The Miami Heat are under a microscope, as they look to get to their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance and achieve a three-peat (Last achieved by 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers). After a shaky end to the season, Miami isn't the championship favorite to many basketball enthusiasts. Unfortunately for them, they've made a horrible mistake counting Miami out and here's why.
Dynasty and Small Ball:
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra began the makings of a dynasty after defeating the Oklahoma CIty Thunder in 2012 and they haven't looked back since. Their usage of an unorthodox small-ball type line-up was almost unguardable and they were able to light teams up from beyond the arc with ease.
This started the small-ball revolution in the NBA and is the largest reason why Miami is able to win against teams even when being out-rebounded. This was made evident in the 2013 NBA Finals as they Heat utilized their "small lineups" in order to keep the Spurs off-guard. Small-Ball allows Miami to increase space on the court and thus become an extreme threat in transition. In a small-ball atmosphere the pace is high, it allows the Heat to score a barrage of points in little time, but it can also create issues from big men in the paint.
The reason why Miami is so effective in a small lineup is because of LeBron's versatility. He can play the power forward position with ease, and that, coupled with his impressive ball-handling and decision making, make him extremely feared.
If we take a look at LeBron's highlights from the Warriors win two months ago, we can identify various movements he makes to score and make plays. LeBron likes to punch the gap, but instead of stepping back he's able to use brute force to score. It's important to note however, as LeBron makes a move to drive to the hoop, Miami's wings rotate to be ready for a three and Bosh and Battier crash the boards. LeBron's drive and kick-out to the three often result in a surplus of assists and three point plays.
LeBron and Bosh are underrated on the pick and roll as well, Bosh has a big body and when he utilizes the screen players gravitate towards LeBron leaving him a clear path for a dunk or to set up in the post. When the King runs the point guard position it takes team's off guard as well causing chaos among their defensive shells and often leading to a three point play or a cutting dunk. If LeBron can keep a high level of play consistently in the postseason, they will destroy their opponents.
The reason why Miami hasn't looked as impressive as usual in these situations throughout the season is a result of our shooting slump. While the Heat have some of the best three-point shooters to ever pick up a basketball they have not been consistent. This season Miami is shooting 36% from beyond the arc compared to last year's 38% which, while not substantially different, does create problems (this seasons those issues were losses). Nevertheless, if Paul Pierce demonstrated anything today in his time-machine performance against the Raptors is that things change in the playoffs and experience plays an enormous role. Miami's dynasty is something they've just created, it's sacred and not to be destroyed, the Heat "family" take great pride in that and it isn't something they will sacrifice without a fight.
This season is special in a sense. We've seen great players come and go, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd are all retired and Steve Nash is the oldest player in the league. Nevertheless, Miami's veteran-fuelled roster is not that far behind them in terms of age.
The average age of the Miami Heat roster is 30 years old. Shane Battier, our 35-year-old sharpshooter, appears set to retire at the end of this one and would most likely love to do so after a championship victory, and another trip to Denny's. Ray Allen at 38 years old has finally found his shooting rhythm and is looking to capitalize on another championship season moving his total at three.
As much as it pains me to write, Dwyane Wade is looking to cement his legacy as well, and four championships would put him right behind Kobe as a shooting guard. The fact of the matter is the Heat roster as we know it could potentially blow up after this season. We've seen various moves this season, but the overall core remains and will do so until the end of June. LeBron may leave, and so might Bosh should things go horribly wrong. That is why legacy remains so important.
The Miami Heat aren't as hungry as they've been in the past, and that makes the building of a legacy a prime-motivator in their championship hopes, to immortalize their names and put their team in the record books.
Miami took a different approach with Dwyane Wade this season, and from what we've witnessed in the season it has payed off tremendously. Despite missing 28 games when playing, Wade has been a force. He's averaged 19.0 points per game on 55% shooting while grabbing 4.5 boards and dishing out 4.7 assists. His injuries allow him to fly under the radar and come out swinging when needed.
The good news is however, he appears healthy for the playoffs something we haven't seen since 2011 and will be a huge factor down the line. I've often said a healthy Wade cannot be stopped when coupled with likes of LeBron and Bosh, and it looks like we'll finally witness that in full force.
Wade has also changed his style of play. While he's known for his "flashy" dunks and circus shots, this season Wade is settling for open jumpers and utilizing his post play. That coupled with floaters and occasional dunks make him extremely efficient from the field. If we take a look at Wade's play in a recent game vs the Rockets we are presented with some of these transitions.
What separates Wade from players like James Harden is his defensive prowess. Great players have become elite from their scoring prowess, but struggle on the opposite end, that is where Wade thrives. If he's not scoring, Wade is generally hustling on defense to disrupt an opponents offense for steals or blocks.
When Wade causes a steal he often deflects the ball towards one of his teammates so that they may score in transition as well, demonstrating a high basketball IQ. Wade's use of post-play into a floater is something new, and one of his new favorite shots. The beauty of it is its simplicity and effectiveness. By setting up in the post, Wade can use his explosiveness to make a move to the hoop or dish it out to an open teammate. Wade also has developed a jump shot fade that is extremely effective mid range and lowers his percentage of being blocked.
Another underrated part of Wade's game is his court vision. Wade's passing highlights often occur on no-look passes or acute dishes into the paint resulting on easy buckets. It's important to realize as well that Wade's craftiness is still a threat and his scoring ability is still elite. He's an extremely strong player and can finish in the paint. Wade is a complete player, despite lacking a three-point shot and if at full health starting tomorrow we should be in for a treat.
Rivalries & Ridicule:
Teams are head hunting, and Miami is first on many hit lists. Teams like Brooklyn, Indiana, and Oklahoma City hate the Heat with a fiery passion and thus want to end their dynasty immediately. However, one thing holding them back is Miami's mental strength. Miami has already suffered defeat, and from the lowest of the low they were able to develop a strong foundation and rise from the ashes. In that off-season LeBron was ridiculed by the press and fans alike. He played the villain role and lost, and it hurt him mentally.
Nevertheless, the LeBron that emerged in 2012 was unlike anything we'd ever seen. He was having fun and it was scary for opponents. LeBron and Miami can't suffer that ridicule again, and that makes them a threat. Rivalries bring out the best in Miami, but most of these teams haven't traversed the same hurdles allowing experience to become the x-factor in the overall series.
When cornered Miami always finds a way to be victorious. While the wide array of talent aids in making them successful as well as their chemistry, there is something special about the Heat core that separates them from the rest and it will propel them to another victory come June.