Have the Miami Heat Exceeded Preseason expectations?

They were supposed to be the next best thing.

They were supposed to possibly win every game for the first few months of the 2010-11 season en route to breaking the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls 72-10 record.

They were supposed to break the record for longest winning streak.

They were even supposed to win their first championship this season before going on to win at least the next five or six.

Before the season even started, it seemed that everyone had the Miami Heat as a write-in for championship favorites.

And then the season started and we were shocked at just how badly the Heat were playing for the first month of the season. A team that had scored nine points in their first quarter playing together would eventually lose their season opener against the Boston Celtics. They were able to hold their own against the lesser teams of the league, but they struggled against the better teams.

With losses to Utah, Boston, Orlando and Dallas in the month of November, critics and analysts from all across the country weighed in with their thoughts of what the team should do.

A few weeks in and panic was already settling in. If people weren’t clamoring for the team to trade Chris Bosh, they were pleading for the firing of Erick Spoelstra. The idea that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade couldn’t coexist on the same team became a favorite, as critics believed that the players’ similar styles of play were clashing too much to form a cohesive unit.

The excuses went on and on and we failed to realize that hype was clouding our vision.

Because if you actually took the time to stop listening to what the media says and actually begin to think about it, a completely new team is going to have its early struggles and that includes a team with LeBron James and Chris Bosh as the newest teammates on the roster.

The .500 start and the lackluster play was surprising to everyone, but it should have been somewhat expected.

Even LeBron James came out to say prior to the start of the season that the team wouldn’t be at full strength and ready to play until at least February.

If you want to listen to hype and what the media has to say, the 41-15 start is quality, but not exactly matching up with what was believed to happen in July.

If you were to take the time to analyze the situation and the new pieces that the Miami Heat had picked up, you would realize that it would be somewhat difficult for two players that play nearly the exact same style of basketball to coexist on the first day of playing a regulation game.

As if it wasn’t hard enough, Miami also had to deal with the loss of Wade for the entirety of the preseason.

When Wade rejoined the team in the season opener, they featured an offense that was just about on par with that of the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks on bad nights. Given it was against the Celtics on the road, but nine points in the first quarter and 80 for the game didn’t exactly show that the Heat were ready to take over the Eastern Conference.

From then on, Miami would struggle against the elites and would see their lowest points come in a game on the road in Memphis and at home against Indiana. Without Wade in the lineup, the Heat would lose to the Grizzlies by way of a buzzer-beating game-winner from Rudy Gay and would then lose by 16 to the Pacers upon Wade’s return.

Dwyane had only three points as he missed 12 of 13 shots in a game that was arguably the worst of his career.

Following a road loss to Dallas a week later, Miami would win 20 of 21 games and order was restored. They would struggle during mid-January thanks in part to various injuries to Wade, James and Bosh over a week stretch that included the last three games of a five game road trip.

Since their January 27th loss to New York, the Heat have only lost one game with the Big Three completely intact. Each player has proved their worth to the team when they succumb to an injury for a night.

When this Big Three came together, every thought went toward the Boston Celtics’ Big Three and just how successful of a team they were right off the bat. They had won a title in their first season together, lost the next season in the semifinals due to Kevin Garnett sitting out the postseason and lost in the NBA finals the next season.

Everyone assumed that LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were just a more athletic and youthful Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Talent-wise, the Heat’s Big Three are far more superior, but it’s the chemistry of the Celtics’ Big Three that sets them apart from just about every other team in the league. Each player had a specific niche when they joined the team; Pierce was already situated as a shooter and slasher, Allen was mostly a three-point shooter and Garnett was a mid-range threat who could post up as well.

It was rare for wires to cross because each player had a spot on the floor that they had become accustomed to for over a decade.

The Heat’s Big Three are a completely different story, especially when it comes to the two best players on the team. While Chris Bosh differs, being a mid-range threat, James and Wade are basically the same player with the same game. Each player thrives with the ball in their hands and slashing to the basket for their offense.

Unlike Allen on the Celtics, who will primarily spot-up and shoot three-pointers, Wade would rather have the ball in his hands and drive to the lane instead of waiting for an open jumper from 20 feet out.

When the season began, we should have known that James and Wade would need a few months to work out the kinks of their on-court relationship. With two players having the same exact style of play on the court in the starting lineup, wires will get crossed frequently due to one of the players having to learn to score without the ball in his hands.

The fact that both players are now averaging over 25 points per game is proof enough, however, that the two are learning and learning fast.

Aside from the Big Three, a number of problems have arisen that we didn’t think would be too prominent coming into the season.

For example, the Heat still has no clear point guard or center. In fact, the Heat just replaced Carlos Arroyo with Mario Chalmers in the starting lineup a few weeks ago and Erick Dampier has been putting in enough effective minutes to possibly replace Zydrunas Ilgauskas as the starting center.

The team is still working out rotations and two of the most important positions in the game have still not been figured out by the Heat yet as they continue to struggle against opposing point guards and centers.

As for injuries, the fact that they miss out on 10 points and eight rebounds a night off the bench from Udonis Haslem is tough, but missing out on his toughness and leadership makes this whole growing-up process even harder. Miami misses out on arguably its best rebounder and more importantly, its emotional leader as we begin to see just how much a warrior like Haslem can be missed when clutch shots and rebounds are missed.

Along with Haslem, Mike Miller hasn’t nearly been the same since a freak thumb injury held him out for the first few months of the season. Even upon his return, he didn’t look like the same player, as he missed shots that he would usually make and would sometimes seem tentative or hesitant to shoot.

The situation got worse when even after he worked himself back into the rotation, he suffered concussion-like symptoms going into the All-Star break. Miami’s No. 1 three-point shooter at the beginning of the season has yet to provide close to anything thus far.

Even with the myriad of injuries, the lack of cohesion and the panic of October and November, a 41-15 record for the Miami Heat is just about all they can ask for heading into the All-Star break.

They currently hold the second-best record in the league and still have a huge shot of making the championship if they can begin to figure out why the Celtics have punished them this season.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of this team are tired of hearing their critics and they’re responding by leaving it on the court.

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