Miami Heat: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios Down the Stretch
We all know the expectations—championship or bust.
This was the case from the day the Big Three joined forces, and they've actually gotten better since.
So, knowing what we know about the standards a super-team plays with, the following is a rather brief list of the best- to worst-case scenarios—expanded as far beyond "championship or bust" as possible—for the Heat by the time the 2011-12 season is completely in the books.
Best-Case Scenario: Sweep the Playoffs, Redeem LeBron
With a championship already entirely planned for, the real question on Miami's mind—and by that, I mean the only possible question—is how many games it will take.
If the Three Banditos had their way, they 'd never have to endure the agony of losing a game for the rest of their natural (and perhaps artificially prolonged) lives.
This is precisely why this grand scheme was set in motion four years ago—to seek glory in the least challenging way possible.
For this year, sweeping the postseason is the best scenario imaginable, and not completely out of the question (although it's more than likely they'll give up a closeout game here or there).
Still, nothing would make LeBron happier than to get his precious with the minimal adversity to which his awesomeness entitles him.
If he can do so as the hero (i.e. the exact opposite of his last Finals) then he'll have the added benefit of one less dis against his deified on-court image.
In the world of ideal scenarios, a ring and a Finals MVP is LeBron's—not one, but two ways to drown out criticism from the outside world.
Next-Best Thing: Lose a Few, but Dodge Chicago and Orlando.
If LeWade and Co. can't quite have the uninterrupted 16-game ballet recital they'd all prefer, they'd probably rather not have that road go through Chicago or Orlando.
Those are the two teams giving Miami any kind of consistent trouble this season, and both figure to play with a particular intensity come playoff time, which as a whole would just spoil the picnic by making them try harder than they feel they should.
These are two teams capable of pushing the Heat to a Game 7—before their big date with the Finals, no less—and who knows how that bunch might respond to one of those.
It's just a bunch of adversity they'd rather not have to cope with.
So, let's just say Miami wants to see some upsets in the East before the brackets shake out.
A decrepit, overmatched Celtics team will be just fine, thank you.
Best Avoided: Get Pushed to Seven Games
Until further notice, the Heat are a shaky bunch under pressure.
They can be equal parts predictably masterful and bafflingly ineffective, and you're never quite sure which you're going to get.
This is the kind of toss-up you don't mind in a regular season game, but an elimination game in the playoffs is the last place to give bad luck a crack at your plans.
LeBron James has had his problems in the fourth, as we're all aware by now, and a Game 7 is pretty much four fourth quarters in a row.
As a team, this scenario is a logical continuation of the "win as easily as possible" concept expressed earlier.
The same way their first choice would be an undefeated run, the very last thing they want is to fight for their lives like the rest of the suckers.
Nobody likes a Game 7, least of all the team that's used to the least resistance. This scenario still assumes Miami wins it all, but along the way they'd have to suffer the indignity of staring elimination in the face.
Absolute Worst-Case Scenario: Another Ringless Year
What if someone that isn't the Miami Heat wins it all?
Well, imagine you were a kid and someone cancelled Christmas at the last second—one reckons the scene would be comparable: equal parts long faces and sour pusses after their eagerly awaited (and fully assumed, of course) jackpot is cruelly taken away.
A real "FML" moment, as the kids say.
After being kept from the title by a miracle riding a freak occurrence, the Heat continued to be viewed as perennial odds-on championship favorites going into this year, the team that terrifies people like no other in sports. The pressure is only going to rise.
The same people who were saying "anything less than a ring is a failure" in July, 2010 were saying "hey, they made the Finals in one year" 11 months later. That little flip-flop won't be around should they once again fail—no cop-outs, no excuses.
Right now, they still have the benefit of the doubt as to why they failed in year one. If they come up short again, people will begin to seriously question the wisdom—and intestinal fortitude—in forming this team, and the Heat will have no jewelry with which to dodge the issue.
The only thing worse than simply losing would be if they were knocked out by the Celtics (or the Mavs again) while LeBron vanishes once more.
If this were to happen, at least one suicide hotline agent that night would answer a blocked number only to hear "it's me, the King," with only the deeper voice to tell them it's not Elvis.