The champs are here. The Heat's big three may have fell short in their first season together, losing in the finals to the Mavericks, but in their second year they overcame the doubters and won their first championship together.
LeBron James brought his game to a new level during last year's playoffs, taking over as the leader in Miami and putting the team on his back for long stretches. The Heat dispatched the Knicks, Pacers and Celtics, before ending up in a storybook matchup with Kevin Durant and the upstart Thunder team in the final.
LeBron outdueled Durant and the Heat finished the season standing alone at the top of the NBA mountain.
Defence Wins Championships - The Heat's title run was directly related to their hardwork on the defensive end of the court. LeBron may be the best defender in the league, but the team as a whole finished fourth in defensive efficiency. They were also third in turnovers forced, which translated to easy baskets in transition. If Miami stays hungry and LeBron and Wade continue to battle as hard on defence as they do on offence, it's going to be difficult to slow them down.
He's The Man
After years of being criticized for not winning the big one, LeBron silenced the doubters with his first NBA Title in 2012.
One-Two Punch - Few teams in the league have a prolific pairing that can rival LeBron and Wade. The duo is dominant at both ends of the court and are a nightmare to gameplan against. With Chris Bosh helping to spread the floor as well, LeBron and Wade thrived down the stretch. As long as Wade can hold up for a full season, there is little stopping them from returning to the finals.
Reinforcements - When LeBron, Wade and Bosh joined forces in Miami, the roster was almost bare to accomodate their contracts. Two seasons later they have a more complete lineup that includes returning players like Shane Battier, as well as new additions like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Allen is getting older, but he can still shoot extremely well and anything the team gets from Lewis is a bonus. With better shooting from the outside, the Heat could become even more deadly.
Defending Their Crown - It's difficult to win a championship and it's even more difficult to defend one. The Heat have had a target on their backs ever since LeBron and Bosh moved to South Beach, but now that they have satisfied that desire for a title, will they be able to dig as deep the second time around?
Who's On Point? - The biggest hole on the Heat roster remains and that's at point guard. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole did a decent job in the post-season, but neither is star at the position. LeBron and Wade often take over ball handling duties and that will continue, but it's one area of concern.
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Despite winning it all last year, the Heat find themselves in second spot.
LeBron James leads the projections at No. 1.
Too Reliant On Stars - Even with Allen and Lewis on board, the Heat are still a top heavy roster that is far too reliant on their stars. An injury to Wade or LeBron would all but end their title hopes. Even missing Bosh for a stretch last season hurt the team significantly. Taking it easy through the season and being ready for the playoffs is Eric Spoelstra's top priority this year.
X-Factor: Ray Allen
Ray Allen - Boston fans may feel cheated by Allen leaving to join the rival Heat, but at this point in his career he is chasing titles and Miami offers him the best chance to accomplish that goal. Allen can still be a lethal shooter and with Miami's skill at driving to the basket, Allen will have plenty of open looks. If Allen can find his range better than Mike Miller has in South Beach, his signing will be one of the best of the off-season.
What To Expect
Most teams hope for their team to make the playoffs or contend for a title, but Heat fans are expecting a repeat. The bar was set high when the Big Three came to Miami and they've delivered with back to back appearances in the championship. Barring injury, the Heat are the favourites to stand alone at the end of the season and it will likely take a charge from a team in the West to stop them from bringing home the hardware again.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
There is supposed to be a point where you're so good as a team that you cannot meaningfully improve in one offseason.
Apparently the Heat were not at that point yet because they managed to bring in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis as backup sharpshooters without losing any of the key pieces from their Championship run.
Combine that with the fact that Dwyane Wade has (sensibly) ceded control of this team to LeBron and the fact that Chris Bosh is now embracing the centre position and the already-fearsome Heat look very well equipped in their bid for a repeat.