Basketball / NBA

Miami Heat: Champions, Until Proved Otherwise

A third title may persuade star hoopsters Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh to stay for another year.

Last Season: 66:16, champions, after beating San Antonio 4-3

Coach: Erik Spoelstra

Significant new signings: Michael Beasley, Greg Oden

Significant players gone: Mike Miller

Proabable opening five: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh

Moto: 3-peat

What they did in the summer: Almost nothing changed, and that can be considered good news. Still, Miami are champions. After keeping the efficient Chris Andersen, Pat Riley allowed clutch three-pointer scorer Mike Miller to leave, having cost more than $6 million a season. At the same time he gambled, without paying too much, on two players who saw their promising careers almost go down the drain for various reasons (injuries, marijuana).

Riley's reasoning is sound, since Miami won't be dependant on Beasley or Oden, but rather on Dwyane Wade, who had intensive treatment of his knees during the summer; on Chris Bosh, who seemed on form in pre-season and, naturally, on the player who is hoping to compete for his fifth MVP award in six seasons. Yes, according to reports Joel Anthony is again hitting top form.

What will they do in the fall, winter and spring: They will continue to play "Miami Heat basketball," as they love to term it. This means using shorter players who atone for the missing inches with a quick transition from exhausting defensive work to varied offensive moves, while trusting the basketball intelligence of Wade and LeBron.

Oden is a bonus. After four years off court, if he makes it to the playoffs and offers 15 minutes of good form against the Roy Hibberts of the NBA, it would be considered a modern-day miracle. Still, since most people hope for miracles but don't count on them — even if they witness Ray Allen's games — Spoelstra will continue to base Miami's game on the foundations that brought the two championships. "It would be silly to change anything fundamental," he says.

And he's probably right. There's no reason to make essential changes when you are champions and can boast the best player in the world who is at his peak. LeBron James is one hell of an exclamation mark, but seems to be surrounded by several question marks. Wade reached the last playoffs exhausted and looked it. Bosh wasn't at his best for most of the important games. Allen won't be as hungry after last season, especially since he is at an age when most players enjoy their pension. Shane Battier will soon return to the Bahamas, and Miller isn't there any more to shoot three-pointer with one shoe on in the NBA finals.

In order to reach the finals again Miami will have to do two things: stay injury and handle the upgrade of their rivals in the East. Indiana now has a bench, Chicago has Derek Rose, and Brooklyn can now boast quite a team.

Potential Kryptonite: injuries and rotation. While the first is true of every team in any sports, it is especially true of Miami, and is connected to the second. Miami can hope to offer its top three players the rest needed by using several other players, such as Battier, Andersen, Beasley, James Jones and Norris Cole. If all goes well, at the playoffs the club will need Wade and LeBron on court as much as possible. If the rotation works as it did last season, all the other teams are in trouble. If it doesn't, the champions will struggle.

Possible talking issues: the season after. A third consecutive title might persuade the big three to ignore the clause in their contract that allows them to jump ship. Anything except a title might cause Bosh, Wade and LeBron to rethink their moves in the summer of 2014, especially since the Los Angeles Lakers will open the following season with only one signed player and plenty of room to spare under the salary cap.

Worth watching: It would be hard not to closely follow Greg Oden's every move, a sport tragedy that should have a happy ending. The chances of Oden contributing seriously to the Heat are small, but if he manages to keep going on his ailing knees, every basketball fan will stand up and cheer him on.

Reuters