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Fueled by memory of loss, Heat eyeing a title run

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 12:51 PM
MIAMI -

BY TIM REYNOLDS

The Associated Press

To chronicle the first year of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up together, the television broadcasting side of the Miami Heat organization recently created a documentary about last season's quest for an NBA title.

And yes, art imitated life. In the film, Miami still lost the 2011 finals to Dallas.

"All movies that we love don't always end in great endings," Wade said. "But it leaves you thirsty for more, hungry for more."

Here comes the sequel: It's Act Two for the Big Three, and the Heat are bringing back almost the exact same cast for what they hope is another title shot.

When its season today opens in Dallas, Miami figures to send out the same starting five as it did for the final game against those Mavericks last season, on the night when James, Wade and Bosh saw Dirk Nowitzki and his pals hoist the trophy all NBA players covet most.

Sure seems like it's championship or bust this season in Miami.

"We came together to win the NBA finals and that's what it's about," James said. "We know it's a long road and we're going to take every step … no shortcuts."

Even in a shortened season, that is.

Other than dealing with the angst of the lockout, this offseason was fairly benign for the Heat, a far cry from the wild summer in 2010 when Wade decided to stay in Miami and James and Bosh decided to play in Miami. The most notable departures from the reigning Eastern Conference champions are a pair of part-time starters in center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (retired) and point guard Mike Bibby (free agent who signed with the Knicks).

Shane Battier will be the most prominent newcomer in the Heat rotation, a player Miami wanted to get a number of times in the past.

Battier already seems to fit perfectly within the Heat culture, hardly a surprise given his close ties with owner Micky Arison and CEO Nick Arison, the latter having been the manager of Duke's basketball team when Battier played for the Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Battier came to Miami for what is largely considered to be a bargain: $9 million over three years. And playing for Duke — which, much like the Heat nowadays, tends to be poorly received in visiting arenas — might prove to be great preparation for what Battier will see when Miami hits the road this season.

"Like Coach K would say, if you're evoking emotion, whether it's cheers or boos, that means you're doing something," Battier said. "You have to worry when you go to gyms and no one cares and you evoke apathy. Then you've got to worry about your job. These guys on our team, they evoke emotion both ways. That means we're doing something, which is OK by me."

Much like his players, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the memories of last season, good, bad or otherwise, will serve as fuel this time around.

Despite some clearly rough moments — a 9-8 start, a five-game losing streak late in the season, struggling in the regular season against Boston and Chicago before ousting both from the playoffs with relative ease — Spoelstra never seemed to lose control of the Heat a year ago, one of many reasons why he got a new contract entering this season.

"I pretty much stayed in my place for about a week after the season," Spoelstra said. "And even when I came out of my place, for the next two weeks, I don't think I was right. For another two weeks, I walked around like a zombie. It probably took me a month to six weeks before I could start watching and analyzing the series. But time heals. And when you're trying to build something great, the reality is a lot of times that takes time and experience."

Which the Heat have now in bunches.

And if the team is taking its cue from its leaders, then this team may very well be better than last season's 58-24 club. James worked on honing his low-post game with Hakeem Olajuwon and trying to further improve his mid-range game. Wade got his body fat down to an all-time low, just under 4 percent. Bosh added about 10 pounds of muscle and said he would go into more of an attack mode this year, noting that Miami was 28-8 last season when he posted a double-double.

"When I look back at last year, I have no regrets about anything," Heat President Pat Riley said. "You live life, you experience life, experience becomes the best teacher for those players and also for us.

"How we go about, and how Erik goes about, and how the players go about having a perspective on this season is probably going to be important to how they end it."

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