Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 66-16, No. 1 in Southeast Division, No. 1 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Michael Beasley, Greg Oden, Roger Mason Jr.
Roster subtractions: Josh Harrellson, Terrel Harris, Juwan Howard, Mike Miller, Dexter Pittman
The Miami Heat had very little roster attrition this past summer and likewise, added very little proven talent. Still, they are the back-to-back defending NBA champions and until dethroned, the title is theirs to lose.
This veteran team has the usual preseason story lines: Dwyane Wade is fresh following nagging injuries and is ready to contribute as much as ever, Chris Bosh regained his focus over the summer and thinks he can have a career year and LeBron James just wants to win championships.
Their locker room is focused on winning basketball games, and they are not going to allow any distractions along the way.
The Heat return almost their entire roster from last year, although veterans Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis and James Jones - all at least spot contributors in 2012 - are in their mid-30s or older and on the backsides of their careers. Dwyane Wade will be 32 by season's end. Another year might slow these guys down, but coach Erik Spoelstra has proven quite capable of managing minutes and keeping his veterans rested enough to contribute throughout the entire season. That said, age slows all players eventually and at least a few of these older veterans should see a slide in production this year. Lewis and Jones have clearly lost a few steps already and the other guys may be right behind them.
No matter what, though, a team with this kind of top-heavy talent will always be a force to be reckoned with. Wade, Bosh and James are going to get theirs, especially if Wade is as healthy as he says he is and Bosh is as focused as he claims. Last year, James added the outside shot to his already dominant all-around game, shooting over 40 percent on three-pointers for the first time in his 10-year career. He also had a career year rebounding the ball, scored almost 27 points a game and averaged 7.3 assists, elite not only for a wing but for any position. At this point, he's basically unstoppable.
If James plays well, the Heat are likely to win, bottom line. He is too much for opposing teams to account for, and with his newly developed outside shot to go along with his versatility in the key and in the post, expect all but the best defensive teams in the league to struggle with the Heat on a nightly basis.
James should lead the team on most nights, but Wade and Bosh are more than capable of guiding the team to victory.
Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have proven they can manage the team from the point guard position, although Chalmers takes more advantage of the outside opportunities afforded him due to opposing teams focusing on James, Wade or Bosh. If Cole can take the three-pointer and make it a little more consistently, this team will be even more dangerous.
The real interesting story lines here are the new roster additions hoping to make an impact. Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden signed a contract with the team this past summer and forward Michael Beasley and shooting guard Roger Mason Jr. also both hope to have career revivals in Miami
Mason is a bit past his most productive years, but Beasley and Oden will be key players to watch. When Andersen is on the bench - he was only good for about 15 minutes a game last year - the Heat sorely lack toughness, exposed by the Bulls, Pacers and Spurs in the 2013 playoffs. If Beasley can maintain focus and become a pesky, role-playing contributor off the bench, he may find a home in the NBA after playing for three teams in five years and earning the "headcase" label. The odds may be against him, but if any group of veterans can prevent Beasley from becoming a distraction, it's this one.
Oden, on the other hand, just needs to stay healthy enough to get on the court and contribute in the paint for a team that was dead-last in total rebounds per game last year. Blazers fans are well aware of his potential on either side of the ball and particularly on the glass. Spoelstra and the Heat training staff have set no timetable for his return and he won't play until the organization and Oden himself have full confidence in his ability to contribute without risking further injury. If he stays healthy enough to average 10-15 minutes per game, look out. It may be a long shot, but the both the Heat and Oden think it's worth the gamble.
Miami steamrolled its way through the second half of last season, racking up 27 straight wins at one point. Even though several teams in the East added more talent than they did this offseason, the Heat would have to suffer some serious injuries to key players to be knocked from their perch as back-to-back champs.
If the James, Wade and Bosh trio remains relatively healthy and the Heat can get at least one more solid year from their older vets, they have the inside track on nabbing their third straight championship. If any combination of Oden, Beasley and Mason Jr. works out, it'll be icing on the cake.
This team was elite defensively last year, and injuries appear to be the only factor that could really change that, especially now that Andersen will have an entire offseason and training camp with the team. The Heat should still be at or near the top of the league in several defensive categories, considering no defensive contributors left the team this past offseason and this nucleus had another summer to gel together.
Expect the Heat to make another deep run in the playoffs for a shot at their third straight title, as they appear to be just as healthy and hungry as ever.