As the Miami Heat embarks on a mission to claim a third consecutive Larry OBrien Trophy, the prevailing notion in the locker room is that the team will have to be even better than last years 66-win juggernaut to accomplish its goal again this season.
During the current era of Heat basketball, the team has undergone a drastic evolution, even while having the same potent core. When LeBron James and Chris Bosh first joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, the overwhelming talent was evident, but the on-court mix was raw.
With each succeeding year, James, Wade and Bosh have improved their chemistry with one another, and the team has benefitted from added depth. But the Eastern Conference is as deep as it has ever been.
Miami will need every bit of the refinement and depth it has gained over the past three years plus a little extra to become champions again.
We cant play the same basketball as last year and expect to win, Bosh said.
Wade agreed, saying, We cant just show up and win. We have to play to the last seconds of games to win, so there are other good teams out here, and we understand that.
Bosh admitted that with Chicago, Brooklyn and Indiana all receiving legitimate championship buzz, this year feels different than previous seasons with the Heat.
Everyone is pumping up all the other teams, Bosh said. When youre trying to defend your title, everyone tells you that you cant do it and that everyone else can. Its just something else that we fight through.
Each of Miamis three stars has improved individually in the offseason. James has famously said he has improved every aspect of his game. Bosh was more specific, saying hes been working on his ball handling and shooting range. And just by nature of being healthy, Wade appears poised for a strong season.
But the outcome of the Heats season might be decided by whether or not the three can further improve their chemistry, their coexistence with only one ball to go around.
The easiest thing to do is to just have the ball all the time, to just be able to shoot when you want, to pass when you want thats the easy part of the game if youre talented, Wade said. But when you have to make sacrifices, when you have to think about others first, it becomes a little more challenging.
It takes a special kind of people to be able to do it and do it for a long time. Thats why I think this is a special group.
That group has slowly expanded over the years with the additions of Ray Allen and Shane Battier, and the depth on this seasons team looks to be the best it has been since James and Bosh arrived.
The return of Michael Beasley and arrival of Greg Oden provide promise that an unsung hero may emerge again this year, much like Chris Andersen last season.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has said repeatedly that there are no expectations being imposed on Oden, whos trying to salvage a once-promising career from a series of knee injuries.
And while Beasley might be able to provide more immediate contributions, Spoelstra hasnt revealed whether or not he will consistently be in the rotation.
We always know we can lay it all out because of our bench, and theres no hesitation, Bosh said. If you get tired, you cant be selfish youve got to raise your hand sometimes. Youve got to put your ego to the side and come on out because we have guys who can keep it going and really increase the tempo and increase our productivity when we start going to the bench.
Every player in the locker room knows that another ring can only come from the teams stars complementing each other even more and from trusting the surrounding cast.
Its going to take away some of your individual spotlight its going to take away from some of the things you do, Wade said. But just knowing that a guys all about the team, that hell do anything to win, thats the comfort in knowing that every night you go out there youve got a guy thats going to give everything he has.