LeBron James, Miami Heat Have More Championship Pressure This Season, Not Less

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

 

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh led the Miami Heat to the compilation’s first NBA championship after being stomped out by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. To think that James & Co. jobs are done after a single trophy is laughable. The Miami Heat have pressure on them just as they did last season and the preceding to bring home the hardware.

Winning does not make the target on their back smaller. It made it grow massively and they will be called upon to either repeat or come pretty darned close to it.

The lack of solid competition in the Eastern Conference is one of the reasons why the Miami Heat are expected to make a third consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics bulked up their roster in respects to becoming stronger contenders in the Eastern Conference, but the moves they have made are still outweighed by the three most integral pieces of Miami’s attack.

Jason Terry and Courtney Lee are bright adjustments at the shooting guard position, but age plays a huge part into how influential Terry will continue to be with the perimeter defense of Miami only maturing. Lee is a great role player, but an important championship piece to put Boston over the top he is not. He will likely get the starting nod over Terry in light of Avery Bradley’s unknown return date, but against Dwyane Wade Lee is not going to be as lethal as he is perpetuated.

He is not as athletic, as fast or as striking a shooter as Wade is leaving him prone to mismatches when the Celtics and the Heat face off. The rest of the pieces are virtually the same with Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett being re-signed.

The threat of the Boston Celtics will always be there and they are in the best position to reroute the Heat. The scary part about the East is that the chance they have will not be enough.

The Brooklyn Nets are not as menacing as Joe Johnson would have you believe. The Knicks are still in control of New York even though last season, even they were ultimately routed by the Heat in the first round. The Knicks have added Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby to the mix, but if Carmelo Anthony does not make the jump from being just good enough to playing like he did for Team USA, it will not matter.

Miami has fought their way around fundamentally sound big men in the past two seasons. Kidd is not going to be the destructive guard that Knicks’ fans hope for him to be and against Mario Chalmers, it will be downright unimpressive. The other franchises in the East are not worth mentioning seeing as how most are still searching for an identity, a leading man or just trying to achieve a .500-winning record.

The Miami Heat have a strong hold on the East and with Wade searching for improvement after surgery they are in a better position to win than they were last season.

After coming out of the Eastern Conference, as everyone predicts they will do, the Miami Heat will have to face one of two opponents coming out of the West – the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Western Conference is much deeper than that statement allows it to seem, but the ultimate battle will come down to these two growing foes. Kevin Durant already made it to the big show last season after fighting by the San Antonio Spurs, but the Buss family has a strong last word in whether or not the Thunder are able to repeat.

Assembling a superstar constellation like that in southern California is nothing less of astonishing. Getting Dwight Howard out of Orlando could not have been that hard of a task. Coaxing Steve Nash from the championship-less grip of the Phoenix Suns was a walk in the park. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were already along for the ride. The challenge was figuring out where to strategically place Andrew Byum and how to keep Gasol to appease Bryant.

A starting lineup of Howard, Bryant, Nash, Gasol and Ron Artest should be written into the NBA Finals as the ink dried on the contracts. That would only have happened if the Thunder were dismantled. They were not.

Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are all still assigned starting roles in the organization with Thabo Sefolosha returning as the team’s athletic, lockdown defender. Remember, it was Sefolosha’s length and athleticism that bothered Tony Parker defensively in the Western Conference Finals. The adjustment proved to help push the Thunder past the Spurs and earn them a slot in the 2012 NBA Finals.

Eric Maynor, injured at the beginning of this year, is coming back and that brings smiles to all OKC fans’ faces. Maynor, in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, was the same player chosen over the efforts of Westbrook in the fourth quarter of an important game due to his traditional point guard attributes.

The move was not permanent, but it gave strong insight to how much Coach Scott Brooks trusts the offense in his hands.

These two franchises are forecast to battle it out in the Western Conference Finals, but the last man standing will have weaknesses that the Miami Heat can expose, no matter how futile they may seem. The Los Angeles Lakers do not have youth, athleticism or speed on their side for their entire starting lineup.

The Miami Heat does.

Kobe Bryant will likely be matched up with a more athletic, more agile, more powerful and more defensively sound player than he is and Artest is not nearly the same defender he was once to take away any avenue of LeBron’s game. Chris Bosh is a tough handle for Gasol while Howard is the wild card that everyone can’t wait to see on the floor in the Lakers’ offense.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are only standing in their own way. Westbrook has to become a more controlled point and Kevin Durant has to be a better defender if he wants to guard LeBron.

The Miami Heat are in control, but the pressure has not relented ever since their championship win last postseason.

It is time to get back to work and being comfortable with a single ring should not be on LeBron James’ agenda.

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