MIAMI (AP) - A year ago, the first day of practice may have seemed incredibly significant to Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.This time around, probably not so much.
Spoelstra's second season leading the Heat began Tuesday, with virtually most of last year's team that earned the No. 5 seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs back in place and already familiar with most of the schemes and strategies that he'll teach until the Oct. 28 opener against the New York Knicks.
Unlike last year, there's no trip to Europe for exhibition games during this preseason, and no adjustment period for players or coaches. Last year's camp was Spoelstra's first following Pat Riley's retirement from coaching, and it took some getting used to.
This year, Spoelstra expects Camp Heat to have an accelerated pace.
"We're all going to be able to get on the same page much quicker during training camp," Spoelstra said. "That learning curve that we had last year, particularly with the defense, I'm hoping that will be a little bit quicker this year. More of my preparation this year has been about what we need to specifically improve on during training camp."
So that's what Tuesday was about.
"All drill work," Spoelstra said after the first of the day's two practices. "We wanted to establish the defense right away."
Spoelstra's story is fairly well-known now: He was in the team's video room when Riley started with the Heat, eventually working his way up the ladder. After Stan Van Gundy resigned and Riley took over as coach again during what would become the championship season of 2005-06, it became clear that Spoelstra would probably be next up on the Heat sideline.
His chance came after the miserable 2007-08 season, when the Heat won 15 games. That fall, Riley went into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Spoelstra took over in Miami. The Heat improved its record by 28 games in his first season.
"A lot of teams made major moves this summer, but our continuity and our togetherness will hopefully have us being on the same page and ahead of the curve, especially earlier in the season," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, the reigning NBA scoring champion. "A lot of times will come out and try to figure out this, try to learn this. We're going to already know it."
There's a cliche adage in sports: Never follow a legend.
If Spoelstra felt any burden by following Riley, it didn't show last season.
Riley is still the team president and is usually around, though wasn't as visible publicly as he was while coaching. At most home games, Riley would sit in his seat in the third row, facing the Heat bench, rarely showing much in the way of emotion. Essentially, he let Spoelstra be himself.
"I have this gut feeling that when I go home ... and lay my head down on that pillow and go to sleep, he's not sleeping, because he's working and he's thinking and he's creating," Riley said. "He's a young coach that has a great mind and keeping, just trying to get better. Every year is a different challenge."
Spoelstra, 38, had anything but a slow offseason.
He spent some time in his native Philippines, part of an envoy trip arranged through the State Department and the NBA, something that went so well Spoelstra says he wants to do it annually. He found time for a quick vacation with the family, flew to Houston three times to be with Michael Beasley during the forward's stay in rehab there, and jetted around to other cities to meet with Heat players.
In short, there was no time off.
Even his time in Miami was devoted to film study: Every game, every decision he made through 82 regular-season and seven playoff contests, was self-scrutinized.
"I was able to take my time with it, spending about three months going through each game and each decision, ad nauseum," "But I think we're all ready to move forward."