1. How many games can the Heat expect out of Dwyane Wade?
After missing 25 percent of Miami’s regular-season contests during the past four seasons, Wade came to camp lighter and hasn’t appeared restricted in any meaningful way. The maintenance program is no more, but, in a season in which he turns 34, it’s overly optimistic to project that he will play anything close to 80 games. Miami needs at least 70, though, in order to secure a high playoff seed. And the Heat needs to reduce his usage rate, which was back to pre-Big 3 levels last season, to keep him fresh for the postseason.
2. What is Hassan Whiteside?
This is the question that might define the Heat season. Is he the space-eating, shot-blocking, rim-rattling monster who we saw fall from, and then soar into, the sky last season? Or is he a mirage, a 7-foot bundle of false hope? No previous potential contender in the Pat Riley Era has counted on a relative unknown quite so much. He will need to anchor an otherwise leaky defense while drawing double-teams on the other end, all while opponents are attempting to incite him, hoping he loses his head.
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3. How much clanking can Miami overcome?
Acknowledge the obvious. As currently constructed, the Heat is not likely to be a top three-point shooting team during an era in which Memphis is the only contender short of such marksmen. Actually, Miami probably won’t land in the top half in makes or percentage. The lineup has two reluctant long-range shooters (Luol Deng and Goran Dragic), one who still operates more comfortably from midrange (Chris Bosh) and one (Wade) who is better at virtually anything else. The bench, with Gerald Green, Josh McRoberts and Mario Chalmers, has more boom (and bust) possibility here, but it’s clear the Heat will mostly need to rely on offensive precision, getting two at a time.
4. How does coach Erik Spoelstra get Miami back to playing top-10 defense?
This won’t be easy. The conventional statistics suggest the Heat was fairly stout last season, but those numbers fib. Yes, Miami was sixth in points allowed, but that didn’t account for its snail-like pace; the Heat was 21st in points allowed per possession. The rookies, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, appear to be committed irritants, but their minutes might be limited, meaning that the Heat needs Wade and Bosh to re-engage regularly, while Deng shows that he still has tread on his well-worn tires. Otherwise, it would mean early foul trouble for Whiteside, with none of the bench options capable of providing equivalent rim deterrence. Amar’e Stoudemire won’t provide any.
5. Are Micky Arison and Pat Riley really in it to win it. ... now?
A slew of happy accidents put Miami in position to contend a season earlier than management expected — Whiteside becoming a sensation, Dragic seeking out of Phoenix, Winslow slipping in the draft, and so on. So Riley redirected some of his attention from the summer of 2016 free agent list, which isn’t looking so stacked beyond Kevin Durant, to the here and now and trying to take out LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Still, if the season doesn’t start so well, or even if it does, don’t be surprised if the Heat pares some salary (Chalmers? Chris Andersen?) to cut its luxury tax load. And that could prove costly on the court, especially with age and injury concerns for so many regulars.