To understand howquiet this summer was for the Heat, all you had to do was check the team'swebsite. As training camp approached, one of the top headlines linked to astory that included coach--G.M. Pat Riley's opinion on the oeuvre of EricClapton. (For the record Riley says, "Whenever I hear My Father's Eyes, ittips the scales of reality back where [they] should be.")
After consecutivebusy off-seasons in which Miami acquired Shaquille O'Neal, Antoine Walker,Jason Williams and Gary Payton--all of whom proved to be key cogs in the Heat'sfirst title--Pat stood pat. "I didn't want to change anything," hesays. "This is a pretty balanced team, and it's very talented and veryversatile. We've got a lot going for us."
One thing Miamidoesn't have going for it is time. The only proven youngsters are guard DwyaneWade and forward Udonis Haslem; more than 65% of last season's minutes went toplayers who will be 30 or older when the playoffs roll around next spring. Butthe coach has faith that his veteran club will rally the way it did last seasonafter a 10--10 start. "This is a rise-to-the-occasion type of team,"says Riley. "It might not be an every-day-occasion type of team, but whenit gets hot and it gets real competitive, [the players are]formidable."
Anyone whoquestions this assessment risks being blinded by the gleam of O'Neal's andRiley's combined 11 championship rings. Still, if the aging Heat fails tomuster its energy at precisely the right moment--or if Wade's all-out stylecauses him to miss a significant period of time--there won't be another paradein South Beach.
ProjectedStarting Lineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 52--30(2nd in East)
Points scored: 99.9 (6th in NBA)
Points allowed: 96.0 (14th)
Coach: Pat Riley
(second season with the Heat)
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Heat
Will Miami behungry enough to defend its title? The answer will be defined by ShaquilleO'Neal. He was known for being lazy in the off-season when he was younger, butat this age (34) it would take him a really long time to get back into shape.And the more he weighs, the more he gets hurt.... The two things that won thechampionship for them: First, Pat Riley shifted Antoine Walker to small forwardand Walker got hot during the playoffs. That was crucial because it enabledthem to keep Udonis Haslem on the floor. Second, Dwyane Wade started makingthrees in the playoffs, which made him unguardable.... James Posey doesn't doanything that makes you say, Wow. He's not physical, he doesn't pass well, andduring a lot of the game he's not doing much.... Jason Williams is a betterthree-point shooter in transition than when he sets his feet. They survivedwith Williams at point guard because he didn't turn it over a lot--but that wasbecause in the half-court he wasn't making the entry passes; Wade or Walkerwere.
Dwyane Wadeaveraged 34.7 points in June in his Finals debut. Only Rick Barry (40.8) in1966 and Allen Iverson (35.6) in 2000 had higher averages in their first tripsto the Finals.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (O'NEAL)
EYES ON THE PRIZE With one title in hand, will O'Neal and the Heat maintain their focus as they go for two?
BOB ROSATO (WILLIAMS)