LeBron: Heat can be a lot better

MIAMI -- The Miami Heat will open defense of LeBron James' first NBA championship with coach Erik Spoelstra vowing to remove at least one term from his motivational messages entering training camp.


"I'm not even going to use that word," Spoelstra said Friday during the Heat's media day at AmericanAirlines Arena. "We have a chance to win another title. Everyone will be gunning for us. Teams have loaded up. It's a different challenge for us us this year -- a completely new journey."

The goal in Miami clearly is for a team reloaded around James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to make a third straight trip to the NBA Finals and win a second consecutive title. But the Heat took their first step on the eve of training camp toward distancing themselves from last season's victory over Oklahoma City in five games.

It may have been a case of semantics, but Friday's agenda for Miami was more about hitting the reset button than it was to boldly declare intentions to become just the second team in the past 10 seasons to win back-to-back titles.

Still, the modesty only extended so far after James arrived at the arena and saw free-agent newcomers, including a rejuvenated Ray Allen and healthy Rashard Lewis, standing alongside seven key rotation players who returned from last season's championship run.

"We have the potential to be better," said James, who in the past nine months has won regular season and Finals MVP trophies along with an Olympic gold medal. "We have the potential to be a lot better. And that's scary."

The Heat officially will start their title defense on Oct. 30 against Boston, Allen's former team. But Miami faces several questions well before they begin to battle their way through a top-heavy Eastern Conference that has seen Boston, Indiana, Brooklyn and New York reload their roster to try to knock off the Heat.

From an injury perspective, Wade is still not certain when he'll be able to return to game action as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. Wade said he continues to target the season opener against the Celtics, but Spoelstra said the team would take "the long view" with working Wade slowly back during training camp.

Allen, who had June ankle surgery, and Mike Miller, who rehabilitated a back injury, both participated in recent offseason workouts. But there was no clear indication as to when either of those players would be available to play.

Spoelstra said Wade, Allen and Miller would be on the court for Saturday's first practice session. From there, the plan is to see how well each of their bodies respond.

"I've been here before, guys. I know what to do," said Wade, who came back from knee and shoulder surgeries in 2008 to finish third in MVP voting the following season. "My focus is obviously Oct. 30. And my focus is, everyday get better. Coach is going to kind of tell me how much he wants me to do from this day to the next. All I can do is take care of what I can take care of and understand I'm not going to be ready for the Finals today. It's a process."

Another preseason challenge for Miami will be to balance the early workload for James after a relentless stretch in which he said he's played more basketball than at any time in his professional career. James had six days off between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of Olympic camp.

Even with Spoelstra looking to install a more up-tempo pace than Miami played at last season, James said he's not ready to pace himself just yet. After finally winning an NBA title that eluded him for the first eight seasons of his career, the three-time MVP is not at a loss for motivation.

"I'm not satisfied with my career and what I've done so far," James said. "I've accomplished a lot of things and a lot of goals. But I'm not satisfied with that. I'm going to continue to lead this team the best way I know how."

The plan for James is to steer the team to another run at a championship. The Los Angeles Lakers, who won consecutive titles in 2008-09 and 2009-10, were the last team to successfully defend their championship since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant capped off that franchise's "three-peat" in the 2001-02 season.

The Heat believe they're capable of a similar run. Just don't mention a certain term around their coach right now, although Spoelstra concedes that "this team was built for something bigger than making a one-year run."

Spoelstra was an assistant under Pat Riley on the Heat's 2006 championship team that stumbled through a frustrating defense of their championship the following season. Several veterans on that team would later admit they reported for camp out of shape, and both Wade and O'Neal missed significant time with injuries.

Wade and forward Udonis Haslem are the only players remaining from that Heat team that lost by 42 points to the Chicago Bulls in the 2006-07 season opener after they received their championship rings. Wade said his current team has a completely different makeup and mindset.

James and Bosh both chased titles for eight seasons before they finally broke through last summer. Bosh said six-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was among the former players he talked to in the offseason about what obstacles to expect as a defending champion.

"They say it's going to be a lot more difficult," Bosh said. "The unique thing about being here (in Miami) is that even when we didn't have one (championship), we felt like we were the hunted anyway. We just have to stay humble. We've always had that 'X' on our back. It's just bigger now. We need to leave last year where it was, and kind of move on from there. (We) would like to win more than one."