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Miami Heat preview: The day after tomorrow

Two years after the Mavs beat them in the NBA Finals, the Heat are on top of the league. Will anyone be able to knock them off their perch next June?

Joe Raedle

Mnelik Belilgne is part of a great team of writers over at SB Nation's Miami Heat blog Hot Hot Hoops. You can follow him on Twitter @imkilenm.

After the craziness that was the last two years, is it nice for the Heat to be flying relatively under the national radar for once?

Yes and no. I'm not so sure they've flew under the radar but certainly a piece of their spotlight has been captured by the struggles of the Lakers. After back to back losses to the Wizards and a Knicks team without Carmelo, the Heat took some media backlash. I would re-label it as "lacking motivation". After winning the title, the harsh expectations have been lifted and any under the radar flying has caused them to be a bit lethargic and less motivated RIGHT now.

LeBron, as usual, is putting up absolutely insane statistics. As someone who gets to watch him on a daily basis, what part of his game do you think is most underrated nationally?

I really don't think there's any aspect of LeBron's game that is underrated nationally but if you had to reach for something, I'd say his ability to make the "right" play down the stretch. I'm not on either side of the fence of the clutch argument, but I do feel that he's excellent at evaluating a situation late in games and making the right basketball play whether it be a pass, shot, drive, cut, steal, block or rotation.

Wade's statistics are down this year. Is that a part of the aging process, a change in his role on the team or a combination of both?

I wrote a piece ( analyzing the statistical reasoning behind Wade's decrease in production and pointed to the fact his role has diminished. Wade is averaging 15.1 FGA this year, which is the lowest since his rookie year (13.1), despite shooting a career high 50.8% from FG's. In addition, his usage rate is the lowest it's been since his rookie year (28.3). So Wade has been very efficient, but not had the kind of shot attempts or possesions that he's used to. That's why his offensive statistics are down but I'd expect his usage and production to slowly increase as the season progresses.

It looks like Joel Anthony has been playing his way back into the rotation in the last few weeks. Miami committed to a super small-ball approach this season after their success in the Finals against Oklahoma City, is that being scaled back?

It looks like it. Heat fans were thrilled to see Joel Anthony back in rotation because he's there best rim protector. I think Spoelstra has also realized that Battier will not be able to withstand a 82 game season, guarding power forwards. The plan appears to be save the small ball for the playoffs and incorporate Haslem and Anthony more now. I think that's a smart plan.

Who do you think is the biggest threat to a possible repeat in the East and in the West?

In the East, the Knicks and the Celtics*. In the West, the Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies and Lakers*. I put an asterisk next to the Celtics and Lakers because age and health is a legitimate question for them. Those other 4 teams can do everything the Heat can do offensively and defensively, but are "bigger" in the frontcourt. I think the Knicks matchup very well with the Heat and pose the biggest threat, since they're more likely to run into New York at some point in the East. The Thunder, Clippers and Grizzlies would be a viable threat in the finals as well. Besides, a renewal of the Knicks/Heat rivalry would be great.

Is playing in Dallas still a big deal for the Miami players or has the Mavs descent into mediocrity turned it into just another game?

I don't think it's a big game for the Heat, not because of the Mavericks descent, but because of their change in personnel. Had Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler still been on the Mavericks, I think Miami players would still have that extra bit of motivation on Thursday. But with just Dirk and Marion left and 13 new players, it's not the same Mavericks team. That's part of the reason why I feel the Knicks pose a big threat to the Heat; Chandler and Kidd together, beat the Heat and will likely always remind them of that finals loss.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.