry is a terrific story of commitment and ambition. After eating his way out of contract in New York and weighing in at as much as 350 pounds during his first workout with the Heat in March, Curry has shed over 70 pounds and was gifted with the veteran's minimum because of that. However, conditioning will be a serious issue as the Heat will have to allow him to adjust back to playing a regulation game.
With so few options at center, it's going to be up to Chris Bosh to step up and accept the role of being an enforcer in the middle. Now that Bosh has bulked up and is willing to accept the role of playing center for an extended period, the Heat could look to him as a momentary answer to their dilemma inside.
The Heat don't need much help in the scoring department in the middle, but they will need a strong rebounding presence. Curry and Pittman are unproven, which means that Bosh will have to be ready to step up, get aggressive and be willing to back up his claim of playing center.
With so few options in the paint, Bosh will be looking to make a statement and should be averaging 10 boards per due to the lack of a strong inside presence.
Possibly the best acquisition that the Heat could have made this offseason, Shane Battier may not be a center or point guard; but he will be addressing a serious issue that will give his team a larger advantage than ever before.
With Mike Miller limping his way throughout the 2010-11 season, it was obvious that the Heat needed some consistency off the bench in case this problem persists. Mario Chalmers, James Jones and Eddie House were cutting it as consistent threats off the bench from the perimeter and that meant more defensive attention focused on the big three.
Wade and James would be met with consistent resistance in the paint and Bosh would be met with pressure from the mid-range due to the defense sagging off of the perimeter. There wasn't a consistent source of offense from 25 feet or beyond, and that meant the defense could focus their attention from within the perimeter with no consequences.
Miller's return will have to wait, but they now have a 39 percent career three-point shooter in Battier to rely on. As well as being one of the league's top perimeter defenders, Battier has been one of the more consistent shooters from deep as well. A career that started in 2001, he has never shot below 36 percent from beyond the arc in a season.
Battier is going to heavily rely on kick-outs from members of the Big Three for his offense, as he will find himself open for countless open opportunities from deep. Being a consistent shooter on the likes of Memphis and Houston, Battier should have no trouble getting adjusted to Heat culture and thriving off of the influence of his superstar teammates.
Last season, the Heat ranked amongst the top teams in points allowed per game.
Why wouldn't they? The team possessed two of the league's top perimeter defenders in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Just with those two dominating at the perimeter, getting in the middle of passing lanes and causing turnovers that led to fast breaks, James and Wade would give the Heat a defensive edge in every game that they were featured together.
Couple those two with stellar anticipation by Mario Chalmers and the quick feet and shot blocking prowess of Joel Anthony and you end up having one of the league's top defensive teams. Still, the team featured only two strong defenders and a few defenders who had specific specialties. The rest of the squad was littered with weak defenders that couldn't fulfill their duty at their position.
The Heat didn't do too much over the offseason, but they did just happen to address this key issue as well.
By adding Battier, the Heat receive one of the league's top perimeter defenders. Even at 33 years old, Battier still has the size and strength to keep up and defend any point guard, shooting guard or small forward. He relies heavily on his defensive prowess to keep up with opponents of every size, age, and speed and it allows him to continue remaining relevant on defense, even if he may be considered over the hill.
Another player to help address the issue would be Norris Cole. In the few practices and the lone preseason game, Cole has impressed the coaching staff with his aggressiveness on the defensive end of the floor. He holds a huge advantage over current starter Mario Chalmers when it comes to one-on-one defense, and it might give him the edge when the team decides who to start.
With stellar defenders in the starting lineup and off the bench, the Heat will continue raising the bar on defense. To go along with one of the NBA's most high-octane offense, they'll also sport the league's top defense.
Not since Fat Lever has a player come to close to averaging a triple-double.
After coming as close as two rebounds and three assists away from pulling an Oscar Robertson, LeBron James will be looking towards doing the impossible by averaging a triple-double for the season. The feat has only been completed one time in NBA history, which came in 1962 in Robertson's second year. The closest anyone else has come since then would be Lever, who came a rebound and two assists short in 1987.
James certainly won't be averaging a triple-double, but he will lead the league in triple-doubles and will come as close to averaging a TD than any other player in history. While some suspected that James would be capable of posting up a triple-double for an entire season, it's seemingly impossible to consistently do everything on the floor 48 minutes per night.
Robertson played during a different time. The fast pace that the game was run at allowed for more possessions than there are today. The Big O had plenty of more opportunities than current NBA players to record rebounds and assists. Even with that accelerated pace, Robertson would only average one true triple-double where he exceeded 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
LeBron isn't going to average a triple-double (that's too bold), but he will come as close as anyone ever could. Since the Heat is limited in the middle and in terms of possessing a facilitator, James will have to step up and address both issues by becoming a more aggressive player on the boards and when attempting to lead an offense.
If James doesn't run an offense like he did in Cleveland, the Heat would allow him to run the offense. The team just doesn't want to see the ball remain stagnant at the perimeter, where James would dribble the ball and stop the development of the offense. If he can keep the ball moving and have players moving as well, he should have no trouble averaging as much as nine assists per.
As athletic as he is, James should be giving a greater effort on the boards. He's averaged as many as eight boards per in 2008, but will exceed that total in order to give the team a strong rebounding presence next to Haslem and Bosh.
Last season, the Miami Heat started out 9-8 and endured a five-game losing streak in the first half of March.
Their final record? A staggering 58-24, which would be good enough for second in the Eastern Conference and third in the NBA behind the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. Even though the Heat fed on the weaker teams of the league, they managed to get their fair share of quality wins, especially later on in the season when they defeated Boston, the L.A. Lakers and San Antonio.
The Heat finished a combined 1-7 against the Bulls and Celtics, and they still managed to register 58 wins. Their struggles against the elite teams of the league were illuminated by the media and it was obvious to see that the Heat couldn't keep up with those teams for the full 48 minutes. Miami might have hung around for the majority of those games, but the fourth quarter usually weighed in favor of the opposition.
Yet they still won 58 games. Put that in perspective when you try to predict how many games the Heat are going to win in the 2011-12 season. Now that it's been proven that the Heat can beat out the elite teams and are arguably the best team in the league, winning is going to come a lot more frequently for a much more well-rounded team that now sports a stronger bench and a more cohesive core.
The Heat's strength of schedule might be among the highest, but this team is out to prove that they're ready for whatever is thrown in their direction.
Expect the Heat to finish 52-14 with the majority of their losses coming against the league's best and losses coming against sub-.500 teams being a rare occurrence.
The Eastern Conference is currently at a changing of the guard.
Just like the New Jersey Nets reign ending in the early-2000s and the Detroit Pistons ending midway through the second half of the '00s, the Boston Celtics now find themselves possibly nearing the end of their control at the top of the Conference. They recently found themselves not only third in the East last season, but also suffering their earliest exit since they arranged their Big Three in the 2007 offseason.
The Celtics lost to the Heat in the second round and managed to lose it in five games, the fewest amount of games they've lost a series since they brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play alongside Paul Pierce.
With Boston growing older and older, the younger, more athletic teams of the league are now set to usurp the throne. The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls now find themselves at the top of the Conference, with their competition residing in the likes of the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers. All four of those teams contain solid rosters, but they pale in comparison to the firepower that the Heat and Bulls possess.
The Bulls made a key improvement over the offseason. By picking up Richard Hamilton and starting him at shooting guard over the recently waived Keith Bogans, Chicago now finds itself with a reliable scorer outside of Derrick Rose as well as a player that can attract some attention off of Rose. Hamilton's playoff experience will also provide a boost to a team whose star player is only 23 years old.
However, they'll be going against a greatly improved Heat team four times this season. They'll also have the misfortune of being in an improved division that now sports an improved Pacers team, a dangerous Bucks team if healthy and developing teams in Detroit and Cleveland.
With Chicago having their hands full with their own division opponents, as well as the Heat, Miami should take advantage with a strong showing against the East that will enable them to at least a five-game lead over the second-place Bulls.
The 2011-12 Miami Heat team is undeniably better than that of the 2010-11 squad.
Not only do you have a more cohesive core between LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh after a seasons' worth of playing together, the team now sports a reliable and consistent bench.
Unlike last year when the Heat had to rely on Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony and James Jones as their top contributors on offense and defense, they can now look towards Shane Battier, a healthy Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, once he returns back from recovering a hernia surgery. With Miller and Haslem injured for the majority of the season and the Heat never playing at 100 percent last season, the team never saw itself at full strength.
Three players nearly won the Miami Heat an NBA title, but that's now how it should work. The trio needed answers from the bench and they couldn't receive that on a consistent enough basis to reach the highest level. Now that they have Battier, Miller and Haslem replacing Anthony, Chalmers and Jones, the Heat can finally begin looking towards some consistency outside of the big three.
Last year, the Heat came two games away from winning a title with Mario Chalmers as their fourth-best player. It's going to be extremely tough to argue against the Heat this season when they have a supporting cast that they can actually rely on. As far as it looks, their only source of strong competition in the East appears to be the Chicago Bulls.
The same team that the Heat met in the Conference Finals addressed a key issue in the starting lineup by adding a solid shooting guard, but it won't compare to the Heat adding a stellar perimeter defender in Battier, as well as receiving a healthy Haslem and Miller.
Once the Heat get by the Bulls, they'll meet up with their Western Conference equivalent in the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder match up with the Heat better than any other team in the league, thanks to their athleticism, balance between the starting lineup and bench, and a stellar big three that includes Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
This will appropriately be the Heat's toughest series of the post season. The Thunder match up with the Heat at the three key positions and even possess the advantage at point guard and center. The only problem for OKC is that they lack the same amount of efficiency on defense as opposed to their offense.
Harden won't be able to contain Wade, and Durant won't be able to hold James for too long, which will enable the Heat into a six-game series victory over the Thunder for their first title in the Big Three era.
The NBA MVP isn't awarded for individual achievement like it is in MLB. The NBA is a team game, and that means the award is given to the league's top teammate.
Rather than awarding an individual for his statistics, the NBA gives out its MVP Award for being the best player on the best team. They might not always have the best statistics, but they play the most significant part of their team's success and are always the one that the squad looks to in their most dire moments.
Their wasn't a better year to prove this than the 2005-06 when Steve Nash won the award over Kobe Bryant. The Laker star might have led the league in scoring at 35 points per and scored 81 points in a single game, but it was Nash and his 19 points and league leading 11 assists per that would take home the MVP. This managed to happen due to Bryant's Lakers winning only 45 games to Nash's Phoenix Suns winning 54 games without the teams leading scorer.
We may not agree with it, but that's how the NBA's run and how its most prestigious award is given out.
This season, Dwyane Wade may not have the league's top statistics, but he will win the MVP Award because he will be the best player on the best team in the NBA. It may end up being LeBron James who leads the league in scoring, but when the team looks for its closer to win the close games, they're going to look to Wade before anyone else.
To go along with the Heat winning over 50 games and leading the league in that category, the award will appropriately go to Wade if history stands firm.
That second MVP award? That will come a few months later when Wade leads the team in the NBA Finals to a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. After witnessing how James responded to the pressure in the NBA Finals, the Heat coaching staff will be looking towards Wade to close out games and lead the team to a titles victory instead.
The last player to win a regular season and Finals MVP in the same year was Tim Duncan in 2002-03. Wade will be looking to join historic company this upcoming season.