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Heat players must master fundamentals of the game to become winners

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In order to fulfill higher expectations after a solid offseason, Heat players will need to maximize their potential.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When LeBron James left the Miami Heat, they not only lost the generation's most talented player: they lost basketball's premier student of the game.

Who will fulfill the void as their basketball savant? While some players are perfecting their guitar-playing and fashion skills, Hassan Whiteside spends his time in the gym becoming a student of the basketball game. His Instagram account shows a totally ripped body and a dedication to basketball. Could he be the Heat's "meal ticket," as Red Holzman defines a franchise player?

For Whiteside, along with Tyler Johnson and Udonis Haslem, basketball is life. They have a singular focus on basketball that will pay dividends in the upcoming season and beyond (for Udonis not too much beyond).

Mike Krzyzewski praised Dwyane Wade as the ultimate team player, "selfless." He also said Chris Bosh is the best screen defender in the world. Skill alone doesn't propel players into ultimate winners: understanding the nuances on the art of winning it all separates the champion from an also-ran.

For legends such as Urban Meyer, fundamentals and conditioning are the key to standing alone on top of the mountain. His reference to John Wooden says:

"A team that is sound fundamentally but does not have a strong team offense or defense will still be hard to beat; but a team that has a very difficult offense or defense will be easily beaten if they are not sound fundamentally."

Trapping plays are staples on defense, but over the course of the season tricks such as that are not good enough to win, if the fundamentals are not mastered. John Wooden's key points to the art of championship basketball are

  • All players need to dribble well
  • No offense at all without good ball handlers
  • Spend over one-half of practice on basic fundamentals
  • Conditioning is essential to success in basketball
  • Perform jumping and stretching drills to increase leaping ability
  • Change of pace and direction to improve footwork and balance
  • First pass is key to the fast break

With less than two months left until pre-season games begin, the preparation window is closing fast. Last season the Warriors celebrated, next year hopefully the Miami Heat will be in the winner's circle. The time for celebration is short as Tom Osborne notes:

"I celebrate a victory when I start walking off the field. By the time I reach the locker room, I'm done."

While the focus on the basics of fundamentals and conditioning may seem quaint and out-dated, what destroyed the Heat last season was injuries, not lack of talent. Going into the 2014-15 season practically no forecaster predicted the Heat would be a lottery team because they looked good "on paper." They are saying the same this year, except adding the term "if healthy."

Kyrie Irving said the Cleveland Cavaliers would have beaten the Golden State Warriors if he and Kevin Love were available, but they weren't. Reality had a way of rearing its head in last season's Finals.

Golden State Warriors won in large part because of their superior ball-handling and health at the end of the season. If the Warriors proved anything last season was that winning in today's NBA is about spreading the floor with passing and ball-handling. As was shown the year before with San Antonio Spurs.

This season when reality meets preseason predictions, 29 of the 30 teams will have excuses why they didn't win. One team will need none.