MIAMI ( – It looked for months like it would never happen, but Friday, the Miami Heat returned to the court for their first practice since before the final game of last year’s NBA Finals.

The Heat welcomed in a couple of new faces and reunite the core of the team from last year’s NBA Finals run.

Miami will still feature the Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. But the components around the Big Three have been tweaked a bit.

Gone are the centers from last season of Zydrunas Ilguaskas and Erick Dampier. Jamaal Magloire will sign with the Toronto Raptors and won’t be back.

The Heat signed forward Shane Battier as a backup to all of the Big Three during a game.

In addition, the Heat re-signed guard Mario Chalmers and forward James Jones to stay with the team for the upcoming 66-game season.

The Heat’s roster is continuing to take shape, but as of now the Heat will feature: Chalmers, Wade, Bosh, James, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Joel Anthony, Battier, rookie guard Norris Cole, Dexter Pittman, and possibly Eddy Curry.

Curry has been the punchline of NBA jokes for the last two years after ballooning to nearly 350 pounds and didn’t play in the NBA last season. He’s reportedly in better shape and lost more than 50 pounds.

Curry is 7-feet tall and could weigh in the neighborhood of 270-290 pounds; if Curry can still give a team like the Heat 15-20 minutes a game, the Heat’s prospects for the coming season look totally different.

The Heat are also holding out a slim glimmer of hope that soon-to-be amnestied guard Chauncey Billups might slip through the waiver system and become an unrestricted free agent.

That’s not likely to happen, but if it did, Pat Riley would pounce in a heartbeat.

Odds-makers have put the Heat as the team to beat in the 2011-2012 season. Chris Bosh has reportedly bulked up, Dwyane Wade has slimmed down, and LeBron James was seen yesterday preparing his legs for the coming stress of the season.

It’s all ready for the team to come out firing to start the season December 25th when they’ll play a vastly different Dallas Mavericks team than the one they faced in the NBA Finals in June.

South Florida sports fans can also revel in the fact that the NBA’s best team, one of the NHL’s best teams, and a vastly improved Miami Marlins team are all poised to make big strides this year.

Now, about those Dolphins…


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