The Cayman Islands basketball community will be watching the Miami Heat with great interest this season.
Miami are the two-time reigning NBA champions behind their star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. With promises of multiple titles still to fulfil, local fans are keen to see if the 2013-2014 season offers a third consecutive championship run.
Ovaine Monteith is one Caymanian enamored with the Heat. A talented player in his own right, Monteith said only injuries can derail another triumph.
“Can they repeat? Barring injury, of course,” Monteith said. “With Greg Oden playing for them at center, they have improved. On the other hand, it will be really tough for them to three-peat. There are quite a number of teams that will give them a run for the money; the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls in the East are threats for sure.
“If there’s anyone I support it’s Miami because of the story of LeBron from Cleveland to Miami. How he handled the controversy of ‘The Decision,’ lost in his first Heat finals, worked with Hakeem Olajuwon in the offseason, grew from that experience and won two straight showed me he grew so much as a person and as a player.”
Monteith speaks for the majority of fans in Cayman, where many residents back South Florida teams across the major American sports. Most eyes here will be on the Heat when they host the Bulls to kick off the regular season on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. Cayman time on TNT.
Two other games are planned for Tuesday evening with the Orlando Magic facing the Pacers at 6 p.m. and the Los Angeles Clippers battling the Los Angeles Lakers at 9:30 p.m.
Most pundits expect the Heat to win with their depth. Miami’s star trio are supported by role players like Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Mario Chalmers.
Jonathan Powery is one of Cayman’s best youth coaches and the Oklahoma City Thunder fan points to versatility as Miami’s key to success.
“If they don’t trade any of their players, they can do it,” Powery said. “The talent is there with Bosh, LeBron and Wade. They added some good players on the bench over time who can hit 3-pointers and play defense. They’re experienced now, they’ve had one more year together. They’re the team to beat.”
Outside of Miami, the Eastern Conference has some intriguing teams. The Pacers are formidable with Roy Hibbert, the Bulls now have a healthy Derrick Rose, the New York Knicks sport Carmelo Anthony and the Brooklyn Nets have their own star trio in Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Beyond the top five, the playoff picture looks open. The Detroit Pistons are much improved with new recruits Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, the Toronto Raptors could surprise many behind Rudy Gay and the Atlanta Hawks have just enough talent with Al Horford. The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks made the postseason last year but their offseason departures figure to prevent history repeating itself this season.
Some fans, like men’s national team coach Daniel Augustine, don’t see a Heat run to a championship being easy.
“The Heat have their work cut out for them this year,” Augustine said. “Teams are making the necessary changes because Miami are the champs and the others are recruiting players to match up with them. At the moment, what the Heat have is the winning combination but as the season goes on, teams will try to defend them better and prevent them from winning.”
Some of Miami’s toughest opposition might come from the Western Conference. Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs came within a win of a title and could produce another long run. Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder, Chris Paul’s Clippers and even Dwight Howard’s Houston Rockets are championship contenders.
Powery said the focus should be in Oklahoma.
“I’ve supported Oklahoma City the last couple years. I’ve been a Thunder fan since Durant and James Harden came into the league. Before that, I never really had a favorite basketball team. I was kind of upset when the Thunder traded Harden to Houston but I like the way they play. With Durant there, the ball gets moved around, they have height and it’s never a boring game with them. I try to implement their style of play with my teams.
“In terms of players to watch, I’d say Russell Westbrook. If he can stay healthy, he can have a good season again.”
The rest of the West is interesting. Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors and Marc Gasol’s Memphis Grizzlies have the personnel for more playoff success. Surprisingly, the Lakers should be one of the teams on the fringe with Kobe Bryant not 100 per cent.
Both Monteith and Augustine see some intriguing talent in the West.
“Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors are good young players,” Monteith said. “Blake Griffin of the Clippers had a good year and is only getting better. In the East, you can’t forget about Rajon Rondo and the Celtics, he’s coming back from injury but should play well.”
“You got to watch the Clippers with coach Doc Rivers,” Augustine said. “He’s not a more experienced coach (than former coach Vinny Del Negro) but he knows how to get to the championship. Once they get to the finals, they have a chance as Paul makes the players around him better. Howard is another player to note and Houston as a team should be watched. The Rockets are more well-rounded now.”