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Will an attitude adjustment help the Heat take the next step?

by | CBSSports.com
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Bosh, James and Wade were weary of being every opponent's favorite target by season's end. (US Presswire)  
Bosh, James and Wade were weary of being every opponent's favorite target by season's end. (US Presswire)  

MIAMI -- The Heat told themselves a whopper of a lie last NBA season. They said they would embrace the hate.

Instead, they allowed it to swallow them whole.

By the time Dallas took down Miami in the NBA Finals, the Heat were spent and weary of being every opponent's favorite target.

It was nobody's fault but their own.

They had thrown themselves an outlandish summertime bash to celebrate, well, themselves before the season even started. They introduced Cleveland escapee LeBron James and Toronto refugee Chris Bosh as Dwyane Wade's new teammates during a smoke-and-lasers show in their AmericanAirlines Arena home, and didn't stop counting expected championships -- "... not two, not three ..." -- until James stopped with the suggestion that there would be more than seven trophies to put in the case.

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James since has confessed he too often "played angry" to his own, and the Heat's, detriment.

So, now what?

"I'm more alive," James said during media day Monday afternoon. "More back to being myself and who I am. I'm in a good place right now."

But will a happier James make him a better player at crunch time in the aftermath of his meltdown against the Mavericks? And can he maintain what he hopes is a new demeanor as the Heat tries to handle the hate this time around under the pressure of a lockout-compacted, 66-game schedule?

The venom might not be as poisonous as it was last season, but it'll still be nasty. It's why Wade already has said he'll replace James in the role of bad guy, if need be. The problem is obvious. A villain doesn't get to choose; a villain is chosen.

And his name, in the wake of his awkward departure from the Cavaliers, is James.

"It was a tough transition for me going through what I went through [last season]," James said. "I was just so blinded and out of whack. You try to do so many things that you forget who you are. I'm just going to have fun. I'm not asking for forgiveness."

Nor should he.

The best thing James and the Heat can do for themselves in 2011-12 is combat the vitriol with aplomb. Dismiss it with restraint. Put on a display of casual confidence, not cocky arrogance. Never mind trying to use it as motivation. That didn't work. In the end, the Heat went out to the Mavs as lost souls seeking shelter from the wrath of consuming madness.

Need a reminder of how despised they were? A review of Dallas coach Rick Carlisle's victory speech should suffice.

"[We] have made a statement that's colossal," Carlisle said. "Not just about our team, but the game, in general. Our team is not about individual ability, it's about collective will. It wasn't about high-flying star power.

"C'mon, how often do we have to hear about the LeBron James reality show and what he is or isn't doing? When are people going to talk about the purity of our game? I'm so proud of what are team stood for ... we knew it was very important that we won this title ... because of what the game is about and what the game should stand for."

It was a scathing indictment of Heat President Pat Riley's construction of the Wade-James-Bosh power plant, which turned out to be electricity generating too little light.

The most interesting study of this year's Heat will be watching which group personality emerges. The mad-at-the-world thing can be an exhausting existence.

"We never got comfortable with the game we wanted to play," Wade said. "Do I think that our intentions were to shut everybody up? Yeah, and our intentions probably weren't right. You gotta be able to enjoy this game. I need to have fun with the moment while it lasts. It goes fast."

Are they telling themselves another lie?

Or are Wade and James really capable of leaving last season's desire for vindictiveness in the face of hate behind? Can they become the Funshine Boys, and grab themselves a championship as reward?

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