5 Keys to Miami Heat’s 2014 NBA Title Hopes

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Keys to Miami's 2014 NBA Title Hopes

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The 2013-14 NBA season may just be the most important and meaningful season in the history of the Miami Heat franchise. To sum it up in four short words: It’s all or nothing. That means that either the Heat win their third straight championship or their roster, as we know it, may seize to exist.

Oh, the night terrors and 3 a.m. cold sweats that Pat Riley is experiencing must be traumatizing. After all, the fate of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh rests on how this season concludes. Did I mention the fate of LeBron James depends solely on this season? That right there is enough to send a man of Riley’s age straight into a pulmonary episode.

Once a champion has been crowned and the confetti has littered the court of whatever arena has hosted the Finals, James, Wade and Bosh all will have the option to opt-out of their contracts, deeming them free agents. When all is said and down, Miami could start the 2014 summer with only two players under guaranteed contracts, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen.

But nothing has been set in stone and the “Big 3” will remain in Heat uniforms for at least the next three months. The general consensus around the league is that Miami must complete the three-peat in order for James to stay. Others have said that James’ future with the Heat all depends on Wade’s health.

Here is what we do know. It is February and roughly 30 games remain for the teams across the country. The final stretch of the season has begun as we separate the men from the boys. That means it is time to talk championship and who the contenders are. Without question, Miami is once again a top contender for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Here are the five keys to the Heat’s 2014 title hopes.

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5. Bench Production

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The Heat bench has been known to have a lapse every now and then. Heck, with three superstars, the bench shouldn’t have to contribute much, right? Wrong! The role players are just as important to Miami’s title hopes as the “Big 3” are.

As for those role players, some might be up there in age, but experience pays off when it comes to the postseason. Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Andersen and even Greg Oden will have to play smart and sound basketball if the Heat want to win a third consecutive title.

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4. Chris Bosh's Consistency

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The inconsistency that is Chris Bosh took shape in 2010, when the All-Star power forward signed with Miami. Since moving to South Beach, Bosh’s numbers have shown a significant drop and his consistency issues have really taken the spotlight.

It is this simple, if the Heat want to win this year’s championship, Bosh must be a 20 and 10 guy throughout the postseason. He can’t take a night off here or a night off there. He can’t have games where he scores eight points and 10 rebounds or 25 points and four rebounds. His entire game must come full circle. We have seen Bosh struggle mightily in the last couple of postseasons, this year must be different.

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3. Overall Frontcourt Play

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I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Frontcourt play nearly ended Miami’s championship run last season and frontcourt play will, again, prove to be the Achilles heel of the Heat. So, it basically comes back to Bosh and whether or not he can be a force in the post.

He, along with his fellow big men, will have to be beasts in the paint, especially against the Indiana Pacers, whose frontcourt towers above the Heat’s. The monkey wrench in this whole situation, the wild card is Oden. No one knows what he is capable of or if he will even still be healthy in three months. He could be a pivotal player in the bid for a three-peat. Oden or no Oden, Miami must step up its post presence and rebounding effort if it wants to win the East for a fourth consecutive year.

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2. Dwyane Wade's Health Status

Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Not only might Wade’s health play a deciding factor in Jame’s “Decision 2.0”, but he will play a crucial part in Miami’s title hopes. As we have all heard about 100 times by now, Wade’s knees suck and have been the bane of his existence. He has been under a strict maintenance program, but it is hard to tell if he is making significant progress.

The good news is that the playoffs are still about two months away. That is plenty of time for Wade to rest his knees a bit more and hopefully fully recover from offseason shock-treatment. However, come April and May, Wade must be 110 percent and ready to compete at full force. Everyone is gunning for the Heat and everyone wants to be the team that ended the “Big 3’s” streak and even the “Big 3” as a unit. Miami will need a healthy Wade to help protect the castle, win a third straight championship and convince James to stay in South Beach.

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1. LeBron James' Aggression

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What is more frustrating than an unhealthy Wade? An unaggressive James, who settles for long-range jumpers and three-pointers. We have seen the “King” on multiple occasions, lose his aggression and begin to think he is Ray Allen. It happened a couple times in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, as well as once or twice against the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals. He even did it when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

When you overpower your opponents the way James does and are considered the best basketball player in the world, you find a way to score. If you are having an off-night, you don’t settle for long jumpers, you put the ball on the floor and get to the rim.

Neither Miami nor James can afford for the reigning MVP to have a lapse of aggression at any point this postseason. James is now considered the leader in South Beach, “the man” of the Heat. He must show that consistently throughout the playoffs if he wants a third consecutive championship as part of his resume.

Shane Phillips is an NBA Writer for RantSports.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneRantNBA, "Like" him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also email Shane at ShaneRantNBA@gmail.com.

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