Heat have been close, still focused on getting an NBA title

MIAMI (AP) — Most of the names on the Miami Heat roster are the same ones that were there last season. The objective for the season is also the same.

Don’t be fooled, though: The Heat insist this isn’t the same team.

The Heat won 53 games last season, getting the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and making Game 7 of the conference finals. And even though almost all the principals from that team — Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Kyle Lowry among them — are back, Miami’s mandate over the summer was to find ways to get better.

“I would say, to a man, everybody took that to heart and then came back much, much different,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “None of that guarantees anything, but our team is different. Each year is different.”

In some ways, yes, the Heat already seem different. Butler looks stronger. Lowry looks slimmer. Adebayo worked to expand his shooting range. Herro just got a $130 million, four-year extension that kicks in at the start of next season. Max Strus and Duncan Robinson, in Spoelstra’s words, remain “ignitable shooters.”

In other ways, they’re the same. The expectation is a championship. Miami got to the NBA Finals in 2020 at the bubble, was probably one shot away from getting to the finals last season, and believes this core is good enough to get it done.

“Every year we go into it with the mindset that we’re trying to win a championship,” Herro said. “We think we have enough.”

Adebayo said the Heat are aware that not everyone on the outside agrees. And while those voices aren’t supposed to necessarily matter, Adebayo said Miami could turn the sentiments from those doubters into fuel.

“It’s disrespectful to not only us, but our organization,” Adebayo said. “We as a team find (things) to be mad at, anyway. Most of our group is undrafted, had to get out of the mud, had to go through the trenches to get what we wanted. We’ve got guys who have fought for theirs. Some dudes get the easy route. We’ve got a lot of guys who had to fight.”

COMING BACK

P.J. Tucker’s departure for Philadelphia means the forward rotation will be different, but Miami has almost all its statistical production back this season. The Heat return 90% of their scoring from last season, 89% of their 3-pointers made, 89% of their assists, 89% of their blocked shots, 86% of their steals, 85% of their minutes, and 84% of their rebounds.

OLADIPO’S TIME

Victor Oladipo got into only eight regular-season games for Miami last year because of his ongoing recovery from leg surgeries, though was a key part of the playoff rotation. And a full offseason of work, with no major rehab and setbacks, has the Heat hoping that Oladipo — a former All-NBA player — could be much more for them this season. “I don’t want to put any expectations out there about Vic,” Spoelstra said. “I am extremely encouraged about his summer of work and what he’s done so far in training camp and preseason. I just want for him to have that joy of just being out there again, you know, with the guys.” Spoelstra said the plan is for Oladipo to “ramp-up” into the season and see “what that’ll look like three or four months from now.”

HEAT GEMS

It wouldn’t be a Heat season without surprise players to watch. Miami’s player development program has turned a slew of undrafted guys — Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin and Omer Yurtseven from this roster alone among them — into NBA rotation players. This year, the Heat converted Jamal Cain to a two-way contract after a strong camp and expect him to get into some games. “I’m extremely happy. I’m extremely blessed,” Cain said.

FANDUEL SAYS

FanDuel Sportsbook has listed Miami at 18-1 to win this season’s NBA title, the eighth-lowest odds in the league and the fifth-lowest odds among teams from the East. Boston, Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Philadelphia all have better odds of winning a championship, FanDuel says.

THE SCHEDULE

Miami opens with 10 of its first 14 games at home, then has a stretch of eight home games in a nine-game span to open March. But seven of Miami’s final 11 games are on the road. Another something to watch: the Heat have eight instances of playing the same team in back-to-back games (Oct. 22 and 24 home vs. Toronto; Nov. 10 and 12 home vs. Charlotte; Nov. 23 and 25 home vs. Washington; Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 at Boston; Jan. 12 and 14 home vs. Milwaukee; Feb. 27 at Philadelphia and March 1 at home vs. Philadelphia; March 4 and 6 home vs. Atlanta; and March 8 and March 10 home vs. Cleveland).

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