“That always helps your competitive spirit, when teams are coming at you, they are inspired, motivated to play against you,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We also have the type of personalities on this team that like that challenge, like the spotlight, like the intensity, like the competition. That helps, because at the root of this all is competition, and you can’t shy away from that.”
Miami has already been groomed to handle the pressure and avoid any possible hangovers, and it also added more veterans to assist in the chase for another title. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis signed last summer, giving the Heat a few more championship-starved players who could help an offense that is currently several steps ahead of the tight-gripped defense that has defined the franchise since Pat Riley arrived.
Using a newfangled scheme without defined positions, the Heat surrounds slashers James and Wade with accurate three-point shooters, uses speed and athleticism to get out on the break for transition baskets and relies on spacing and movement in the half-court. The formula has produced an offense that ranks second in scoring (104.6) and efficiency, scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions.
“We can close our eyes and use our offense and know that somebody is going to make the right play for the next guy that’s in line. That’s definitely a plus for us,” said James, who leads the Heat in points (24.7), rebounds (8.9) and assists (6.5). “I know I’m never in the conversation, as far as scorers in this league, but I can score with the best of them. I also do other things. When my team needs me to facilitate and get other guys involved, I can do that as well. So, I’m with whatever. I can transform any way, any type of game that needs to be played.”
The defense has been slow to come around, ranking 19th in the league, but it held the Brooklyn Nets to just 16 points over the final 17 minutes in a 102-89 win at home Saturday.
“Right now, we still see a lot of growth in our team to go to the next level, and that’s not a bad thing. That’s where our focus is,” Wade said. “Our goal is just like every other team. We’re not living in the past and what we did last year. We want to win a championship and we have to get better to do that.”
James believes the regular season is already serving as a much-needed test. “For me, for us, we love the competition,” James said. “A lot of guys come up to play great, great games against us. We understand that and we just have to fight fire with fire.”