ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Miami Heat

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Last season: A fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals resulted in disappointment, as the Heat were steamrolled by the Spurs in five games. The ease with which Miami was dispatched was troubling, so much so that LeBron James re-signing — something most believed to be a foregone conclusion — was suddenly thrown into question. And as the team scrambled to show a willingness to improve by signing guys like Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger in the early days of free agency, the underwhelming nature of those additions ultimately saw James expedite his plan to return home to Cleveland to once again play for the Cavaliers.

Signature highlight from last season: It was tempting to go with the pair of alley-ops Dwyane Wade and LeBron James connected on in the Christmas Day win over the Lakers, because the way the two consistently got out on the break like this for easy buckets in transition during their four years together was about as signature as it gets. But with a nod to the upcoming season where James won’t be present, it felt fitting to go with Wade’s drive and dish to Chris Bosh for a game-winning three against the Blazers — a contest in which James sat out due to injury.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_Dip5JL3cI&w=560&h=315]

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Heat season:

Life after LeBron: Having the game’s best player on the roster definitely has its advantages, and it isn’t something anyone in the Heat organization would choose to change about the last four seasons. But now that James has moved on, everything is immediately different on both ends of the floor. The continuity in place with Wade and Bosh being the team’s leaders, and with the highly competent Erik Spoelstra on the sidelines should ease the transition to a certain extent. But Miami will need to reinvent itself from an Xs and Os standpoint, and just how quickly the players get acclimated to those changes will largely determine their success, especially in the early parts of the upcoming season.

The health of Dwyane Wade: Wade was on a strict maintenance program last season to keep his knee from flaring up during the playoffs as it did the year prior, and that left him a gametime decision most nights. It was part of the reason he was limited to participating in just 54 regular season contests, and for the Heat to be successful in the post-LeBron era, they’re going to need a lot more than that out of Wade — not only in terms of minutes played, but also in terms of increased production. The good news for Heat fans is that Wade is planning on doing exactly that, but it’ll be interesting to see how he holds up while pushing himself to play more than he has in any of his previous three seasons.

The return of CB4: Chris Bosh is a perennial All-Star, but since coming to Miami, his numbers have dipped due to having to change his role, while sacrificing personal levels of production for the greater good of the franchise. Thankfully for the Heat, he has proven to be capable of doing so much more. In his final season in Toronto, Bosh averaged a career-high 24 points and 10.8 rebounds, and was unquestionably the team’s best player every single night. Bosh may have to return to his Raptors form for Miami to achieve postseason success, especially in light of Wade’s recent injury history — and he may be more ready than ever to do so.

Why you should watch: Wade and Bosh are still All-Star caliber players, and the addition of another one in Deng should make the Heat consistently competitive most nights. Spoelstra is one of the game’s top coaches at the professional level, and you can bet that he’s relishing the chance to lead his team to success in spite of the loss of Lebron James.

Prediction: With LeBron out of the picture, there are no longer championship expectations placed on this Miami team, which should be a weight off of their collective shoulders. The Heat can be in an underdog role for the first time in a long time, and there’s still more than enough talent in place to make a run at the postseason.

Miami is definitely a playoff team in the East, but is probably not deep enough to claw itself into one of the three top spots in the standings. A ceiling of fourth place in the conference feels about right, with an opportunity to surprise someone in the first (and possibly second) round of the playoffs if Wade, Bosh and Spoelstra find a way to have things clicking by the time the regular season is finished.