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Mind games: How the Miami Heat can take charge and improve by being "forward thinkers"

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The key to success for the Heat this season may be a matter of honing their mental skills.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat are ceding control of games by being reactive instead of proactive.

In an excellent article on Stephen Curry by Ethan Strauss, he quotes Curry's trainer as saying, "You can be the fastest player in the world, but if you constantly make the wrong decision, it doesn't matter." He summarizes: "In theory, Curry has less upside to work with than the game's athletic wings and burly bigs."

"Indeed, if Curry ever does claim that top-player status, it won't be because he starts jumping over defenders or bullying foes in the post. The improvements will result from something internal -- the slowing of time inside his mind. They will be the function of weaponized perception, a training of the brain to think quicker than your opponent can leap."

At 6'3" and 190 pounds he hardly stands out with his athletic abilities or having a defense-first mentality. (Incidentally, being born in Akron, Ohio, he could one day join fellow Akron native LeBron James to bring Cleveland its long-awaited championship trophy.)

The key to Curry's game lies in his ability to create just enough space for a clean look at the basket to launch his deadly shot. Goran Dragic gets his open looks by expertly using his body to prevent an opponent from blocking his shot. Shabazz Napier's crossover move allowed him enough room to make the winning basket in Louisville.

Mario Chalmers and Gerald Green are busy at work perfecting their long-range shot using The Elbow training system to fix the "chicken wings" problem common to poor shooters. Green's hot scoring in Louisville shows the Heat already have potential 3-point threats on the team who want to learn to become elite ones.

Sitting in a room watching game film is not the same as standing directly across a player on the basketball floor, looking at his eyes, noticing the imperceptible tilt of his shoulders or dozens of other subtle signs that give away the defender's weaknesses. Nor does classroom work master the art of exceptional shooting technique. Dwyane Wade learned his pump-fake motion with constant repetition against players on the court.

When the Heat seized the initiative in the fourth quarter against Orlando by scoring 31 points, they proved they can control the game instead of passively reacting to the Magic. The San Antonio Spurs create space by passing, while Curry does it with his ball-handling. The Heat got the edge by "thinking quicker" against the Cavaliers last season, as shown below.

If the Heat can repeat the performance at Louisville, with their 11-0 start and 31-point fourth quarter in other games, then the outlook for the season appears promising. Stephen Curry illustrates a player does not have to be the fastest, the most athletic, the strongest, or even a defensive genius. Developing "the slowing of time inside his mind" can be done with the talent the Heat currently have on the roster.

Conquering the mental game doesn't happen with fancy passing schemes, which are very prone to error, or watching film, but sharpening mental skills along the physical ones. The Heat in the game above showed they can score in bunches when they are "in the zone." The basket becomes the size of a pool and the game "comes to them."

Can the Heat forge the necessary team chemistry and unity -- both physically and mentally -- to overcome their opponents? Once the glitches are ironed out, their game will become a thing of beauty.