Miami Heat

Miami Heat building a new identity in post-LeBron era

James Ennis dunks during the Miami Heat's Red, White & Pink Game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, October 1, 2014.
James Ennis dunks during the Miami Heat's Red, White & Pink Game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, October 1, 2014. El Nuevo Herald

It took less than one quarter of a preseason scrimmage Wednesday night for Heat forward Udonis Haslem to start bleeding.

Yes, the Heat still has a pulse even though it no longer employs LeBron James. Yes, the heartbeat of this city still pulsates from AmericanAirlines Arena. Yes, the Heat is going to let everyone know that throughout this upcoming season.

An unmistakable feeling of defiance has permeated through AmericanAirlines Arena during the first week of training camp. James has returned to his hometown and his previous abode isn’t completely over the loss.

Despite James’ departure, the attitude being projected by the Heat this preseason is one of pride, demonstrated by the consistent use of the slogans “Heat nation” and the equally prosaic “Heat lifer.”

“Heat Nation, we’re not going anywhere,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to the half-full arena before the scrimmage.

And then Haslem, the only guy from Miami still on the roster, the guy who is never going anywhere, started dripping blood from his mouth a few minutes later.

After the Heat’s scrimmage, the cloth backdrop hanging behind Spoelstra for his news conference was patterned with “Heat Nation” graphics. It’s a marketing campaign the team has embraced as it moves past the best four-year run of any professional sports franchise in South Florida history. “Heat Lifer” and Heat Nation” shirts are on sale in the arena’s apparel store.

“We felt it from our fans this summer,” Spoelstra said when asked about the slogans. “Everyone was so supportive of Heat nation, and what we’ve done over the last 20 years. We showed great faith that we’re going to have a productive offseason of putting together a team that we think our city can be proud of, and then we knew we had a lot of work to do.”

Coincidentally, James’ Cavs scrimmaged Wednesday in Cleveland around the same time the Heat rolled out the ball in Miami. The two teams will play a preseason game against each other on Oct. 11 in Rio de Janeiro.

Between now and then the Heat will play the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Orlando Magic at home next Tuesday. That’s probably not enough time for fans to learn the names of all the new Heat players, never mind getting used to the LeBron-less Heat.

“I’m impressed and I’m really happy,” Haslem said of the team the Heat has put together. “I’m excited about the young guys and the new guys we got coming in. I say it again, I think they did a great job of going out and picking up the right free agents, and making us real competitive.”

Some positive signs Wednesday included Luol Deng, James’ replacement at small forward, driving the floor for a three-point play. Some not-so-positive signs, depending on the perspective, included a potential back-up at small forward, rookie James Ennis, crossing up Deng on the perimeter for a driving dunk.

“Everybody’s going to talk about him being gone and me being here,” Deng said. “But I’m not trying to be LeBron James.”

Lucky for Deng no one is expecting him to be.

The team will focus on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Bosh will have to do a little bit of everything this season, including driving to the basket, which he demonstrated nicely during the first half: between the legs twice from the top of the key, shoulder down and driving, spin move past a defender, pump fake under the rim, dunk.

“I want ultimately the quintessential Chris Bosh to be the Chris Bosh who is everywhere on the floor and the Chris Bosh who has been developing for four years,” Spoelstra said.

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