2013-2014 Miami HEAT Season Preview
When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces on the Miami HEAT in the summer of 2010, they wanted to form a dynasty. The trio made it clear that winning multiple championships was not only the goal, but the expectation. While the star-studded HEAT didn’t hang a banner in their first season together, they have since won two consecutive championships. They have looked somewhat vulnerable at times, but there’s no denying that Miami is on a tier of their own. Every other team in the league is looking up at the HEAT and trying to figure out how to dethrone them. Now, Miami will attempt to become the sixth team in NBA history to win back-to-back-to-back titles, which won’t be easy with an aging supporting cast and championship-or-bust expectations.
In & Out
Additions: Greg Oden, Michael Beasley.
Subtractions: Mike Miller, Juwan Howard.
Five Guys Think…
For the second straight year the Miami HEAT were able to battle through adversity and win the championship. They come back next year with all of their core pieces intact along with new additions in Greg Oden and potentially Michael Beasley, if he makes the team — a pretty good bet. There’s no reason to think that this team won’t be able to get back to the Finals again, although the Eastern Conference looks to be as tough as it has been since the creation of the big three. Typically pending free agency can be a team’s undoing, especially when it’s your top three players who could leave at season’s end, but the HEAT have veterans who would prefer to avoid the drama. Their primary focus is to win a title and they have everything they need to defend their championship, with good health we could be looking at the first three peat since the Los Angeles Lakers at the start of the new millenium.
1st place – Southeast Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
Miami is obviously the favorite to win the championship after hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for two years in a row and making three consecutive trips to the Finals. At the end of the day, their star-studded core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is battle-tested and ready to take on all challengers around the league as they try for a three-peat. With that said, the gap between the Heat and the NBA’s other elite teams seems to be shrinking. James is clearly the best player on the planet, but his supporting cast is aging. Wade has been breaking down in recent years and key contributors are nearing retirement. And let’s not forget, Miami has looked extremely vulnerable during these last two championship runs, as evidenced by the fact that the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs each came within one win of defeating them. Miami is the one of the best teams in the league entering the 2013-14 season, but they certainly aren’t untouchable, especially since many of their fellow contenders made significant additions this offseason. While it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if the HEAT won the championship this year, it’s not hard to imagine their reign over the rest of the NBA coming to an end during the upcoming season either.
1st place – Southeast Division
As long as LeBron James walks the earth with two working legs and shoulders the width of an ocean liner, it’s going to be very hard to pick any team other than his as the NBA championship frontrunner. Dwyane Wade isn’t getting any less rickety, and the point guard rotation is perhaps even less sturdy than D-Wade’s joints. Inexpensive stud role players like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Chris Andersen have kept this team much deeper than anyone ever thought they’d be able to afford, but James is still the reason they are at the top of the heap not only in their conference, but in the league. The East has gotten tougher this year, and the West has about five teams that could realistically make the Finals, but odds-makers aren’t crazy enough to name anyone else the preseason favorite to win this thing. A three-peat is far from inevitable, but what sane person would pick any other team to take the 2014 NBA Finals?
1st Place – Southeast Division
– Joel Brigham
Three straight appearances in the NBA Finals. Two straight title winning campaigns. Yes, it’s safe to call the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh a resounding success story. The team will enter training camp as the favorites to win their third straight championship. Now, the team isn’t unbeatable by any stretch and has more than its share of mental lapses. However, beating this team in a best of seven series has proved to be elusive despite a few teams having a good deal of short term success. The reason is the HEAT are a clutch unit who have an outstanding level of chemistry. James is the best player in the game today and plays his best under the glare of the brightest lights. An area of concern is age. Role players Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis are getting a little long in the tooth, while Wade’s cranky knees are always a worry point for HEAT fans. But if healthy and Father Time remains on the sideline, a fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals is the bare minimum expectation for this unit.
1st Place – Southeast Division
- Lang Greene
The HEAT should be able to comfortably waltz into the 2014 NBA Playoffs with a fourth straight Southeast Division title in tow. The HEAT simply have no peer in their division and will probably not be seriously challenged until they reach the second round of of next year’s playoffs. A second straight 60-win season would be nice for the resume of head coach Erik Spoelstra, but nothing matters more to this team than the potential three-peat. The major wildcard for the HEAT are the knees of both mainstay Dwyane Wade and newcomer Greg Oden. If Wade continues to experience issues with his knee, the HEAT may sputter, and after coming dangerously close to being bested by both the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs last season, concerns persist. As for Oden, if he is able to effectively contribute, he will bolster the team’s interior defense and address the team’s only glaring weakness—its presence in the interior. The re-signed Chris Andersen will continue to pay major dividends for the HEAT and the enigmatic Michael Beasley should fill the offensive void created by the departure of the amnestied Mike Miller. Even with the concerns, LeBron James’ greatness will likely win out, so long as Chris Bosh and Ray Allen remain healthy, along with Wade. In the end, the HEAT will be exactly where most expect them to be when it is all said and done—making a fourth straight appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
1st Place — Southeast Division
— Moke Hamilton
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: LeBron James. Not only is James the top offensive player in Miami, he’s arguably the best offensive player in the entire league. In recent years, James has continued to get better offensively by becoming more efficient and improving his post scoring. He can take over a game by scoring at will or distributing to his teammates. It’s this versatility that makes him virtually unstoppable, and why Miami’s offense is ranked the best in the NBA.
Top Defensive Player: LeBron James. Several years ago, this would have been a toss-up between James and Wade, but it’s no contest now. James was the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year last season, and he’s been in the mix for the award every year since reaching his prime. James shuts down his man on a nightly basis, and is one of the few players in NBA history who can guard all five positions. James wouldn’t have four MVP trophies if his game wasn’t well-rounded.
Top Playmaker: LeBron James. While this designation often goes to point guards, James is the HEAT’s best facilitator. James actually prefers to be a distributor over a scorer, which is rare for a superstar who puts up points at will. Last season, James led all non-point guards in assists per game (7.3, 10th in the NBA) and total assists (551, 8th in the NBA). No other forward averaged more than five assists, further proving that James’ skill set is incredibly unique.
Best Clutch Player: LeBron James. Remember those jokes about James not being clutch? He has put an end to them by emerging as one of the NBA’s elite clutch players. Last year, James was excellent in the final five minutes of games in which neither team was ahead by more than five points, leading the league in plus-minus under these circumstances. He also finished first in clutch scoring in the playoffs. Late in games, the ball will be in James’ hands to either score or facilitate.
The Unheralded Player: Chris Andersen. The 35-year-old spent much of last season unsigned before joining the HEAT in late January, but he became one of Miami’s most important players. He blocked shots, grabbed rebounds and emerged as the interior presence that the HEAT lacked in recent years. Andersen’s energy and toughness was contagious, and he became a key role player alongside Miami’s stars. Signing Andersen to consecutive 10-day contracts was a low-risk, high-reward move that paid huge dividends during the team’s championship run.
Best New Addition: Greg Oden. Just as the HEAT were able to sign Shane Battier and Ray Allen at a discount price in recent offseasons, they managed to add Oden for the veteran’s minimum. The 25-year-old has been working hard over the past year and a half to make a successful NBA comeback. He chose to sign with Miami so he could potentially play a role on a contender. Oden is obviously a question mark since he has had five surgeries on his knees, but if he can stay healthy he can be a key reserve for Miami since he provides shotblocking and rebounding.
Who We Like
1. Erik Spoelstra – The 42-year-old head coach rarely gets the credit he deserves for Miami’s success. He has done an excellent job managing the star-studded roster during their two championship runs. It may seem like he has an easy job because he has so much talent on his team, but utilizing those stars and dealing with their egos is more difficult than it seems. There are some coaches who would’ve failed in Miami due to the intense expectations and Pat Riley looking over their shoulder, but Spoelstra has thrived. He has the trust of his players and his position-less basketball has been successful. Spoelstra is just the eighth head coach in NBA history to lead his team to two straight championships.
2. Pat Riley – Not only does Riley get credit for assembling the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he also deserves praise for surrounding them with talented role players. Every summer, Riley has been able to lure a highly-coveted free agent to Miami at a discount price, from Shane Battier to Ray Allen to Rashard Lewis to Greg Oden. Sure, the opportunity to win a ring, live in Miami and play alongside LeBron James is attractive to those free agents, but Riley deserves credit for adding them and choosing the right complementary players to sign.
3. Ray Allen – Allen is no longer a starting-caliber player at this point in his career, but he is a key contributor for Miami. The HEAT wouldn’t have hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy last season if it wasn’t for Allen hitting a game-tying three with five seconds remaining in Game 6 (when Miami was facing elimination). Not only is Allen is an impact player on the court, he’s a strong leader in the HEAT’s locker room who has the respect of all of his teammates. Last season, Allen averaged 10.9 points in 25.8 minutes off of Miami’s bench, but his biggest contribution was stretching the court for Miami’s other offensive weapons. He hit 139 threes during the season and shot 41.9 percent from beyond the arc.
4. Greg Oden – If Oden is able to stay healthy, he could be a key piece for the HEAT. A player like Oden seems to be exactly what this HEAT team needs, an interior presence who can clean the glass and defend the rim. It’s been years since Oden played in an NBA game and it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy, but he’s a low-risk, high-reward addition for the HEAT. Miami will take things slow with the big man, remaining patient as he gets into game shape. They’ll likely limit him throughout the regular season in an effort to save him for the playoffs, when they’ll really need his contributions. This is very much like Miami’s one-year Eddy Curry experiment back in the 2011-12 season, but the HEAT are hoping he can be more effective than Curry was during his stint in South Beach.
5. Michael Beasley – It’ll be interesting to see if Beasley can salvage his career with the HEAT. Bringing in the 24-year-old on a non-guaranteed deal worth the veteran’s minimum was a smart move for Miami, simply because Beasley is at a low point and he has no choice but to be on his best behavior. He can’t afford to make any more mistakes off the court, and he needs this stint in Miami to go well if he wants to remain in the league. Last offseason, Andray Blatche was amnestied, had a number of off-court incidents and was labeled toxic, much like Beasley this summer. Blatche obviously went on to become a key member of the Brooklyn Nets last season, while playing on a non-guaranteed deal. The HEAT are hoping their experiment with Beasley has similar results. This could be the perfect situation for Beasley since he’ll be surrounded by strong leaders and on a contending team for the first time in his career.
- Alex Kennedy
Miami has the best player on the planet in James. The four-time MVP is a match-up nightmare, who is capable of dominating on both ends of the court and at multiple positions. Miami’s core group of players has been together for several seasons, giving them a chemistry advantage over newly assembled contenders such as the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets. Last season, the HEAT led the league in offensive efficiency, field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and plenty of other statistical categories. Simply put, Miami is nearly unbeatable when they’re healthy and playing up to their full potential.
While the HEAT managed to win back-to-back titles over the last two seasons, they’ve looked beatable at times when Wade and Bosh struggled or battled health issues. James is capable of putting the HEAT on his back, but the team is much better when he’s able to facilitate and everyone is producing. Miami’s supporting cast is getting older, while teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers are entering their prime. The HEAT’s biggest weakness is their lack of a starting-caliber interior presence, which is why they often play small, position-less basketball rather than going with a traditional lineup.
How much does Dwyane Wade have left in the tank?
Last season, Wade averaged 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists on a career-best 52 percent shooting from the field. Only three other players – James, Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant – matched those numbers in the 2012-13 season. While Wade showed flashes throughout the year, the 31-year-old was a shell of his former self during the playoffs due to knee injuries. Rather than being the HEAT’s second-best player, he was often a liability. Miami is obviously a much better team when Wade is filling the stat sheet and serving as James’ sidekick. The HEAT will need a healthy, productive Wade if they want to win their third consecutive title.