Heat head to Bahamas to start NBA title defense

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — For the grind of training camp, the Miami Heat headed to paradise.

Literally, that’s what it’s called. Paradise Island, the tiny fleck of land not far from Nassau, the largest city in the Bahamas. It’s a vacation destination for people from all over the world, even luring LeBron James for a few days of rest and relaxation not long after he made his infamous decision in 2010 to sign with the Heat.

James is back here this week, sun and sand not among his priorities this time around.

The two-time defending NBA champions open training camp Tuesday at the Atlantis Resort, with two practices scheduled for opening day. The team arrived on the island Monday night, only a few days after most players learned that camp wouldn’t be in Miami after all.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “It’s a chance for the team to kind of bond and get on the same page and really start the journey, so to speak. One thing about us, once we get together and have an atmosphere, everything is great. I know a lot of people are sidetracked because it’s the Bahamas. Well, training camp is training camp. Please believe we’re going to get our work in. We’re just forced to have it in a nice place.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said the trip serves as a bit of a “mental reward” after back-to-back championship seasons.

“The work part is not going to be missing,” Spoelstra said Monday before the team departed. “We’re going to go down there and get to work and start to build the habits, put our hard hats on, also get away from distractions and have a chance to spend a lot of time around each other.”

The team considered taking a trip to the Bahamas during last season’s playoffs, since there was more than a week of down time between the end of the first-round series against Milwaukee and the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Chicago. Bahamian tourism officials have wanted the Heat to make an official visit of sorts for some time, and things finally came together in time for this camp.

The Heat plan to stay until Friday afternoon.

“Cool,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We’re not the first team to do it. We won’t be the last. I think it’s great that our organization, they understand the kind of guys that we have and they understand that we work. They also understand that before we get to this nine-month season, hopefully, we need to build our bond together away from everyone and enjoy ourselves a little bit.”

The flight over to the Bahamas only took about 30 minutes. And it’s not like it’s all that different on Paradise Island than Miami; the forecast for the Atlantis this week calls for a bit of breeze, high temperatures in the upper 80s each day and a chance of rain — the same forecast as what’s expected in nearby South Florida.

“We’re not a prima donna team,” Wade said. “We’re going to work our butt off when we have to work. Ain’t nothing wrong with it, at the end of the day, going and hanging out together, maybe swim a little bit, whatever. I like the move.”

The Los Angeles Lakers have held several training camps in Hawaii, the San Antonio Spurs went to the U.S. Virgin Islands — Tim Duncan’s birthplace — a few years ago, and at least four other franchises have held camp in Florida (other than the Heat and Orlando Magic, that is).

And this team isn’t exactly starting from scratch, either.

The top nine scorers from last season return, with the lone notable departure being Mike Miller, who was designated as Miami’s amnesty-provision player in a move that spared the team somewhere around $40 million in salary-cap space and luxury-tax payments over the next two seasons. Added to the mix are a former No. 1 pick in Greg Oden, a former No. 2 pick (by Miami in 2008) in Michael Beasley, and veteran guard Roger Mason Jr.

“I think it’d be like someone going to a conference in the Bahamas. Yeah, that’s cool, but you’re there to work,” Bosh said. “And knowing Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley, please believe the work is going to get done.”

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