Here’s a scary thought for the rest of the NBA – LeBron James hasn’t peaked yet, and both he and the Miami Heat might be better this season than they were in last year’s closing stages of the postseason, winning the title after a 4-1 finals series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Proof for that? New additions Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis while not really losing anyone of importance. The Heat’s key players aren’t at that age when the ability suddenly drops to the floor all of a sudden, although one can argue that Dwyane Wade is past his prime, plus the fact that he’s coming off knee surgery in the summer and it’s not at all clear if he’ll start the regular season against the Boston Celtics on October 30.
The Heat are going with the concept that won them the NBA title – Follow LeBron James, who’ll probably be playing the point forward role much more during the regular season, like he did during the later stages of the playoffs. Not just any point forward, but a point power forward, with Chris Bosh moving to center. James has no problem with the switch, that worked very well in May and June.
I’ve always looked at Scottie Pippen and of course Magic. Magic was a 6-9 point guard who could also play different positions. Pip played point forward in the triangle offense. Grant Hill, when he was in his prime in Detroit, was also kind of that point forward guy.
Spoelstra has so many different lineup changes and different mindsets of how we should play and why it will be successful. If it is for the good of our team I don’t have a problem with that at all. It’s a matchup problem for a lot of teams with me at the power forward.
Don’t forget – the Miami Heat fell behind against the Indiana Pacers before James and Wade erupted, while players like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem also started to chip in while Chris Bosh were out. The Boston Celtics had a 3-2 over the Heat in the conference finals, but it was once again James that rose to the occasion and way above it with some out of this world basketball, which is what people expect from the best player in the NBA. They lost the first game in the NBA finals before taking it up a notch defensively and yes, once again, James stepping up.
But it was also about adjustments made by Spoelstra, who probably learned a lot about basketball and life over the last couple of years. Somehow, he made it through, despite all the whispers and later shouts and predictions that he won’t be holding on to his job when the 2012-2013 season starts. The man made the right switches on defense, while he got help from Dwyane Wade who stepped out of the way to let LeBron James completely take over running the team.
The Heat won’t look better right away. Wade and Allen are coming off surgery Mike Miller did some rehabilitating on his back, and then there’s the whole fatigue thing for James, the only player on the Heat to take a part in another gold medal winning Olympic tournament for team USA. He had six days off between the end of the NBA finals and the beginning of the Olympic training camp, capping off the perfect basketball year with the MVP, Finals MVP, NBA title and gold medal.
And then there’s the creativity that goes beyond the starting lineup. The projected starting five should be Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Beyond that? There’s Norris Cole who’s probably looking to become more than just that energy guy off the bench, while Chalmers will be looking to channel the guy who suddenly had confidence offensively, but needs to improve his decision making when he’s with the ball. Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis will be part of the second unit.
Question is the centers. Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman. How much faith does Spoelstra have left in them and in traditional players for that position, or is he going to try and go small-ball all the time, and make Anthony, a player who averaged a career high 21.1 minutes during the regular season last year, a marginal member of the Heat? And let’s not forget Mike Miller and James Jones, both looking for a place in the much deeper first 12 all of a sudden.
There’s certainly room for improvement, but even the shortened season taught us that the title isn’t won during the months that lead up to April. The regular season gives you an idea, but we saw what happened to the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who all met their match and more in the postseason.
The Miami Heat need to work for 82 games on being the better team, the best team, in May and June. Like last year, despite all the changes made around him and the gained experience from winning a title together, that next step is mostly up to LeBron James to continue to add to his game on both ends of the floor, as he adapts to a new situation – a new position, full time, and a defending NBA champion.