With LeBron leaving for Cleveland, can the Heat remain successful without him?
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The Miami Heat will have to find a way to deal with the loss of LeBron James this season, so expect Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to step up and deliver.
It felt as though neither the Heat nor the Indiana Pacers wanted the top seed in the Eastern Conference at the business end of the season, with the two rivals giving up opportunities to take a commanding lead.
Ultimately, the Pacers prevailed with the Heat finishing the regular season with the second seed after compiling a 54-28 record.
The Hornets, Nets and Pacers were then dispatched of, but Miami couldn’t ‘three-peat’ as the San Antonio Spurs avenged their loss the previous year, and this summer has seen key changes at the franchise which will effect their success moving forward.
Can Wade and Bosh lead the way in the post-LeBron era?
Any team that loses the best player in the league will likely struggle in the immediate aftermath, but instead of completely rebuilding, the Heat have opted to ‘reload’ as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh signed new deals and have new pieces around them.
James was undoubtedly the most integral part of a run which saw the Heat reach four consecutive NBA Finals, winning two championships along the way. There is no denying that many players took a back-seat in order to play a supporting role to allow him to flourish, well now they must come back to the forefront of the picture.
Wade averaged 19.0 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds last season, while Chris Bosh had 16.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The latter in particular will need to step up after signing a big-money deal, but the addition of Luol Deng ensures that there is still strong support.
Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole provide quality in the backcourt, while Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen will bring plenty of experience to the party. Danny Granger is also a smart acquisition while big things are expected of Josh McRoberts after his arrival from Charlotte.
However, of all the names to have been signed, it is Deng’s that stands out for what he brings on both ends of the floor. The former Chicago Bulls star was a real thorn in the side of Miami during his days at the United Center, but after a short stop in Cleveland, he is back in the mix for a contender and will relish the opportunity to play alongside Wade and Bosh.
The Heat topped the East with 102.2 points per game on average, but you would expect that number to drop with James no longer a reliable and heavy scoring option. Meanwhile,coach Erik Spoelstra will want to see consistent intensity on the defensive end, as when the Heat lock in, they are difficult to score against.
It will be a real challenge for Spoelstra in general without his main star by his side, but after building up key experience and knowledge of the game over the past few years, he will be confident that the Heat can survive the loss of James.
It is difficult to see Miami still competing at the top of the Eastern Conference, even though they still have a highly talented roster. Losing James will hurt them, but they will still be involved in the playoffs.
The general consensus is that the Bulls and Cavaliers will battle it out for the top two spots in the East, but after that the Conference is wide open. As a result, I expect Miami to fight the likes of Washington, Toronto, New York, Brooklyn and Charlotte for the 4-8 seeds, finishing at the top end of that bunch.
If they do make it to the playoffs, expect Bosh and Wade to become key figures (fitness permitting), as they still have a winning mentality and vital post-season experience which several other teams in the East lack. As a result, while the Eastern Conference Finals will look a little different this year, the Heat will remain competitive with further success ahead.
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: Luol Deng
PF Josh McRoberts
C: Chris Bosh
Sixth Man: Danny Granger/Norris Cole.