It was only four months ago when the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder for their second NBA championship in franchise history. Although it was the Heat winning the title, you wouldn’t guess it with so much coverage on LeBron James–the three-time MVP who was still without a title heading into the Finals. James proved resilient following a disastrous 2011 Finals performance, putting up a triple-double in the Game 5 clincher.
It all appeared so long ago. The Miami Heat community is still reveling in the first championship of the ‘Big Three’ era, but the expectations and the potential for so much more has made the offseason seem far longer, even more than last year’s elongated offseason caused by the lockout. With Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis added to the squad, as well as the obvious being a new year of LeBron James playing the game of basketball, the anticipation has only grown.
And the road to a second consecutive title begins October 7th–the Heat’s first of eight preseason games. Miami will play against an Atlanta Hawks team that is embarking on a new journey playing without All-Star Joe Johnson for the first time since 2005. The Hawks will instead most likely feature three-point specialist Anthony Morrow at the two, while also creating a new spot in the rotation for guard Devin Harris.
Miami will be without Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony, Jarvis Varnado and Dwyane Wade, but they will travel with the rest of the team, including on a trip to China for two games against the Los Angeles Clippers next week.
The Heat go into the preseason with far fewer questions than last year–the perks of winning a championship–but still enter a new campaign with a starting position to fill and a rotation to round out. It’s more than likely LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Mike Miller all see their minutes limited, which means preseason will end up being utilized to find the team’s strongest and weakest points, as well as deciding on the two final players that will become the 14th and 15th men.
We take a look at what you should look for in the Heat’s first preseason game, outside of LeBron James.
1. Rashard Lewis’ lift
The Heat signing Rashard Lewis has been highly overstated, considering the former Washington Wizard is coming off two injury-plagued season that includes playing in a mere 28 games last season.
Lewis shot 24 percent from beyond the arc, the lowest he’s shot since his rookie year.
Fortunately for the Heat, they’ve only invested a veteran’s minimum into Lewis, who took a $13 million buyout from New Orleans over the summer. It’s a low-risk, high-reward situation, but this team is always open to adding on a capable shooter, especially when they’re 6’10″ and can draw the attention of opposing big men.
Lewis has the possibility of starting, but it’s doubtful when comparing what was seen from him in the scrimmage. He had obvious trouble getting lift on his shots and frequently missed the jumpers that had been the staple of his career. By the end of the night, Lewis only made one shot, which was a layup.
Miami is going to use the preseason to gauge Lewis’ progress. The forward has been optimistic about his health and has said he hasn’t felt this healthy since his final days in Orlando two years ago.
2. The battle amongst the bigs
The Heat have proven that you can win a championship without a dominant post player at the four or five. They employed a small-ball lineup that proved to be a catalyst to Oklahoma City’s defensive-minded frontcourt during their Finals victory. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka were both viewed as non-threats throughout the series because of Chris Bosh and Shane Battier and their influence along the perimeter.
However, the Heat need to add on at least one more center for the long haul of the regular season. Miami is likely to start Chris Bosh at the five, which means Dexter Pittman and Joel Anthony are likely the player’s to play the five. As you can tell by those two names, the team is always open to acquiring someone who can help fill in the void underneath the rim–something you saw when the team made mid-season acquisitions out of Erick Dampier and Ronny Turiaf.
Amongst those competing for a position in the frontcourt include Josh Harrellson, Jarvis Varnado, Robert Dozier, Mickell Gladness and Rodney Carney. Harrellson holds an edge because of his perimeter shooting ability, but Gladness could be a high possibility because of his shot-blocking capabilities, as well as his athleticism for a 6’11″ center.
3. Ray Allen and LeBron James
If you don’t see this enough, don’t worry about it; because there will be plenty of time to see this lethal combination during the regular season.
Miami has typically used the regular season to work out any chemistry issues, instead using the preseason as a way to set the rotation off the bench. Plus, LeBron and Ray will be limited in their minutes, with the team still wary of Allen and his soreness and James not needing to be wasting time in a meaningless preseason game.
However, it’s still going to be a sight to see James connecting with a wide-open Allen from beyond the perimeter. What we’re looking to see is how well James connects with Allen when he’s facilitating through the post area, as well as how he complements Allen’s style of getting open by constantly moving without the ball.
Allen looked excellent in the team’s scrimmage and showed no ill-effects of the injuries that hampered in the Celtics postseason run. While his minutes will be limited, the Heat will still use the preseason as a way to find Ray’s comfort zones and how his unorthodox style of play corresponds with an offense where ball and player movement has been a problem in the past.
4. Chris Bosh at center
For years, Chris Bosh wanted no part of being a center.
Oh, here comes that whole effects-of-winning-a-championship-thing. Bosh saw how well LeBron James played when he added another dimension to his game and made the adjustments to play more positions and he may want a part of it now. Chris isn’t just saying that he’ll play center, but that he wants to play the position.
The Heat utilized Bosh at the center position late in the 2011-’12 campaign and saw success in the form of the two best rebounding performances of the year. We then saw him have success against Roy Hibbert in the Heat’s second-round series before he ended up hurt. His significance was put on a national level once the Heat showed signs of letting down against Boston, before Bosh finally returned in Game 5.
Even though he wasn’t nearly at full strength, his presence alone was what killed the Celtics and Thunder. Kevin Garnett couldn’t wander all over the court, and Kendrick Perkins isn’t fast enough to defend Bosh nor is any other center in the league. Miami wants to play Bosh at the five not just because they can’t find any other center, but because he gives the team a significant advantage on the offensive end.
Atlanta features the likes of Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford, Ivan Johnson and Johan Petro in the middle, which essentially means that Bosh could end up having a field day. However, with the team monitoring the minutes of all their stars, it’s unlikely Bosh sees time past halftime.
5. Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem
It’s only fair to group the former Florida Gator teammates, who also have shared similar respects in falling well below the team’s expectations upon their signings in 2010.
But it’s not their fault. Injuries have played a significant role and it’s caused both of their career’s to have been momentarily put on hold. Miller’s injuries, in fact, have been significant to the point of possible career-ending back surgery. Haslem has been dealing with the lasting effects of a torn ligament in his foot that he suffered in November of 2010.
For the first time in two years, however, both players appear to as healthy as we’ve seen since early in the 2010-’11 campaign. During the scrimmage, Haslem shot the jumper well from everywhere on the court. Even more encouraging is the fact that Miller was stroking three-pointers–three in 92 seconds to be exact–and didn’t have the look of the hobbled zombie that lumbered up and down the court last season.
Both are expected to play in the opener. If they are both healthy and show no sign of injuries significantly carrying over, this may be the healthiest the Heat have been entering a preseason in the ‘Big Three’ era.