Heat favored but know repeat won't come easy
MIAMI — Pat Riley has a lot of sayings. There’s, "No rebounds, no rings," and, "Discipline is not a nasty word."
Riley has one for a team trying to repeat as champion. Let Miami forward Shane Battier explain.
"Pat Riley talks about the Disease of More," Battier said about the Heat president who won five titles as an NBA coach but repeated as a champion only once. "After you win one, guys want more playing time or more shots or more glory."
Battier doesn’t believe the Disease of More will infect the Heat this season as they try to win another title. Still, it has to be regarded as a concern.
The Heat have talent all over the place. In LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, they have five players who have combined for 35 career All-Star appearances.
"We have a lot of guys that are so used to being kind of the main focus and not a lot of us are going to be the main focus now," Wade said. "So that’s a challenge to see how we all can incorporate ourselves within our offense and keep each other happy."
Allen and Lewis are new to Miami, so perhaps that doesn’t make them risks to catch the Disease of More. When they signed as free agents with the Heat, they knew they would have reduced roles, including not being starters.
Still, the Heat, who beat Oklahoma City 4-1 last June for the title, must find the hunger to repeat. Last season, they were motivated by the pain of losing 4-2 to Dallas in the 2011 Finals.
"It’s just human nature. You get a team that loses in the Finals or a team . . . like the Lakers and Kobe (Bryant), who really wants one, and those guys get even more hungry than a team that the (previous) year that has won one," said Wade, referring to the Lakers winning in 2009 after losing in the 2008 Finals to Boston, although they were able to repeat in 2010. "And the challenge is just to come back just as hungry as you were the year before."
It didn’t happen for Wade and the Heat in 2007 after they had won the crown the previous season. They stumbled to a 44-38 mark and were swept 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs by Chicago.
"We felt that we needed to bring the same team back because of what they had done," Wade said. "But the team, it just didn’t have the same motivation. No knock on our team. It just wasn’t there."
Miami didn’t stand pat last summer, bringing in Allen and Lewis. But it’s also unfair to compare the two situations considering the Heat had an aging team during their previous title run, including having Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton, all 35 or older by 2007.
This Heat outfit has James and Bosh in their primes and Wade, 30, not all that removed from his. And while James, the reigning MVP, doesn’t have all the criticism he used to receive for not having won a title to drive him, he’s a self-motivated guy.
"I’m playing for a lot in my career," said James, who wants to win a number of championships to truly be considered one of the absolute greats in NBA lore. "So I don’t need any more motivation to want to win again."
Just in case anyone on the Heat needs special motivation, coach Erik Spoelstra spoke to some coaches who were successful in repeating and some who weren’t.
Spoelstra talked to Florida coach Billy Donovan, who won consecutive NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007. And, of course, he spoke plenty with his boss Riley, who repeated with the Lakers in 1988 but fell short after winning championships with the Lakers in 1982 and 1985 and with the Heat in 2006.
"There are a lot of different variables that happen," said Spoelstra, an assistant on the 2006 Miami team. "Do you have your health? Do you still have a hunger? Do you have a continuity? Have you improved your team? Does the mentality of your team still feel you can get to another level, because we’ve seen it already there are some teams that have gotten much better during the offseason (e.g. Lakers)?"
Spoelstra already has made one decision. He said at the start of training camp he didn’t want to refer to Miami being on a quest to "repeat."
"My point to our guys was that it won’t be the same journey," Spoelstra said. "We’re not repeating. You can’t do the same thing again. The final destination will be the same (if the Heat win a title), but it will be a much different path."
The Heat obviously would love to have a much less harrowing path than last season. They became the first NBA team to win a championship after trailing in three series, 2-1 to Indiana to an Eastern Conference semifinal, 3-2 to Boston in the East final and 1-0 to the Thunder in the NBA Finals.
NBA general managers figure it could be a less demanding road to at least to win the East. In an NBA.com survey, the Heat got 29 of 30 votes as conference favorite, and the only reason it wasn’t unanimous was because the Heat couldn’t vote for themselves. They got 21 of the votes as favorites to win another NBA crown.
"I think they’re just going to get better," Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said of the Heat this season. "There’s always the (situation) of after you win one, is there that thirst and hunger? But they’re as good as it gets right now (in the NBA)."
Spoelstra wants to keep it that way. One assumes in his talk with Riley he got some advice on how to overcome the Disease of More.
Last season: 46-20, defeated Oklahoma City 4-1 in NBA Finals.
Coach: Erik Spoelstra (fifth year, 194-118).
Top returnees: SF LeBron James, SG Dwyane Wade, C Chris Bosh.
Key additions: SG Ray Allen, PF Rashard Lewis.
X-Factor: Being "position-less." That’s what Spoelstra says the Heat will do because they have so many players who can man multiple positions and they’re going to play plenty of small ball. James will man both forward spots and could even find himself at times at center. Bosh, once a power forward, has become the team’s regular center. "I think when you have a 6-8, 260-pound freak, you can be position-less," Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said of James. "LeBron is as big as any power forward in the league. Chris Bosh (6-11, 235 pounds) is the same size as most centers. Dwyane Wade obviously speaks for itself, so who else can do that?"
Strengths: James can continue to establish himself as one of the greatest ever to play the game. If he wins a fourth MVP, he would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Bill Russell (five), Michael Jordan (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four), the players with four or more. After having knee problems in the playoffs, Wade had surgery in June and he looked good in the preseason. Expectations are he will have the explosiveness he had prior to last season. Bosh has made a seamless transition to center. Helped by the additions of Allen and Lewis, Miami has ample depth. Those two add to the Heat’s stable of three-point shooters, perhaps making them the best in the league in that area.
Weaknesses: Can the Heat’s desire to play small ball always work? There aren’t many teams in the East with top-quality traditional centers that figure to create great problems. But if the Heat were to meet Dwight Howard and the Lakers in the NBA Finals, it could be a different story. Miami’s traditional centers, starting with Joel Anthony and Dexter Pittman, are unimpressive. Mario Chalmers is getting better but still isn’t an upper-echelon NBA point guard. While the signings of Allen, 37, and Lewis, 33, were celebrated, it remains to be seen how much either has left.
Outlook: The Heat have a very good chance to repeat as champs. One reason is the East doesn’t offer a huge challenge. Boston is aging, Chicago will be without injured star Derrick Rose much of the season and Indiana doesn’t have the star power to make a significant title run. While teams in the West are beating each other up, the Heat could cruise into the Finals well rested. While it’s always a concern the hunger any defending champion will have, it’s hard to see James ever relaxing. And he’s the guy who makes Miami go.
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