The 2012 NBA Playoffs will be all about the Miami Heat. The media hordes will be out in force. The usual criticisms will resurface:
- Does LeBron (and to a lesser extent Chris Bosh) have the will to win an NBA Title?
- Where is the killer instinct?
- Who shoots during crunch time?
Using the current standings as a guide, the Miami Heat should have a pretty easy ride through to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat should be doing all they can to ensure that the standings work to their advantage.
A first-round matchup with the New York Knicks is ideal. To change the narrative, the Miami Heat will need to "turn heel," to borrow a pro-wrestling term. The Miami Heat and LeBron James in particular need to embrace their role as villains. Here's how they do it and win an NBA title along the way.
Game 1—New York Knicks at Miami Heat
The pregame hype will be incredible for this first-round matchup. Some of the storylines:
- Carmelo Anthony has no fear of LeBron
- Carmelo Anthony has a better head-to-head record over LeBron
- New York's Big Three versus Miami Heat's Big Three
- The friendships between Anthony, James, Wade, Bosh and Stoudemire.
Before the opening tip off, the cameras will show LeBron and Carmelo warmly greeting each other. Get ready for a great battle between two of the NBA's premier players.
Can the Heat win as the villains?
The game opens with the Miami Heat building a huge early lead and coasting to a victory fueled by incredible defensive pressure and transition scoring. Carmelo Anthony has an awful shooting night (7-for-20).
During post-game conference, LeBron begins his heel turn by stating that there is no one in the league that can score when he's guarding him one-on-one. The Heat will win in a sweep.
Game 2—New York Knicks at Miami Heat
A ravenous media poses the same questions for two days:
- Can LeBron back up his boasts?
- Can Carmelo return fire?
- Can the Heat sweep the Knicks?
- How do Wade and Bosh feel about LeBron's comments?
The pre-game tip off cameras focus on Carmelo and LeBron. The friendly banter seen in Game 1 is replaced by game faces and some physical back-and-forth before the ball is tipped. This is now personal!
The game plays itself differently with the Knicks and Heat exchanging leads early and often. At halftime, Dwayne Wade is asked if he believes that the Heat can still sweep the Knicks. He responds with a calm "no doubt about it," and walks into the locker room.
Midway through the fourth quarter, a suddenly red-hot Carmelo Anthony attempts to give the Knicks a lead with a fast-break dunk. LeBron James will have none of that, responding with a flagrant foul that prevents the score and physically rattles Anthony.
Anthony stares at James with disbelief. LeBron stares right back with determination and a hint of evil intention.
Anthony makes the two free throws for the lead and the Knicks are able to take a brief five-point lead, but that is the end of the run. Carmelo finishes the game with a similar 8-for-25 shooting night and finishes with 28 points with most of his damage from the line. The Heat, galvanized by LeBron, simply run the Knicks out of the building.
Game 3—Miami Heat at New York Knicks
Sports radio, ESPN and the major outlets are now covering this story like never before.
- Did LeBron try and hurt his "friend" Carmelo?
- Is their relationship over?
- Will LeBron be suspended for the flagrant foul?
LeBron's defiance is the key to the change in narrative: "this is basketball and I'm trying to win a championship. The play was clean but hard. I can shut any player in the league down. There is no better defensive player in the league."
The Miami Heat are greeted with a thundering round of boos and jeers. The Garden Faithful are frothing at the mouths. This is a hostile environment.
The game begins. No smiles, no handshakes. This is going to be a physical battle.
Unfortunately, the Knicks only have Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony. The rest of the team simply does not show up. The Knicks are completely embarrassed at home with LeBron and Wade sitting most of the 4th quarter. Carmelo leads all scorers, but his stats are empty. All of his work was done well after the game was in-hand.
LeBron uses Game 3 as a referendum on his shooting. He makes 60 percent of his shots from more-than-20 feet, including five three-point shots. After his third three-pointer, he begins to "freeze" his stroke, showing how easy it all is. On offense and defense, the league bears witness to a man possessed.
Game 4—Miami Heat at New York Knicks
Trying to save face and extend the series one more game, Carmelo guarantees a win. The Miami Heat, now embracing the bad guy roll, simply laugh; "there is no chance that the Knicks will win this game," boasts LeBron and Wade. Get the brooms ready, Miami fans.
The media stories:
- Are the Heat arrogant or just that good?
- Is this the real LeBron and Wade?
The Knicks are lifeless and out-manned. The Heat show no respect and are flying all over the place with a series of alley-oops and spectacular dunks. Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony attempt to stand up to the onslaught with some hard fouls on LeBron, including a flagrant foul, but he just stands at the free-throw line and laughs it off.
LeBron spends the bulk of the fourth quarter jawing with Spike Lee and proceeds to put the icing on a quadruple-double that sends the Knicks home with a whimper.
Post-game, LeBron guarantees an NBA title. "No one is going to stop us this year," LeBron says.
When asked about the physical play and chippiness of the series, LeBron simply responds, "Cheer for me, Boo at me, I don't care. I am here to win."
His transformation to heel is complete.
Round 2 and Round 3
The narrative now having changed and the Heat being booed from one coast to another is the needed boost that the team requires to reach their true potential.
LeBron's mouth does a lot of talking and his body backs up every single statement. Over the next three weeks, the NBA sees a display of power and will that few players will ever reach. James' average stat line reveals how dominant he is: 22 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks, 6 steals.
The Heat need only five games in Rounds 2 and 3 to advance. Even in their losses, the Heat display an arrogance that is off-putting to most. One of LeBron's sponsors pulls an ad which sends this discussion to a whole different level. Charles Barkley is the major talking head that is loving every minute of this run. He goes back to his "I am not a hero" message and sticks up for LeBron.
James versus Durant.
The series that everyone wanted is here. Durant is painted as the good guy and LeBron is clearly the bad guy at this point.
Kendrick Perkins is posterized in one of the final plays of the first game. Instead of backing away once he's done with the dunk, LeBron stands over Perkins and let's out a primal scream. Perkins shoves LeBron and the game nearly ends in a brawl. The tone has been sent.
Physical play dominates the series. Jawing up and down the court are LeBron and Bosh on one side, followed by Perkins and Ibaka on the other. Perkins issues a flagrant foul in Game 2. LeBron follows up with his own in Game 3. These guys just don't like each other.
The media are in a frenzy. Ratings are through the roof. Commissioner Stern sends out a memo for the referees to eliminate the chippiness and physical play. It does not work. Most of the scoring over the rest of the series occurs on the charity stripe.
Durant, Westbrook and Harden at different times play well, but there is never a complete game by all three. Durant shoots 37 percent for the series. Westbrook has two feast-famine games as LeBron alternates between covering Durant and Westbrook. When LeBron is on Durant, Westbrook goes for 40. When LeBron is on Westbrook, he goes for a modest 15, but with little impact. A team-wide effort to shut down Durant pays off.
The Heat win their title, and LeBron convincingly demonstrates that he is the best player on the planet.