But since we're in the business of giving you something to read that you can't find anywhere else, the Bossman and I have compiled a list of reasons why Miami could fall short once again.
5. Dwyane Wade's perimeter shooting has not improved.
BockerKnocker: It was surprising to see how ineffective the Heat offense was when the Boston Celtics employed a roaming 2-3 zone defense last week. The concept of a zone defense places each individual defender in a "zone," as opposed to assigning each defender to a corresponding player on offense. While this makes it more difficult for the offense to drive to the basket, the zone defense allows for open shots on the perimeter. This isn't a foreign concept; teams have recognized the advantages and disadvantages of zone defense since its inception. Boston switched to a zone defense because LeBron and D-Wade were bullying their way through the paint and scoring at will. And even though the Heat eventually won the game, it was more because the Celtics expended all their energy coming back from 20 points down, that they didn't have enough to bring it home.
Each Miami possession against the zone defense was shockingly full of turnovers, hesitation, and maybe a dash of fear. They played as if they hadn't practiced their offense against a zone...which makes you think...is it possible that they didn't practice their offense against a zone? Most NBA players can't stop LeBron or Wade in a man-to-man scheme. And on a good night, the two are legitimately unguardable. But one thing stuck out as Sportscenter rolled highlights of Miami's last second win in Charlotte (another game in which the zone defense rendered Miami very average-looking): neither of the two kings of Miami had attempted a 3-point shot for the season. (They have each attempted 1 shot behind the arc since the Bobcats game.) My thought: why not? I can get behind the notion that every player should attack the rim, first and foremost, but a killer perimeter game is the perfect Plan B when things veer off schedule. Instead of forcing their way to the hoop, would it kill them to take a couple more 3s? As superstars, both LeBron and Wade will get to the line, and additionally, more often than not will the Heat eek out close victories even against the vaunted zone defense. But truthfully, it is a bit startling to see a less-than-dynamic offense coming from South Beach.
The biggest culprit is Dwyane Wade, a career 29% shooter from downtown. For all of his strengths, that is one very glaring weakness. He needs to spend less time telling us what he's wearing, less time stuffing Gabrielle Union, and less time throwing alley-oops to Bron in practice. Figure it out, D-Wade; your three point shooting percentage baffles me as much as how you spell your name.
4. Because even NBA players in their primes can't stay healthy for this long
KOBEshigawa: Last year, these core members of the Heat played in these number of games-
LeBron James: 79
Dwyane Wade: 76
Chris Bosh: 77
Joel Anthony: 75
Mario Chalmers: 70
James Jones: 81
Zydrunas Ilgauskas: 72
Though Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem missed a combined 109 games, the most important members of Miami's squad stayed miraculously healthy for year one. Though they're all in the primes of their careers, the grind of the NBA season is the great equalizer for even guys like Bosh, Bron and Wade (Bosh has never missed more than 15 games in a season, LeBron never more than 7 and Wade, the most questionable out of the three, has missed only 13 games in the last 3 seasons). It's not that I expect them to miss games - it's that I expect their various nicks and small ailments to begin to affect how completely unstoppable they are. Even with the impeccable health history of the three stars, every single night for the past year has been like a playoff game for the Heat. They've had to play harder in game 46 than they've probably ever had to play throughout 99% of their careers. More importantly, with a roster lacking depth once again, the three will have to play the same type of heavy minutes with an even more strenuous schedule.
It seems like a unsubstantiated variable to say "well, they can't stay healthy for that long. No one's that lucky." Well, Karl Malone and John Stockton were. Dirk has remained incredibly healthy for his career. But as you saw just last night, with Wade sitting out with a foot injury and LeBron hurting his ankle, the immense load they've shouldered on a 4-man team might finally be taking a toll on these guys.
3. Are the other guys good enough?
K: Is Shane Battier washed up? Can Udonis Haslem stay healthy for a season? Can Mike Miller come back and be an effective shooter after having surgery on BOTH thumbs? Is Norris Cole overrated? Can Joel Anthony keep on defying his naturally low level of skill? Will Juwan Howard and Eddy Curry add anything?
And that was just off the top of my head. The only member of the "other guys" on Miami that I don't really have any doubts about is sharpshooter James Jones. Other than that, the Heat's role players are riddled with question about reliability, both in terms of health and on the court.
My answers? Battier may be washed up; I haven't seen him contribute anything meaningful on the court this season, especially as a guy whose skill set (defending, hitting the corner three) should seamlessly blend into any system. Mike Miller, who is currently rehabbing from thumb and hernia surgery, didn't look like the effective player he's always been when he came back last year from just one of those surgeries. Howard and Curry (I'll just skip the fat jokes and say that Eddy Curry is fat) are both incapable of providing significant minutes. Joel Anthony, while undersized and without much offensive skills to speak of, is one of the only question marks that I feel pretty good about. He can defend efficiently on and off-ball, and block enough shots to stay relevant. Luckily for the Heat, there aren't really any contenders with threats at the center position that could exploit Anthony's size differential (except maybe, YOUR...Los Angeles Lakers).
B: Norris Cole IS overrated. His play is erratic, and he takes too many shots on a team where he is, at best, the 4th scoring option. He's a serviceable backup point guard, and as a rookie, there is always room for improvement. But the main reason why he looks so good is he's being compared to Mario Chalmers. Chalmers is a turnover machine solely because he's the little kid who wants to be part of the alley-oop show with his big brothers. And as bad as Chalmers looks in the early going, he's an underrated defensive point guard. Norris Cole won't be the reason that the Heat exit the playoffs, but he also won't be the reason that the Heat win the whole darn thing.
2. Is there anything different about LeBron James this year?
B: There was a moment in the Christmas Day game where I felt like I was watching a different LeBron. He was on the block and received an entry pass. He caught the pass at his eye level, and swung the ball across his chest, keeping the ball at eye level. As soon as LeBron faced up, he elevated for a jumper in the defender's face. Splash. LeBron did not give the defender a chance to rip at the ball, by keeping the ball above his shoulders. Any true Knicks fan will know that this is the correct way to keep small defenders at bay ("He's 7 feet, and by bringing the ball to his waist, he made himself 6 feet." -the immortal Clyde Frazier).
But other than that single play, LeBron looks very much like the guy who's been choking each spring. Part of that is forgivable: there are ridiculously prolonged stretches where the Heat are demolishing their opponent, that LeBron goes back to what he knows...dribble drive and posterize. Part of that is unforgivable: those stretches are the best time to test out a new arsenal on offense! Get it together Bron! If you don't, Dan Gilbert wins. And NOBODY wants that.
1. Because the NBA will find a way to keep being Where Amazing Happens.
B: Last year's playoffs were incredible. Brandon Roy's farewell 23-point fourth quarter. Zach Randolph's evolution into an offensive juggernaut. LeBron's unbelievable defense on Derrick Rose, and subsequent face-planting performance against Dallas. Jason Terry looking like a boss for inking a trophy tattoo in training camp.
David Stern, Billy Hunter, and Derek Fisher almost ruined the sport. And yet, we don't care anymore, because we get to watch a collection of the most athletic human beings on the planet, after thinking we'd have to watch hockey and futbol.
If we are given yet another gift in the form of LeBron being held ring-less yet again, I won't celebrate his misfortunes (if you haven't heard, I'm rooting for him now). I would be celebrating the return of the NBA.
Ceiling: 1st in the Southeast Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference, 1st in our hearts
Floor: 1st in the Southeast, 2nd in the East
Prediction: 1st in the Southeast, 1st in the East
Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:
#18 - Will we be able to see Mark Jackson make “Hand Down, Man Down” pantomimes in the Warriors’ huddle this year?#8: How far can the Knicks go?
#7: Is this the end of the Lakers' dynasty?
#6: Are the Clippers actually title contenders?
#5 Can the Nets go to Brooklyn yet?
#4: Can Memphis continue their playoff success in the regular season? Can Zach Randolph be the MVP?
#3: How does Derrick Rose follow up his MVP season?