Sports

It's all on Lebron's shoulders

The Miami Heat may not be entering the play-offs as the top seeds but they are still very much the team to beat.

No club have won three straight titles since the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s, and the 16-team field for this year's play-offs, which begin tomorrow morning (Singapore time), has no shortage of contenders for the NBA's Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

The San Antonio Spurs, who were a whisker away from winning last year's title, and the Indiana Pacers, eager to avenge last season's loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, are just two of the many teams feeling good about their chances.There is much speculation over the future of the "Big Three."LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in 2010 with the goal of creating a dynasty in Miami by stockpiling NBA titles, but enter the post-season facing questions about team chemistry and depth.Anything less than a championship could determine whether the All-Star trio move elsewhere this off-season as they have early-termination options in their respective contracts.

Miami will open their play-off campaign on Monday morning (Singapore time) against seventh seeds Charlotte Bobcats, whom they beat in all four regular season meetings, with the attention focused on four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James.

While Wade and Bosh play strong supporting roles, there's no doubt James must excel for Miami to have any real chance. "We need him to be a monster for us," Miami's Shane Battier said. "As long as he has the edge to his game, that's what we need. That gives us the best chance of winning. I think he's close."

Miami went 1-5 to end the regular season, a far cry from last year when they enjoyed a 27-game win streak at one stage and finished the season 66-16. But Charlotte are the only NBA club that have never won a play-off game.

"It's going to be a dog fight playing against the defending champions," said Charlotte centre Al Jefferson.

"We've been underdogs ever since I've been here and it's worked so far. Why not go against the best? Regardless, we'll learn something."

The Bobcats are 0-16 against the Heat since James joined Miami in 2010, and he scored a career-high 61 points against the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte last month.

But the Heat vow no overconfidence.

"We'll be tested. Our guys understand that," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We embrace that competition. When you get into this second season, you have no idea what's going to happen. That fierce competition either brings out the best of you or brings out something else."

The champions do face potential pitfalls. Unlike last year, they failed to secure the top seed in the East, which means they will not have home-court advantage after the second round.

Wade, 32, missed a quarter of this season with various injuries and his health may be Miami's biggest concern as they navigate a play-off schedule that offers little time for rest. - Wire Services.


ROUND 1, GAME 1

(Singapore time)

TOMORROW

  • Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
  • LA Clippers 
v Golden State Warriors
  • Indiana Pacers v Atlanta Hawks
  • Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies

MONDAY

  • San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks
  • Miami Heat v Charlotte Bobcats
  • Chicago Bulls v Washington Wizards
  • Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers