Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ugly but effective

For those who believed this would be a high-scoring, free-flowing, fastbreak series, take THAT!

Two teams shooting less than 40 percent, no one scoring more than 27 points AND Juwan Howard getting eight minutes and MVP chants.

Not exactly how the prognosticators had this one playing out.

But if you'd watched the defenses the Mavs have played against these playoffs, you had to assume they'd struggle against this athletic Heat defense. And such was the case.

Chris Bosh said the defense that kept the Mavericks to 37.3 percent shooting, that "limited" Dirk Nowitzki to 27 points and the Mavericks vaunted bench to 17 points was pretty much par for the course.

"It's a normal night," Bosh said. "I think we can do better. I think we can play much better offensively and defensively."

It wasn't all great for the Heat, of course. Dwyane Wade looked like the same Wade from the Bulls series through two-plus quarters. It wasn't, really, until the fourth quarter that he looked confident and in rhythm. You would assume that could transfer to the start of the next game, but Wade finished Games 4 and 5 against Chicago strong as well, but it didn't continue in the next game.

Wade should be able to score on either Jason Terry or Jason Kidd, but he seemed oddly hesitant several times.

"He's such an explosive offensive player, he spoils you a little bit," Bosh said of Wade. "He's a major part of this team's offense. Anytime that he's going, it's great."

Bron finals Nowitzki's night was uneven, at best. He did his best work in the fourth, with 10 points, but he never got into a consistent rhythm, either. Udonis Haslem was his typical good self defending Dirk, but so was Joel Anthony. LeBron James didn't defend Dirk, as many projected, and if the bigs do this kind of job against him, that probably shouldn't change.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle gave UD credit for denying Dirk.

"He's got to be denied the ball virtually everywhere on the floor," Carlisle said. "Haslem is a guy that has the wherewithal to do that. And they're going to play him aggressively, and we know that.

"We just to keep playing our game, keep getting him the ball and giving him opportunities to create."

By the way, Dirk has a torn tendon on the middle finger of his left hand and is wearing a splint, while Mike Miller left the locker room with his left arm in a sling. He obviously has a shoulder injury, but no one's really acknowledging it.

Back to the Heat offense for a second. Heat can't rely on LeBron hitting four of five threes, even if a couple of them were so open he had to shoot a commercial first. Wade needs to be more consistent, Bosh needs to be less clumsy against that zone and more assertive with his jumper, and LeBron needs to shoot more than two free throws.

As is, Shawn Marion believes the Mavericks did exactly what they needed to do to win.

"It was a completely halfcourt game tonight, and they prevailed," Marion said. "You hold a team to 38 percent and 92 points, for us, that's normally a victory."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

That was easy

Actually, that was the hardest thing to watch for an extended period.

Other than Dwyane Wade, there wasn't a whole lot working well for the Heat through the first 44 minutes or so. So James Jones made a three-pointer and turned the whole feel of the game.  Wade over oneal

After that, though, it was an amazing display of talent and desire. Talent on the offensive end, as LeBron James made a pair of threes he'll never forget. Threes more memorable than even that buzzer-beater against Orlando a couple years ago, because that was just a desperate heave, and his Cavs lost that series anyway.

The desire came on the defensive end, as the Heat rattled the Celtics into misses and turnovers. Two plays that stand out were Jones' hard close on a wide-open Ray Allen. Ray still got off a good look, but that close may have disrupted his rhythm just enough. The second was the help Wade provided on the driving attempt from Jeff Green. It was perfectly timed and perfectly executed help from Wade.

And LeBron's steal and dunk to seal the win was both athleticism and desire rolled into one game-sealing highlight.

For a while there -- before Jones' three and the that sick 16-0 run to close the series -- it looked like Erik Spoelstra was making all the wrong calls. The Celtics had just one big guy in there to start the fourth, Nenad Krstic, and yet the Heat was still playing with both Chris Bosh and Juwan Howard. And when that Celtics lead ballooned to seven, he finally took out Howard, but brought in Joel Anthony. The game appeared to be begging for Jones. When he did finally bring in Jones, it was for Mario Chalmers instead of Anthony, but by then Kevin Garnett was back in the game, and Anthony was the best defender against him, so that was the right choice.

And because of that 16-0 run to end it, the supporting cast's performance looked a lot better. Howard led the non-Big-Three with five points. Anthony played great late defense on Garnett. And Jones had the biggest shot of the game, kicking off that final run.

The Celtics are done, and even though it wasn't the healthiest, most complete version of the Celtics, it feels like a huge accomplishment for this team.

It should also provide quite a confidence boost throughout the rest of the playoffs. Because the Celtics were everyone's bullies. And now it's the Heat that every team left in is probably fearing.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Physical reaction

We can already see the Heat's going to have to be very careful to avoid a "payback" sort of scenario from the officials in Tuesday's Game 2 against the Celtics.

Even before the league changed James Jones' foul on Paul Pierce to a flagrant 1, there was plenty of discussion as to whether Pierce deserved to be ejected, or if both of the fouls against Pierce (Dwyane Pierce-wade Wade had the other) should've been called flagrants.

And now that the league made that distinction, there's even more of a sense that the Celtics got the wrong end of it in Game 1. So it might just be human nature for the officials in Game 2 to be watch Heat players more closely and possibly to even favor the Celtics if any skirmishes break out or especially physical plays occur.

Basically, the Heat players have to be mindful of that possibility and play hard but not get overly physical or let their emotions get the best of them. Because after Pierce got the quick boot, there will likely be very little hesitation to hand out techs in this game either. Wade especially needs to watch himself, because it's widely assumed he got away with one Sunday.

That said, the Heat probably needs to attack the basket a little more and create contact. Because the team can't rely on hitting as many outside jumpers as it did in Game 1. Wade will likely go to his mid-range game as long as he's in rhythm, which is normally how he puts up big scoring nights. But LeBron James might want to consider driving a bit more, even if he knows the Celtics will be waiting for him. A shot fake every once in a while wouldn't hurt, because he'll need to get to the line to make up for the fact that Boston just refuses to let him score around the basket.

Wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Udonis Haslem at least in uniform Tuesday, even if he doesn't play. He's itching to play, and he says he's not feeling any lingering effects from his surgically repaired left foot the day after practicing.

"Definitely I could be part of this series, and without being as athletic and not even having my timing, just the physical aspect that I could bring to the game would probably help us a little bit," Haslem said Monday.

Shaquille O'Neal might return Tuesday also, but we've heard that song and dance from the Celtics for almost three weeks now. If Shaq does play, it'll be difficult to activate Udonis and have both Jamaal Magloire and Erick Dampier on the inactive list. That would likely mean a visit to the inactive list for Juwan Howard. Rondo slump

If Shaq does play, it only opens up another passing option for Rajon Rondo, who played some of his best basketball of the year when he had Shaq in there. Even without Shaq, look for Rondo to play an aggressive and smart game start to finish. He might have been trying too hard to start Sunday's game. But had he not been in foul trouble, he still probably would've finished with a triple-double.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


So how big a deal is this Heat acquisition of Mike Bibby, who you presume would be the team's starting point guard once he's ready?

Well, most people want to call it a minor upgrade over Mario Chalmers.

That's fair. It's not as if Bibby is the same guard he was five years ago, or even the same guy who averaged 16 and five in his first year in Atlanta.

However, the difference between Bibby and Chalmers remains significant enough that it can greatly affect the outcomes of games the Heat plays against the better teams in the league.

If you look at the Heat, the most important things a point guard can do to help is shoot the three well and not turn the ball over.

Well, in both those areas, Bibby is significantly better than Chalmers. Since Chalmers began starting this season, his assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.13 to 1, whereas Bibby's in his time with Atlanta this year is 2.87 to 1. And last season, his ratio was 3.4 to 1, which is very good for 80 starts on a playoff team. Bibby scream

This season with Atlanta, Bibby knocked down threes at a 44 percent clip, career-wise has shot 38 percent from three and last year in the playoffs was 54 percent from distance. Chalmers is at 36 percent for the year, 35 percent for his career, and he's right around that career mark (34.5 percent) since being named a starter.

Why are those differences so important? Well, for starters, the three-point number is a very big difference, and can easily mean the difference between a close game and a comfortable margin.

But overall, those numbers can translate into victories. Consider that the Heat's last six losses, all of them against winning teams, have come by an average of 4.0 points, and none of them have been by more than five points. By avoiding a turnover or two in those games, and making an extra shot or two, you easily could be talking about the Heat losing none of those games, or at least winning a few of them.

And in that case, we're not talking about the sky falling around this team.

Not to mention that, with that trust, the Heat can start a play late in games with Bibby rather than LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, therefore making both of them an option off the ball. That takes pressure off Wade or James to both create and finish when it matters most. That's not even taking into account that Chalmers has been better this year coming off the bench anyway.

As for the defensive side of the ball, yes, Chalmers is theoretically the better defender. But for every good play he makes, he also will commit a senseless foul or gamble for a steal and cost the team overall. Bibby at least knows his limitations. And as long as he understands the Heat's defensive system, he won't be a liability on that end while on the floor.

As for Troy Murphy, yes, that would've also been a big get for Miami, but only if he didn't mind playing some center and banging with bigger guys. Because at the PF spot, Chris Bosh will be taking up 36 to 40 of those minutes. With the Celtics, Murphy can play a tad more minutes at PF, because backup Glen Davis essentially moves to center at times anyway, and was going to be doing that a lot now that Kendrick Perkins is gone. But once Shaquille O'Neal is healthy, the Celtics are going to have to decide whether they want to stay big, meaning O'Neal on the floor heavy minutes, or go to a lineup that includes some combination of Murphy, Davis and Kevin Garnett on the floor. Theoretically, that would favor the Heat come playoff time because Miami can use a smaller lineup itself and still compete inside (that's assuming Udonis Haslem is healthy and can play 20-plus minutes by then). Of course, that would require limiting Davis, who's one of the newest Heat killers in the league.

The point is, Murphy makes the Celtics deeper and gives them a stretch-four, but that team will have to make sacrifices if it wants to make him a big-minute regular. The Heat, on the other hand, fills a need with Bibby without making any significant sacrifices.

As for Carlos Arroyo being cut, it would seem like an unfair/unprecedented act to cut the man who was once the starting point guard. But Arroyo has a history of falling out of favor with teams, whether it's because of his play or for being tough to deal with.

Could the team have cut Jamaal Magloire? Yes, but chances are the Magic would've picked him up for some depth at center. Could the team have cut Juwan Howard? Yes, but he shares an agent with Bibby, and knowing one of his own would get cut could've nudged Bibby in another direction.

Overall, the team had less reasons not to cut Arroyo, so that's where they went with it.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Big Void

Solid win for the Heat, if only because it came against a team that was coming off five straight wins and had a winning record.

But it was somewhat disconcerting to see that the combination of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony -- basically every big other than Chris Bosh -- went scoreless on a combined 0 of 5 from the field and eight rebounds in 57 total minutes. 

That meant a lot more responsibility for Bosh, who responded with 27 points and 10 rebounds, but in the long run that's going to have to change.

The Heat rotation of big men has to have some kind of impact, and save for a couple possessions where Dampier made a significant play, they were rather non-existent. It also didn't help that Al Horford showed them up by shooting 10 of 11 from the floor, although most of those were jumpers.

I think Dampier (left) will have a long-termDamp role on this team, and in the long run he might be the better option as the starter. He's physical, he can block a shot above the rim and he's just got a decent feel for the game. He made a nice pass to Bosh for a layup on one play that showed he's a lot more comfortable with the ball in his hands than, say Joel Anthony.

LeBron James didn't appear to have a post-Cleveland letdown, even though he went scoreless in the third quarter. Scoring 22 points on just 11 shots is an efficient game, and it's all that's required when Dwyane Wade and Bosh have it going -- and they had it going Saturday, combining for 53 points and 20 rebounds.

As much as Spoelstra's been getting killed, he continues to make smart moves. The latest one is the slow but steady inclusion of Mario Chalmers. He wasn't very effective last season, but that had a lot to do with the fact he was required to do more on a mediocre team. On this team, he can be solid. And he has been.

Against the Hawks, he had nine points, five rebounds, four assists and one turnover in 27 minutes and was plus-14, matching the plus-minus number of Bosh and Wade. He appears to have the full support of LeBron, which has to mean a lot to him. As much as Chalmers was considered a non-factor, he could end up being fairly important to this team in the long run.


(@chevyboy79, I actually watched the game from a bar in Connecticut with no sound, so no, didn't just steal Rick Fox's opinions. Heaven forbid two people watching the game can come up with similar thoughts.)

(@Ray, Reporters aren't fans. Even so, you clearly never read what I write, because I'm about the least negative Heat writer around. I get accused of being a homer more than I do of being overly critical.)

(Don't usually respond to comments, but I'm bored on a plane, sooo...)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shaking out the roster

A few thoughts about the roster and the potential rotation...


Before his 1 for 11 and five turnover night against the Hornets, Kenny Hasbrouck looked like he recovered and possibly had outplayed Patrick Beverley for that last spot on the roster that appeared to be going to one of them. Now, who knows. The Heat don't only use the actual preseason games to make these types of decisions, but that couldn't have helped.


Some are of the opinion that Juwan Howard might not be a lock to make the roster because he has only played in two games and doesn't exactly match the style this team wants to play. But just look at the depth chart. There are no power forwards behind Udonis and Bosh, unless you're considering Shavlik Randolph. Howard will be on this final roster. He's just a vet who doesn't need or probably even want the preseason minutes.


Love what Ilgauskas does for this team (last night's game wasn't exactly the best example), particularly with the second unit. Not only is he a very good shooter, but he still knows how to use that big body and just enough athleticism to get those easy putbacks. He used to kill the Heat with offensive rebounds, and now he'll be doing it for this team. I'm still not ready to say Joel shouldn't start for this team, but I certainly wouldn't have a problem if Big Z ended up taking that spot.


James Jones has played well, and as long as the team defense is good enough, he should be able to get some minutes that he couldn't last year. The problem is, though, will there really be many minutes available, if any, at the small forward? After Wade and LeBron are back, it'll be those two and Mike Miller taking up pretty much all the minutes at the shooting guard and small forward spots. And there's a chance Eddie House can be a contributor at the two spot. So it might be slim picking for Jones once everyone's healthy. Chances are, though, he'll get his chances throughout the season when guys get hurt, because that's inevitable. It's good to see he's prepared to contribute regardless of when his minutes come.


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Different cast?

It's impossible to play an entire roster and still be productive in the preseason, so it's likely that Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Eddie House and other who didn't get in Tuesday's preseason opener will play in Friday night's game against the Thunder in Kansas City. There's always the chance that those particularly guys get held out Friday, though, and play Saturday instead in San Antonio.

With back-to-back games -- especially after watching Wade go down with the hamstring injury -- chances of key players playing significant minutes in back-to-back games are quite miniscule.

I'd like to see some of House alongside LeBron, because from what we saw in practices during the training camp in Hurlburt Field, they love kicking out to House, and House loves knocking down open shots (on a side note, it would be interesting to catch up with Elizabeth Riley, daughter of Pat and creator of the "Free Eddie House" campaign back in his first go-around with the Heat, now that House has had a healthy career that includes a championship ring).

I think folks are especially intrigued by Dexter Pittman, who looks like he's about 15-20 pounds away from being a real force in the league. I'm going to go out on an early limb here and say he can be a starting center in the league in two years.

Random end note: Saw where David Stern said the league is anticipating its most successful year ever. It would be something of an awkward position for owners if that happens, wouldn't it? If the league has its best season ever, which would have to mean fiscally, wouldn't that give the players tons of leverage in collective bargaining negotiations next offseason? They'd be able to say that the system is perfect as is, including free agency. Maybe contract lengths could still be an issue, but if you start implementing hard caps and discouraging star player movement, then something like what Miami has just done might never happen again. And it clearly excites people, even if it's in the short term.
 Just a thought.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Top 15, starting five

Funny how people originally thought the Heat's supporting cast around the Big Three would be made up of scrubs, and at this point the roster's deep enough to make the final choice on the 15-man roster rather difficult.

The locks for the roster are obvious: LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Haslem, Miller, Ilgauskas, House, Anthony, Chalmers, Jones, Arroyo, Howard and Magloire.

That's 13, leaving two spots open with about five guys fighting for them.

Dexter Pittman is probably a lock, given that he's a big guy the Heat drafted and they love to develop big guys with potential. Pittman would be a fourth center, yes, but Pittman would likely be stashed on the inactive list every night. Then if Big Z has health issues, there's still depth to deal with the bigger teams like Boston.

Shavlik Randolph and Kenny Hasbrouck, though they were on the team at some point last year, are probably out when you consider that, a) the Heat has enough in the power rotation without Randolph and b) Hasbrouck hasn't even been the best defensive specialist in camp.

That distinction would go to Patrick Beverley, who played point with the red team that featured the Big Three in Friday's scrimmage.

If he makes the roster, though, that would mean Da'Sean Butler, another draft pick, wouldn't. Of course, Butler is working his way back from a torn ACL, but if he really was a coveted player, there's always the fear that if he's cut here, another team could sign him, work him back to health and have a significant contributor in the future. I'm sure with Wade and LeBron on the perimeter, it's not as if the Heat is very concerned about losing a potential role player, but why would the team have signed Butler at all if the plan wasn't to work him back to health themselves? The guess here is they signed him as a show of good faith, so when they do cut him, he'll work his way back to health in Miami then re-sign down the road.

So my guess is Pittman and Beverley get those final roster spots.

But back to the top of the roster... Should be interesting to see who Spoelstra starts against the Pistons on Tuesday. If it were my starting lineup, I'd go with Bron, Wade, Miller, Bosh and Anthony. But based on how LeBron talks about playing the point, I doubt he wants to start there. So it'll likely be Chalmers (or healthiest available point guard), Bron, Wade, Bosh and Anthony. Not a ton of shooting there, especially if it's Arroyo or Beverley starting, and even with Chalmers it's not as if he's threatening enough an outside shooter to keep teams from just packing in the defense. To me, either Miller, House or Jones should be on the floor whenever the combo of Wade and Bron are on the floor. But I guess we'll see where that goes.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Decision on Dampier?

Two meetings with two teams in two conferences over the span of three days. Dampier

That, apparently, has been free agent center Erick Dampier's itinerary this week as the 6-11 veteran big man plots the course to his next destination, with training camps opening league-wide next week.

Dampier, 35, has exited meetings with both the Houston Rockets and Miami Heat this week without signing a contract as of Wednesday evening. Although there were indications out of Houston that Dampier was expected to make a decision by Thursday, a source said Wednesday night that nothing was imminent.

The Heat and Rockets are believed to be frontrunners among a group of teams that, at one point or another, had included Atlanta, Denver and Phoenix. Houston reportedly offered Dampier a two-year deal worth about $4 million. The best the Heat can counter with is the veteran's minimum of $1.4 million a year.

That means the equation is pretty much simple for Dampier. He's faced with a $600,000 question, assuming the Heat made a firm offer. Miami, obviously, appears much closer to a championship team than Houston. Add in the fact that Dampier is 35, and it's easy to see that time might not be on his side when it comes to how many potential title runs he has ahead of him.

Houston clearly has a defined role for Dampier, with Yao Ming returning from a foot injury and limited to about 24 minutes a game this season. So, in other words, Dampier would seem to be more needed in Houston, yet more of a luxury in Miami.

The Heat seems sold on Joel Anthony after investing a five-year, $18 million contract in his services. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire will be counted on to be one-year stop-gap type options at the position. And Pat Riley has gone out of his way to praise the merits of Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh and Juwan Howard as fill-in options at center if needed.

From all indications I've received, Dampier has been favoring Miami since he realized his days in Charlotte were numbered. But this could all be decided by which team wants him more.

Perhaps Heat team president Pat Riley will address the situation when he meets with the media Thursday at noon. The team, however, was certain to mention in its press release that Riley was not expected to announce any trade or player signing.

Perhaps that changes overnight. Or, the Heat heads into next week's camp convinced it's set at center.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Final 5 Questions Facing Heat (Part. 2)

After a brief detour to cover Udonis Haslem's exoneration from that felony drug charge and the Heat's player media availability after Thursday's workouts, we resume the countdown of the top 10 questions facing Miami entering the Sept. 28 start of training camp.

5. How much will the Heat hate motivate? Some members of the national media, NBA analysts and Stan Van Gundy various coaches and players around the league have made this easy for the Heat. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Pat Riley don't have to come up with their own invisible villains now. All they have to do is look at the next game on the schedule, 'Google' that team and search for "criticism of the Heat." And the transcript of motivational potshots will flow. What we know is that even without the naysayers being so public in their so-called hate of the Heat, this team wouldn't have had too much of a problem creating that "Us against the world" mindset. But how much general hate is really out there aimed at the Heat? I'd say much less than the media would like you to believe. This team has plenty of fans in cities outside of Boston, Orlando, Los Angeles and Cleveland. People who support this team outside of Miami just don't tend to make news.

4. Can Miami overcome weaknesses at PG and Center? Yes and No. What we know is that point guard won't be a problem. As a matter of fact, it's safe to assume that the traditional 'point guard' position probably won't exist in the Heat's vocabulary. It will be replaced by 'playmaker' - and the Heat has plenty of them. Mario Chalmers, Carlos Arroyo and Eddie House will specifically be asked to do three things: Limit turnovers, defend their position and knock down open shots. Wade, James and Mike Miller will handle the basketball. They will make the plays. They will handle the decisions. Expect the three of them to combine for around 20 assists a game. By comparison, the Heat averaged 18.9 assists as a team last season. One thing Wade, James and Miller shouldn't have to do is chase a smaller, quicker opposing point guard around the court an entire game. The center spot is another issue. The versatility and flexibility of Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh and Juwan Howard should help fill any voids at center, where Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire are the natural candidates. The Heat should hold up relatively well there most of the season. But it's the combined dozen regular-season games - plus the playoffs - against the Lakers, Magic, Celtics and Spurs when Miami's power rotation will be severely tested.

3. How long might chemistry be a concern or issue with the Big 3? If Wade, Bosh and LeBron aren't Bosh-Wade-James-USA already on the same page psychologically and physically by the end of this upcoming boot camp of a preseason stretch on those military bases in the Panhandle, then there might be a problem. But I don't suspect that will be the case. What we know is that these guys have wanted this opportunity to play together for years and are committed to proving to the world that this Super Big 3 concept will work. Considering the fact that Wade has already won a championship here and has that credibility, there is no debating who is the leader of this outfit. Bosh will easily flow into whatever system and expectations are set for him. Because Wade and James are essentially the same player (despite their difference in size), it will take some time for them to work through some potential on-court kinks. An up-tempo offense would help alleviate times when one has the ball and the other is setting up somewhere waiting to get it. In some ways, you can say Wade and James are selfishly unselfish players. That means they both are willing passers, playmakers and facilitators. But they also must have the ball in their hands and be in the middle of the action to be at their best. So that will make this chemistry exhibit interesting.

2. How long is coach Erik Spoelstra's leash? I was completely stumped by a question from a reader in our last Heat Q&A live chat. The person asked something to the extent of how bad of a start must the Heat have this season for Spoelstra's job to be in jeopardy. My initial reaction, somewhat sarcastically, was 0-3. That would mean losses to open the season at Boston and Philadelphia, followed by another setback in the home opener against the fri-enemy Orlando Magic. The Heat would be slaughtered in the national media, and Spoelstra would be under more scrutiny than he's ever faced in his brief coaching career. But what we know is that Spo has the full backing of Riley, owner Micky Arison and, perhaps most important, Dwyane Wade. What we also know is that Riley isn't the type to publicly panic at the first sign of adversity or a losing streak. Yes, history reveals Stan Van Gundy was forced out five years ago when Riley's last collection of championship material sputtered out of the gate before winning a title. But that escape hatch was opened for Van Gundy's departure in large part because of the simmering feuds in the locker room and a lack of trust between Van Gundy, Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning. This current Heat team has the talent to overcome a short losing streak under Spoelstra. But not even all the support from the front-office could help him if, for instance, Wade were to be neutralized and find himself torn between supporting Spoelstra and remaining loyal to an uncomfortable or privately disgruntled LeBron James.

1. Will the Heat win a championship this season? This is the way I see it: If this Heat team gets to the Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals, I believe they win it. Count me among the smaller group of folks who think that, on paper, the Heat would have a harder time against a healthy and hungry Boston team this year than it would against the Lakers or anyone that comes out of the Western Conference. The Lakers are the two-time defending champs and a phenomenal team. But I don't think the Heat is intimidated by an inconsistent Andrew Bynum, an aging Derek Fisher and the solid-but-unspectacular additions of Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff. Boston's Big 3 - Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett - could be more problematic for Miami's counterparts in Wade, James and Bosh. And what we know is that Boston is far superior at the traditional point guard and center positions. There is no debating that Boston has had its way against Wade's Heat, James' Cavs and Bosh's Raptors in the recent past. But now they're a formidable trio, with dynastic expectations and are setting out on a championship-or-bust mission in Miami. My take? The Heat shouldn't be considered a bust if it doesn't win a title this season. It does, however, need to at least get to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. By Year 2, this team must have jewelry to show for its 2010 free agency heist.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)



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