Championships are a zero-sum game: One team wins, everyone else loses. But how a team gets there can vary significantly, from steamrolling the competition in a series of 10-point blowouts and 4-0 sweeps to scratching through a 16-12 postseason in which, theoretically, the champs get swamped in total points scored.
It’s easy to forget how close the Miami Heat came to not winning the 2012 Larry O’Brien trophy. Power forward Chris Bosh went down at the start of the conference semifinal round against Indiana and Miami, down 2-1 in games, trailed big in Game 4. They faced elimination on the road in Boston in Game 6 of the East finals before winning in seven. In The Finals, they were within a late maybe-foul (LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant) of possibly slipping behind the Thunder 0-2.
Much of that gets forgotten, crowded out by the celebrations and validations in South Florida since June 21. But as the Heat hosts its Media Day Friday and starts practicing Saturday, coach Erik Spoelstra knows his team can win bigger, better, nastier. So (shudder) does the rest of the NBA.
Guy on the spot as camp begins: Ray Allen. What, you were expecting Spoelstra? No way – he’s officially off the hot seat for the first time in two seasons, with the validation and job security that comes with winning an NBA title. Spoelstra is one of only four active coaches (with Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich) to have done so. Allen has a ring, too, but not with these guys. The NBA’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals has been brought in to provide another lethal option and he snubbed his so-called brothers back in Boston with his surprising, emotions-driven departure. Lots of Celtics and anti-Heat fans, while appreciative of Allen’s career, might be rooting against him in 2012-13.
What the Heat need to work on: Focus. Spoelstra will use all of the traditional coach clichés – heck, he uses more than most – to convince the fans, the media and most of all his players that the regular season matters. But c’mon, those 82 games are to be endured and survived before the Heat gets back to the tournament it wants to win again (and dominate this time). Look at it this way: If Miami were to reach late April healthy and intact, but somehow with the No. 8 seed, who would be favored in the Eastern Conference to reach The Finals? The Heat, of course.
Who could surprise: Josh Harrelson. OK, some Heat insiders don’t even think he’ll make the final roster. Others, however, see the former New York Knicks big man as a solid addition. The 22-year-old and No. 45 pick in the 2011 draft out of Kentucky has the size (6-foot-10, 275 pounds) to help defensively. He also has the 3-point range to draw out big defenders, further spacing the floor for Miami. He’s the sort of player the Heat hasn’t had among its bigs, and even champions like new wrinkles.