With no players to guide or scouting reports to digest, Erik Spoelstra spent last year's lockout studying the systems used by other NBA coaches. The lesson he learned: Play your best players regardless of position. By the postseason Spoelstra had persuaded LeBron James to occasionally take his talents to power forward, allowing defensive savant Shane Battier to shut down opposing small forwards. This year Chris Bosh will move to center, a position he openly said he wished to avoid when he signed with the Heat. A title has a way of making everything seem more palatable.
Over the summer Miami added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. While both have lost a step, they still have the shooting range to open up driving lanes for James and Dwyane Wade. Talent alone wasn't quite enough to win a title in the Big Three's first season, but now, with a philosophy designed to maximize the trio's impact, a dynasty is theirs for the taking.
COACH: Erik Spoelstra (5th season with Heat)
2011--12 RECORD: 46--20 (1st in Southeast)
OFFENSE: 98.5 ppg (7th)
DEFENSE: 92.5 ppg (4th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 23.6 (14th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE HEAT
It's LeBron James's team now. That had to happen for them to get where they wanted to go. LeBron stepped up, and not just with his play, but also with how he acted and led. He was more aggressive, but he didn't change his greatest strength, which is making his teammates better, finding the open man.... Dwyane Wade is no longer as explosive as he was, but obviously he's an All-Star. His style of play—all-out, diving for loose balls, always trying to finish at the rim—is what makes him great, but that will take a toll on the number of games that he plays.... Many people overlook how good of a midrange shooter Chris Bosh is. When Dwyane or LeBron drive and kick, he's another weapon that they can throw the ball to.... Mario Chalmers is a great fit. He can play the traditional point guard role of handling the ball and initiating the offense, but what he really does well is shoot. Most point guards need the ball to be effective, but LeBron and Dwyane really handle that role.... I hate to say Ray Allen is there purely to shoot, but let's face it, that's what Ray does. They didn't sign him to be a ball hawking defender. Same goes for Rashard Lewis.
Chris Bosh embraces the pivot and Miami leaves defenses scrambling, threatening the Bulls' record of 72 wins.
Injuries or a hot opponent keep the champions from returning to the Finals to defend their title.
Current Heat players with more than 1,000 career three-pointers. Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller and Shane Battier have 6,800 treys, more than the franchise totals of the Grizzlies and the Bobcats.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH