5 Reasons LeBron James and Miami Heat Could Self-Destruct in Playoffs
Let's be clear on this: In this writer's opinion, the only team capable of beating the Miami Heat is the Miami Heat.
It follows, then, that failure on their part to win the 2012 championship could only take the form of some massive implosion against an unfavored opponent. For you Chicago Bulls fans who might object—I can't see the future, I can only go by past evidence for now.
So what are some possible causes of this potential self-destruction that threatens to derail Miami's little championship choo-choo?
1. Still Can't Own the Zone
Remember all that trouble the Mavericks gave Miami in the Finals? (If not, just take note who is wearing the rings.) Sure, you can point to the Mavs' inspired play and red hot shooting, or the way LeBron put the MIA in Miami, but Dallas' defense is not to be overlooked.
Were they a particularly skilled, imposing or athletic defensive team? Not any more than some other teams Miami trounced before reaching them.
Of course, the Mavs' defensive revelation came from their (liberal) use of the zone. The Heat often seemed downright unable to wrap their brains around this scheme, and we all know how that turned out.
It's doubtful things would be equally bad the next time someone throws the zone at Miami for an entire series. They showed signs of figuring it out early in the year, after no doubt making that a primary order of business last offseason.
Still, if there's one defense against which this superteam plays decidedly less than super, the zone is it.
Here's hoping (rhetorically speaking) that LeWade and friends figure out an effective counterattack over extended periods against zone D. If they stubbornly keep answering with their preferred offensive strategy, they might actually have to wait another year for their championship pleasure cruise to pull into shore.
2. Another Case of LeBron-Itis
As of this writing, the world's most famous Akronite has not proven himself mentally suited to the task of going out and getting his greatest desires. He's more the type to expect things to come to him as always, and not know quite how to act when they don't.
That's why he shines through the first three legs of the playoffs, only to lock up when it's time to grab the gold away from a concerted challenger. It's why he gets flummoxed when things turn out harder than he expected—which, by the way, is a widespread psychological condition called LFT or low frustration tolerance.
Heck, it probably had a lot to do with his decision to join a superteam to fulfill his aspirations of grandeur. The uncertainty born from not knowing how to rise to the occasion and impose his will when genuine adversity strikes.
The answer? Talent overload, of course.
This crack in LeBron's invincible façade lives on even after he's made the big wagon-hop, because unfortunately for him, things are still (somehow) capable of going wrong from time to time.
Not that he can't prove me wrong, but until LeBron finds his inner go-getter, this aspect of his mentality is still—so long as he plays a key role in this team's fortunes—a massive liability.
3. Still Sometimes Too Cool to Try
In case you didn't know, this team isn't crazy about always playing their hearts out.
Their distaste for an actual challenge can be traced back (at least) to the Three Banditos' decision to gang up on the league two years ago. Also, note LeBron's introductory comments on how easy he expected it to be for them, or his later lamentation that Miami was "not having fun" after a handful of teams had the audacity not to lose as planned.
I won't even get into "Crygate."
These guys didn't come together to try harder—quite the opposite. And as dominant as they are for the most part, they never go too long without reminding everyone that they're really only in it to coast. Case in point, that massive lead they squandered after checking out one quarter too soon. Which game, you ask?
Pick one. There are so many to choose from.
This too-cool attitude can manifest itself via in-game lulls or in their occasional, uncanny inability to retain what they learned as the weeks turn to months. Pecking order, teammate involvement, defensive intensity, closing out—you name it.
They can appear to be completely over the hump—in those areas where they had the luxury of growing pains as an excuse to underachieve—only to regress for no particular reason.
Granted, this is mostly (though not only) a regular-season phenomenon, whereas the playoffs—i.e. imminent gratification—give them ample reason to take off the sleeping caps and focus in. Still, the Heat can get mentally lax enough to shoot itself in the foot at a moment's notice, and your Chicagos and OKC's (even Orlando) could make them pay dearly over the course of a seven-game series.
4. Defensive Gambling
The Heat are among the league's most feared defensive units, playing an aggressive style that seeks no less than to smother opposing offenses into submission.
Often overlooked when pointing out Miami's considerable stopping power is the fact that gambling—something not normally associated with league-leading defense—is one of their primary calling cards. Their penchant for over-playing the passing lanes and over-pressuring key players is a blessing for the most part, as it's their No. 1 means of igniting the running game that serves them so well on the other end of the floor.
Meanwhile, as can be generally said of all forms of gambling, it can just as easily become a curse at the most inopportune times.
You can't get the home run defensive play to work every time, and when it doesn't, that big swing-and-miss leaves your defense far too vulnerable to an easy score—especially against the caliber of offense the Heat are likely to encounter all through the postseason.
Being a savvy team defensively, Wade and Co. are not likely to spam this strategy in such a way as to ruin their chances over a full 48 minutes. That said, in the clutch where every stop and score can make or break the game, the margin for error falls to near-zero, and one miscalculated gamble could swing an entire series.
5. Offensive Stagnation
Anytime you have two MVP candidates and a third (more or less) All-Star heading your roster, you're going to have the majority of your production concentrated at the top of the team pyramid. Predictably, this has caused the Heat—the top-heaviest of the top-heavy—some issues with mixing up their offense.
Namely, their ridiculously high-powered offense.
This is especially true in light of the fact that most of their role-players do their damage from mid to long range where rhythm counts. When everyone from the fourth man down starts playing "stop and watch" ball—which seems to occur at random, in good times and bad—the Heat become both predictable and easily knocked off course the moment the top three is less than 100 percent.
Talent overload certainly does go a long way, but LeBron and friends are learning to their dismay that it won't take them all the way home if the supporting cast is lagging behind.
Wade, LeBron and Bosh have a veritable oligopoly on the first touch each possession, and that just so happens to work like gangbusters most of the time. Meanwhile, the rest of the team has that much less opportunity to find, let alone maintain a consistent stroke. LeBron will find them, but the entire coaching staff has, and will continue to take great pains just keeping them ready to deliver.
Great defensive teams—the kind you run into deep in the playoffs—can quickly take advantage of a predictable offense, no matter how formidable it may be.