NBA Season Preview: Miami Heat

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Last season: 58-24, second seed in the East. We all know how this turned out — Miami made it to the NBA Finals in its first season with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, but lost the title to Dallas in six games.

Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra, who interestingly enough has not yet been offered a contract extension, and will be coaching this season in the final year of his current deal.

Key Departures: Mike Bibby, who shared the starting point guard duties with Mario Chalmers, went to the Knicks as a free agent.

Key Additions: Shane Battier, who chose to to ring-chase as a free agent instead of re-signing with the up and coming Grizzlies, should help in several areas, especially with Mike Miller sidelined for a couple of months due to injury. Eddy Curry is in training camp, although it may be premature to call him a key addition just yet.

Best case scenario: The Heat are the favorites this season to win the NBA title, but it may be more due to changes in the other contenders than to any improvements the team made to its roster. While contending teams like the Mavericks, Lakers, Bulls, and Thunder either underwent major changes, got worse on paper, or simply stood pat to this point in free agency, Miami retained its core of James, Wade, and Bosh, and added Battier for some veteran leadership, on-ball defensive help, and semi-reliable spot-up shooting.

Wade and James reportedly showed up to camp in tremendous physical shape, as did Bosh, who added significant bulk to his frame. And the fact that the team is virtually the same may be an advantage for the Heat as the league is forced to play a compressed and shortened 66-game schedule. A trip to the Finals is certainly within reach once again for this Miami team, and the experience gained a season ago may be enough to get them over the top this time.

For that to happen: The regular season shouldn’t pose much of a problem for this talented Heat squad. And, with a healthy Udonis Haslem in the fold — a player who understands his role and how to fit in on both ends of the floor — Miami will be a little deeper on its front line than last season. It’s all about preparing for the postseason run, and for the Heat to reach their ultimate goal of a championship, the team will need to figure out its late-game, crunch time identity, and then stick with it as the postseason rolls on.

As you may have heard ad nauseam, the Heat struggled mightily to produce points down the stretch of tight games. LeBron James in particular seemed to defer more than observers would have liked late in fourth quarters, and the numbers substantiate what we all thought we were seeing.

The best teams in the league tend to have a Plan A in crunch time — Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki, the Lakers with Kobe Bryant, the Bulls with the ball in the hands of Derrick Rose. The Heat seem to go back and forth between Wade and James, and James seemed too hesitant, and even uncertain at times about his role and whether or not he should take it upon himself to produce when Wade was with him on the floor. If James and Wade can clearly define exactly who is Option One and who is Option Two when the game’s on the line (and it should be Wade and James, in that order), that will make it easier to perform late with that decision already removed from the equation.

More likely the Heat will: Do exactly that. With a season under their belt, and a shorter schedule in place that should allow for Spoelstra to make the necessary tweaks along the way with his core from last year intact, Miami should be able to get back to the Finals, with a better chance this time to take home the league’s ultimate prize.

Prediction: 52-14, best record in the East, and number one overall seed entering the playoffs.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.

Tyronn Lue imitates LeBron James’ criticism of reporter (video)

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After the Cavaliers Game 3 loss to the Celtics, LeBron James accused reporter Kenny Roda of showing up/asking questions only when Cleveland loses.

Questioned by Roda after the Cavs’ Game 4 win, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue lightheartedly lobbed the same criticism at Roda.

Coaching LeBron can be tricky. Lue must both challenge the greatest player of his generation and handle LeBron’s passive-aggressiveness. Lue can neither let LeBron walk all over him nor bark orders at him.

In this case, it seems Lue is trying to diffuse LeBron’s pettiness before it turns into something bigger. Considering how silly LeBron’s initial comments were, I bet the star is on board.

Tony Bradley becoming North Carolina’s first one-and-done in nearly a decade

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North Carolina hasn’t had a one-and-done player in eight years.

Since Brandan Wright declared for the 2008 NBA draft after his freshman year, the Tar Heels have emphasized player development over multiple years. That practice has yielded two national titles, including this year’s, in that span.

It also limited freshman center Tony Bradley’s playing time this season, as he was stuck behind seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

But Bradley shined enough in 15 minutes per game to follow Wright as one-and-done from Chapel Hill.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

Bradley is a borderline first-round pick, though this late decision when many expected him to return to school indicates he believes he’ll go in the first round. There’s certainly logic in turning pro before scouts pick apart his game over a larger sample.

Bradley is huge – 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan – but he’s not explosive. The hope is someone in the Rudy Gobert mold.

Whomever drafts Bradley will hope his elite offensive rebounding is a harbinger. But why is his defensive rebounding and rim protection so forgettable?

He moves and passes fairly well for his size, but considering he’s so big, those aren’t necessarily skills for him to hang his hat on. If a teammate sets him up, he uses his size to finish well at the rim.

Beyond his size and offensive rebounding, Bradley doesn’t set himself apart one way or the other. Whether that’s good or bad depends how deep in the draft it is.