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Talented, healthy Heat eyeing a bounce back season

POSTED: Oct 21, 2015 11:30 PM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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A healthy, veteran and star-studded lineup gives them the look of an Eastern Conference contender ... on paper. Never mind that the Heat's projected starting lineup -- Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside -- has never actually played a regular season game together. The power of possibility is fueling the good vibes on South Beach. With a formidable first five leading the way, the Heat seek a return to the top.

ICYMI

A pulmonary embolism limited Chris Bosh to just 44 games last season, their first in four years without LeBron James. Bosh let it be known before training camp that he is healthy and ready to resume his All-Star ways. ... Dwyane Wade's brief contract dispute with the franchise was resolved when he agreed to sign a one-year, $20 million deal that gives both sides the ultimate flexibility for free agency in 2016. ... Pat Riley did his usual grinding on the free-agent market by adding Amar'e Stoudemire and Gerald Green each for the veteran's minimum. ... Hassan Whiteside's breakout season included him leading the league in defensive rebounding percentage as he planted his flag as potentially one of the most dominant rim protector/rebounders in the game. ... The Heat had the biggest increase in pace after the All-Star break, which was no doubt a product of the midseason trade that brought the speedy Dragic to town.

THREE POINTS

1. This Heat team is loaded and has every right to believe that a return to the top is in order, provided their biggest stars remain healthy. But there are chemistry issues that have to be worked out, particularly with the starting five. There are questions coach Erik Spoelstra has to come up with answers for from the start: Is this Bosh's team? Dragic's team? Or, is it still Wade's team?

2. Goran Dragic wanted it all, the big contract and the keys to run his own team without sharing with other point guards the way he had to in Phoenix and Houston. The Heat gave him everything he wanted and now he has to come through by playing at a consistency elite level on a team poised for a big season.

3. Justise Winslow lit it up in Summer League, but the Heat don't have to press their prized rookie into a starring role right away. He'll be afforded the time needed to polish his game, learn the system and digest the NBA lifestyle while Bosh, Wade, Dragic and a cast of veterans shoulder the biggest burden. But make no mistake, he's the future.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Hassan Whiteside, a December D-League call-up, turned things upside down for the Heat once he joined them. He morphed into a force in the paint, piling up nine games with at least 16 rebounds and another three over 20, opening eyes around the league in the process. His shot-blocking, defense and presence around the rim meant the Heat could at least tread water without Bosh once he went down. Whiteside's upside, however, is in the strides he can make offensively. He showed flashes. If he's matured and developed that part of his game at all, the Heat have uncovered an absolute steal.

STARTING FIVE

Goran Dragic | 16.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.3 apg
A dynamic scorer and playmaker who has to become more of a leader on this team.

Dwyane Wade | 21.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.8 apg
Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated, as he's still a force when healthy.

Hassan Whiteside | 11.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 0.1 apg
A walking double-double, the mystery is whether or not last season was a blip ... or the norm.

Luol Deng | 14.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.9 apg
As steady as they come, he started 72 games last season and provided stability.

Chris Bosh | 21.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.2 apg
The anchor for this team is healthy and ready to pick up where he left off last season.

KEY RESERVES

Amar'e Stoudemire | 10.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.3 apg
Provides post scoring and can play minutes at center and power forward, if needed.

Justise Winslow | Rookie
Swingman can play multiple positions, and work at a high-level on both ends.

Josh McRoberts | 4.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.9 apg
Stretches the floor with his shooting range and provides quality depth in the frontcourt.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As good as the starting five is in Miami, and you can make an argument that it is potentially the best in the Eastern Conference on talent alone, the Heat's season will come down to whether they can stay healthy. If they do, anything is possible.

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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