Kevin C. Cox
Flying Death Machine
For the last two seasons I've argued in vain against the hatred of the Miami Heat. I understand that LeBron James executed woeful public relations, but beyond that the Heat are a thing of beauty. LeBron James is simply incredible, Dwyane Wade is still fantastic, and Chris Bosh has somehow become underrated while still be accepted as one of the top players at his position. Combined with a smorgasbord of random veterans limping into town in pursuit of a ring, and the Heat play some magnificent basketball.
While the Heat are widely expected to play in the championship again, and many are predicting a successful title defense, the Heat are subjected to the same issues that face every other team. By acquiring aging stars, the Heat ensure that they'll suffer their share of injuries. I'm fairly certain Mike Miller no longer has ligaments, but is instead held together by bits of string and the will of God. Even Ray Allen, this offseason's biggest addition, was hampered by ankle injuries throughout the end of last year. Injuries will be important to the Heat's title defense, but injuries haven't kept the Heat from reaching the Championship round the past two seasons.
The Heat will also contend with player regression. For all the common discussion around the age of the Celtics, the Heat are stocked with players knocking on retirement's door. The primary difference, of course, is that the Heat's Big 3 are not among the geriatric (by NBA standards). Last season's biggest acquisition, Shane Battier, arrived in South Beach as a shell of his former self. Throughout the season he lacked the spot up shooting he had allegedly been acquired to provide. Of course, he did reappear in the playoffs, regaining his shooting touch at just the right moment. Seriously, if Disney isn't optioning Shane Battier's 2011-12 season for a fun-filled, inspirational romp for the whole family, well then they're just asleep at the wheel. I also really liked the addition of Rashard Lewis. Lewis' reputation was hurt by the foolish contract Orlando gave him, and Lewis' play falling off certainly didn't help endear him to fans. He's no longer as athletic as he was, and last season he shot the worst 3-point shooting percentage of his career (excluding his rookie season in which he only played 20 games) . But the decline in his 3-point percentage is such a dramatic departure from the rest of his career, I can't help but wonder if it's a fluke. If so, the Heat got another weapon on the cheap.
The Heat shouldn't have to worry about a similar decline with the aforementioned Ray Allen. Allen is the best corner-3 shooter in the league. The very idea of defenses being forced to defend a crashing LeBron or Wade, with Allen just lingering in the corner, waiting for the kick-out, it's just unfair. Throw in Chris Bosh's ability to hit the mid-range jumper, preventing the defense from packing the paint, and the Heat are just a sickeningly well-constructed team.
One of the biggest developments of last season was LeBron finally embracing the post game. Critics had been calling for it for years, and then politely ignored when he started implementing it, reluctantly noticing only when the Heat won the title. LeBron's size and athleticism make him extraordinarily difficult to stop on the wing, but they're even more deadly down low. Small, quicker players can't body up on LeBron. He overpowers. Bigger, stronger players can't stay in front of LeBron, he's just too fast. It's amazing watching a player realize a whole new element of his game. Kudos to coach Erik Spoelstra for encouraging the development, and bigger kudos to LeBron for embracing it.
While I'm hesitant to say the Heat will win it all again, I'll be very surprised if they don't reach the Finals yet again. LeBron is the greatest player in the game. And while that doesn't guarantee a trip to the Finals, it certainly helps a team's odds.