Well I'll be, the Miami Heat are in the Finals. Didn't see that coming one bit, did we?
As the Heat gear up to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first of the eight championships they predicted for themselves, there's growing doubt among fans and media that they can back up their unheard-of promise of two fists' worth of championship rings.
Among other things, this team's failure to win a ring right out of the gate—when they had every reason to be the favorites—was seen as a crack in the armor of what many expected to be an invincible beast. Also, over their two years together, there's been continuous talk of missing ingredients, roster flaws that prevent this team from being the irresistible force they set out to be.
These "weaknesses" and such that people hold against the Heat have been, in this writer's experience, flimsily supported in light of one fact: the Heat generally lose games merely by playing beneath their capabilities.
Now, several parties have an interest in purporting that the Heat are beatable even at full strength, from Miami critics wishfully denying the inevitability of their impending dynasty, to Heat faithful with illusions of a level playing field. However, speaking for that demographic which excludes both Heat fans and practitioners of denial, the refrain still rings largely true: the only team that can beat the Miami Heat is the Miami Heat.
If opponents even find themselves in a position to win a game, it's because the Heat made it possible for them. This is why a) every Heat loss is front page news, be it in May or December, and b) ill-timed complacency and squandered leads are such a central part of the team narrative, as most of their losses come in this fashion.
When the Big Two (as well as Chris Bosh) are healthy and locked in, the finest defensive units in the league can scarcely contain them, while average defenses are obliterated completely. The supporting cast doesn't go out the window completely, but simultaneously it takes a seriously bad performance on their part to sink a boat paddled by one MVP, one All-NBAer and an extra All-Star.
Take last year's Finals, for instance...
While obviously it wouldn't have been a series unless the Mavericks played courageously (if not heroically) go back and watch the back end of that series...Dallas' effort alone keeps them from getting blown out—and wins them Game 2—but doesn't actually put them over the top without a certain somebody taking a 2½ game nap. Not to mention a few bouts of unusually hot shooting...
And even then the first three Dallas wins came by a nose.
Without these two factors at work, we'd all be talking about what a terrific series the Mavs played...before being overtaken by the heaviest favorite in sports today. Yes, the Heat's thinness in the middle would still have made Tyson Chandler a difference-maker, and yet...not a big enough difference to swing the entire series.
The point here? Miami's first failed title run was less of a true defeat (the kind that serves as a precedent) and more of a freak occurrence (the kind you shouldn't count on). The simple fact is they have yet to lose a playoff series under normal circumstances.
Another point people bring up to cast doubt on LeWade's mega-dynastic aspirations is the matter of roster holes, one which is treated by many as a fatal flaw.The Heat's lack of quality at the point and the pivot is well documented, and is most often pointed to as their primary obstacle to total dominance. This has more to do with tradition than anything else; people tend to think of those as the two most important positions on the floor.
So when the Heat underplay and lose a couple of games, rather than blaming lack of effort or execution—again, this team's main nemesis—many observers make the obvious leap of assuming the roster needs fixing, rather than the attitude.
Suddenly, this team supposedly can't get it done without going after Nene one year, Steve Nash the next. To hear many observers tell it, teams with the advantage at these positions apparently enjoy an edge over Miami that challenges or even trumps the latter's superiority at the other three...
But when this team was at full strength and playing by their standards, how many times has their lack of a legit one or five ever kept them from a victory?
For example, whenever the Orlando Magic have stolen a W from the Heat, it was hot shooting that took them home rather than Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, the Celtics are equally capable of winning or losing to Miami regardless of Rajon Rondo's typically stellar play. Heck, the Bulls have Rose and Noah, and they could barely make it a series when last they met LeBron and Co.
When the Heat do trip up, their fans have a much easier time blaming roster holes than questioning their team's heart. Meanwhile, their detractors—ever the wishful thinkers—try and convince themselves of this "Achilles heel" in order to hold out hope for the competition.
A needy thought process drives both sides to jump to a conclusion that's not really there.
While the Heat may indeed be a few personnel moves away from 12-man nirvana, there's a reason they're automatic title favorites at the start of each new season: they have more than enough pieces in place to climb that mountain right now.
Trying to band-aid their weaker spots seems more like overkill, or perhaps an insurance policy in anticipation of some of the big dogs phoning it in from time to time...which they expressly reserved the right to do when they formed this little bully squad.
The moral of this article being, we yet have no solid evidence to doubt that this team is every bit the all-consuming hydra they promised to be when they held that little rock concert in July 2010. There will always be people who will take an interest in portraying this apex predator of a team as an equal link in the NBA food chain, which is why we've increasingly been exposed to reasons why this team shouldn't be dynasty-ready as is.
Upon closer examination, these reasons generally fall apart, promising fans such as myself nothing but dark times ahead...even as the Heat head into a series with the closest thing they've had to a worthy opponent all year. We just haven't been given any lasting reason to fear this monster any less.