It feels like weeks have passed since Miami swept Charlotte four games to nuthin’ and glided into the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. In reality the deciding game was just last Monday, but with the rest of the NBA’s powerhouse clubs still battling to eliminate the remaining #7 and #8 seeds, it totally makes sense why we’ve let the Heat/Bobcats series slip through the cracks of our collective consciousness.
Unlike the Pacers, Spurs, and Thunder, the Heat did what a title frontrunner ought to do: quickly and quietly dispatch of their opening round opponent.
And now they’ll get the opportunity to rest up and watch what’s left of the first round with popcorn and Coca-Cola in hand.
In truth, this pretty much sums up the 2013-14 campaign. The Heat have been resting players and preparing for the later rounds of the playoffs all season long. With the exception of keeping a watchful eye on the Pacers’ successful quest to nab the number one seed, the Heat cruised to the Southeast crown from day one. The second place Washington Bullets finished up a full ten games back and trailed by much more for most of the year.
Sure, there were rocky patches during the regular season. At times Miami looked old, vulnerable, and very beatable, but it’s now plain to see that this team rises to the occasion when it matters most. With Indiana heading to seven against Atlanta, Miami is now the clear-cut favorite to come out on top of the Eastern Conference bracket.
It’s good to be the King.
Long before Miami won back-to-back championships and lined themselves up for this Three-Peat run, much hoo-ha was made about the simultaneous arrivals of James, Bosh, and Wade. From childish complaints of “that’s not fair” to deeper worries that LeBron may wind up diluting his legend by making his road to NBA greatness too easy, everyone had something to say about The Decision.
Now that every Tom, Dick, and Harry outside of Cleveland is over it, it’s plain to see that the Heat’s success is far more centered on the dominant play of #6 than it is on an unjustly stacked starting five.
In the series versus the Bobcats, not only did LeBron James lead his team in each major statistical measure except for blocks, in every single category the second place player wasn’t even close.
Points: James 30.0, Wade 17.5
Rebounds: James 8.0, Andersen 5.8
Assists: James 6.0, Wade 3.8
Steals: James 2.3, Wade 1.3
Bottom line, LeBron James shines in the post-season. Expect more of the same just a soon as the Heat get back on the hardwood.
Who’s next, and what are their chances?
The Heat next face the winner of Nets/Raptors series. Toronto leads three games to two and will try to eliminate Brooklyn tonight in Game 6. The Heat’s next series will open Sunday at American Airlines Arena if the Raptors are victorious, but if the Nets force a seventh game the conference semis will open Tuesday.
When asked which team they’d rather face next, players and coaches predictably dodged the question. Chris Bosh had this to say about preparing for an unknown opponent: “We’re just working on what we do. That’s the best thing we can do right now, work on our defense, spacing, offensive characteristics, working on our habits and everything and staying in shape. That’s what it’s about. We can’t worry about anybody because we don’t have an opponent right now.”
The Nets and Raptors are two franchises on the rise, and both teams pose an equal but different threat to Miami’s title defense. Don’t be fooled by Brooklyn’s low seed—their roster has enough playoff experience to avoid looking star-struck in the second round. The Nets were two different teams before and after the All-Star break.
Toronto is young and lacks playoff experience, but their starting line-up boasts two of the league’s top eleven scorers this post-season (DeMar DeRozan, 8th, 24.2PPG, Kyle Lowry, 11th, 21.8PPG). While James leads all scorers with thirty a night, the Heat don’t have another player who ranks in the top 25 (Wade, 28th, 17.5PPG).
Don’t get me wrong, whether it’s the Raptors or the Nets, either team will be heading into the series as a heavy underdog. The Heat’s top concern will be finding a way to maintain their rhythm and momentum in what could amount to more than a week off the court.
Our love/hate relationship with dynasties.
How and when a team should be designated as a dynasty is an argument best debated on bar stools at one o’clock in the morning. But … when you consider the fact that only five teams in the history of the NBA have pulled off the Three-Peat or better (Minneapolis Lakers 1952-54, Boston Celtics 1959-66, Chicago Bulls 1991-93 and 1996-98, Los Angeles Lakers 2000-02), it’s more or less a no-brainer that the Heat will have earned the dynasty distinction should they successfully defend their title two years in a row.
The prospect of having one more dynasty to add to the list has got me thinking about the strange love/hate relationship that sports fans have with the greatest teams of all time.
On one hand everybody loves a winner and the presence of just a few behemoth clubs towering over the league creates the likelihood of a smashing championship series. Throw a couple dynasties into the mix and the stakes rise even higher. Think Bird vs. Magic in the 80s and the possible forthcoming of a James/Durant rematch.
But on the other hand, the presence of a dynasty creates a certain level of disenchantment in knowing that only a handful of teams have a legitimate shot of taking home the title. Imagine how many fans in the Southwest have been waiting 16 years for Tim Duncan to retire!
We love to debate whether Kobe’s Lakers would have beaten Magic’s or how legacy teams from the 60s and 70s stack up against clubs from the three-point era. What we don’t love is any team that seems to be unfairly talented for more than a few seasons straight, especially when our favorite team is consistently mediocre.
We want our league to be competitive across the board, but with teams varying enough in ability as to allow superstars to flourish and upsets to be possible. We’re OK with dynasties, as long as one day every empire goes into decline.
An assortment of people out there don’t want to see the Miami Heat reach dynasty status. Some are Michael Jordan purists that prefer not to entertain the possibility that #23 is no longer the undeniable greatest of all time. Some are bitter Clevelanders. But most are fans who are upset with how this super team came to be.
For those of you who belong to group three, I’d like you to consider a different perspective before you stomp off pouting. Prior to the NBA finally establishing a fair and fully enforceable salary cap, dynasties were often built (and always maintained) by virtue of the wealth of the team’s owner. Why is it that we were OK with billionaire owners manipulating the system to form dynasties, but the moment that a few players take their future into their own hands the sky is falling?
If you don’t like the Heat, that’s understandable. But instead of whining for the fourth year straight, try rooting for an underdog in the East or looking forward to a kick-ass Finals against any of the five Western Conference teams that won just as many (or more) games than Miami did this season.
James, Bosh, and Wade did not hand Miami success by virtue of signing their contracts. Their accomplishments have wholeheartedly been earned. If they win another championship in 2014, it will be because they deserve it and not because LeBron James chose it to be so.
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