The champ is here

I started a post two years ago on the Heat. I almost finished it earlier this year. Wish I’d published it before the playoffs started, but no dice. Down 2-1 in the Finals to the Spurs, it’s interesting to see what I thought before. I still think the Heat win it in the end, though the Spurs have proved to be a more game challenger than I anticipated.

Two years ago in italics, a few weeks ago not. Read on.

*****

It’s early. Not too early to look back, but early.

There’s an old adage about being careful what you wish for, and I think three men in Miami might be learning a little about that.

Lebron James backstabbed the Cleveland Cavaliers in historically awful fashion, a one-hour special that was as self-indulgent as self-indulgent gets. The “all proceeds to charity” bit seemed to be token, and unless their only goal was to get people talking (about someone who was already a worldwide icon), Team Lebron mangled that idea quite nicely.

Chris Bosh didn’t backstab Toronto, but outside of a quick “thank you” on his webpage, has managed to forget the city that he called home for the last several years. He’s had a few headscratching moments with the media, and despite being the third best player on that team, is under the microscope more than ever. Want the publicity of a big market (which he allegedly did)? Here you go, big guy.

Dwyane Wade? Well, he comes out pretty good in this. Got two all-stars to his Heat, and comes up smelling like roses by comparison. Well, outside of turning the Heat into basketball’s answer to the Yankees. That’s a little problematic. He, too, has had some odd moments, in futile attempts to give his Heat an “us against the world” mentality.

Between myself, my buddy Micky, and my brother Dennis, I’m not sure which one of us had the Heat in our “Lebron” pool, save for the certainty that it wasn’t me. But I maintained that the team could not function with two ball-dominant wingmen. They wouldn’t do it- or more to the point, they couldn’t and be successful. Figured that the Heat, having already added Bosh, get some spare parts around him and Wade, and be a much better team already.

Not the first time I’ve been wrong.

I’ve watched the Heat play a few times this year, and it’s been fascinating. For all the incredible athletic talents that they have, they haven’t QUITE figured out how to make them all work together. The defense can be good, though the lack of a big man has hurt them. On offense, it seems like they’re all deferring, waiting for one person to grab the reins, but not wanting to be the one to completely give it up.

Except for Bosh. He’s pretty happy as the third wheel.

It’s too early to write on obit on a team that has yet to play a postseason game and, as of right now, is the third best team in their conference by record, in year one of what looks like a 7 year experiment (by their contract lengths). When they’re on, they play phenomenal defense, and can’t be stopped on the fast break. But the lack of depth has exposed them. No (good) centers or point guards, and only retreads to fill out the roster after injuries knocked out a couple of key cogs.

Basketball is a sport where some chemistry is needed, with how quickly things move and how few players are on the floor at any given time. You need to play together, to have players with offsetting and complementary talents, and guys willing to take lesser roles. History has proven that you can’t buy a championship- witness’ the ’04 Lakers of Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, shockingly upset by a Pistons squad that came in as huge, huge underdogs.

*****

I, uh…. welp. That went well.

Though those Heat didn’t win the first year, they won last year, and every analyst in the NBA wondered how Lebron James would do, without the burden of “needing to win a championship”.

He got better. Much, much better.

It was always breathtaking watching Lebron James play basketball. I thought that even as he eviscerated my Pistons in the playoffs a few years ago, scoring twenty-odd consecutive points in the fourth quarter and overtime, me spewing obscenities at the television, even as I couldn’t help but admire just how GOOD he was.

This year, it’s on another level. The Heat have improved their supporting cast since I wrote them off two years ago, but most of the evolution has been systemic, and flowing from James assuming the reins of that team. Head coach Erik Spoelstra has made very good changes to the offense that have made things easier; even with stars, teams need a good system(see: the 2013 Lakers), and the Heat have that.

A Heat championship this year seems mostly inevitable, with no one able to summon an adequate challenge. The Knicks, Celtics, and Spurs are too old, the Grizzlies, Clippers and Thunder not good enough, and the Bulls too broken.

It’s been interesting seeing the perception of Lebron change. His first year with the Heat, he was the villain, and tried to embrace it. Last year, he let go of that, and the words changed from admonition to admiration, of a man who is probably the most talented basketball player anyone has ever seen. He’s a power point forward: the body of Karl Malone, the offensive and defensive prowess of Michael Jordan, the court vision of Magic Johnson. He’s a threat for a triple-double every night,

Is there any hope to derail the Heat this year? Traditional thinking says that a big team can exploit the Heat’s lack of inside power, so that favors someone like the Grizzlies (if they can get to the finals), or maybe the Spurs (ditto). The Bulls and Thunder have injuries to their lead guards, so they’re unlikely. The rest probably aren’t good enough, even though there are lots of games left to be played.

But the games still need to be played, and one of the great things about sports is that anything can happen. Just hard to see much other than the inevitable Heat win right now.

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