After the Christmas day dismantling of Dallas and very hot start to the season, many have already crowned the Heat this season's NBA champs. It is difficult to argue with the early season facts: the Heat are leading the league is scoring, LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh are averaging a combined 70 points per game, and they currently have only two losses on the season. Although the Heat have looked impressive in the early going besides their two hiccups against the Warriors and Hawks, their ability to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy in April will depend on the team's ability to address the following four question marks:
1. The center position
Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman, Mickell Gladness are the three centers listed on the Heat roster with Anthony earning a bulk of the minutes to start the season. However, as evidenced by last season's NBA finals, having a big man that can change the course of a game defensively and offensively is key. Granted Dirk Nowitzki was pretty amazing in the finals, but Tyson Chandler outplayed all of the Miami Heat's post players hands down. The ability of Anthony, Pittman, Haslem, and Bosh to be consistent presence in the paint both on offense and on defense will be essential to the Heat winning the championship this year.
2. Three point shooting
James and Wade have significantly toned down their three point shooting this year opting instead to play more aggressively in the half court and attacking the rim. While James and Wade have never been outstanding three point shooters, it was dynamic that at times facilitated their ability to attack the rim as well as helped spread the floor in the half court. Mike Miller and James Jones are the known three point specialist on the team, but James and Wade not completely abandoning the three point shot as well as the team improving upon their three point percentage (the Heat are currently 8th in the league) is necessary for a championship run.
3. Defense Effort
“Defense wins championships”. Dallas proved that last year against the Heat with their inspired play on the defensive end, due largely in part to Tyson Chandler. Having two of the most athletically talented players in the NBA so far has not translated to being a good defensive team. Currently the Heat ranks 27th in the league defensively and they are conceding 98 points per game. Defensively as a team they have not looked as sharp while their biggest competition in the East, the Bulls, have shown their team can really clamp down (i.e. Kobe Byrant on Christmas day) on defense. Even though it is still early, an effort to improve their effort and be consistent on the defensive end is essential.
Erik Spoelstra is in his fourth year at the helm of the Miami Heat. With NBA Championship or bust being the mentality for this year’s team, a lot of rides on the shoulders of Erik Spoelstra. Having an NBA finals under his belt should help him this season, but with five- time champion and team president Pat Riley sitting courtside with "his"dream team in place, the pressure to win it all is intensified. Additionally, Spoelstra has to prove his ability to consistently out-coach some of top Eastern conference coaches (Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau, and Doug Collins come to mind). Granted the old adage is that coaches coach and players play, so it wasn’t Spoelstra’s fault his team disappeared in the fourth quarter during the Finals last year. However, an important amount of this season’s success will depend on his coaching ability that will put the Heat in the best position to win the championship in April.
Shana White is a blog contributor for Gold Star Games, a leading tailgate gear supplier.