I am writing this with 40 minutes to go until the start of the NBA Finals.
The butterflies are coming back. Those same butterflies we all get from any Game 7 or important contest. I'm not even a part of this organization in anyway other than wearing their merchandise and having the 'Miami Heat Featured Columnist' label for this website, yet I am busting at the seams in anticipation for the series that will soon be bestowed upon in the most dramatic of fashions.
It's been a roller coaster ride of a season for the Heat. Not in the context of them having terrible stretches of play like last year, but in the context of injuries and unexpected poor and unexpected play taking part. This team has been all over the place in terms of them dealing with adversity throughout the course of the regular season.
However, it's been the postseason that has showed just how truly resilient this team is. The Heat faced it when Chris Bosh went down, when they were down 2-1 against Indiana, when they were down 3-2 against Boston and will probably face it again at some point in this upcoming series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. What the majority of us have yet to realize is that this team has no quit and a lot of heart.
Following an incredible conference playoff run, the Heat find themselves in the Finals for the second consecutive time. They'll be looking for redemption after a failed run last year that ended in a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks in their own house. This year should be a completely different story as the Heat play a far more different opponent.
We take a look at how the Heat roster, including the head coach, have fared this season by grading each and every one of them.
A few of us forgot that Terrel Harris was still a part of the Miami Heat.
The majority of us didn't even realize there was a guy named Terrel Harris in the league.
An undrafted guard out of Oklahoma State, Harris spent the majority of his rookie year at the end of the bench. He played in 22 games and finished the season averaging four points, two boards and an assist per game, while shooting 35 percent from the field and 21 percent from deep.
Harris has played in three postseason games, all of them being blowouts in either the Heat's or the opponent's favor. His only stats were the two points and two rebounds he posted up in three minutes in the Heat's Game 5 victory over Indiana.
Harris is a solid defender, rebounder and can even hit from the perimeter. However, he still has a long way to go to be recognized as anybody worth a roster spot.
This experiment didn't pan out nearly the way I expected it to.
Can you blame me? The Heat have no reliable centers, so of course I'd expect a mammoth of a player like Eddy Curry to actually contribute something positive.
Curry showed off some real promise with a six-point and three-rebound effort against the Los Angeles Lakers in his first-ever action with the Miami Heat. Then he fell off the face of the Earth. He'd earn spot minutes throughout the rest of the year and would only play in 14 games.
Eddy did get a start, however, at the end of the season against the Washington Wizards. He had a solid showing with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting, 4-of-6 from the foul line, four rebounds, four turnovers and a block.
Curry hasn't played at all during the postseason. Even when Bosh went down with his injury, the Heat still kept Curry out of the rotation. Let that tell you just how out of touch Curry is with the game of basketball at the moment.
An uneventful year for Dexter Pittman, who might as well have considered this his rookie season after only playing in two games last year.
This year, Pittman played in 35 games. He showed off some promise in the form of good footwork and aggression, but was an incredibly raw and uncoordinated player for the most part. He constantly found himself in foul trouble as a result of overexerting himself for rebounds and he couldn't play solid defense without fouling, either.
Pittman averaged three points and two boards per this season. As I said before with Eddy Curry, there need to be serious problems in your game if you're a center and you don't see yourself at the top of a depth chart that includes names like Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf.
Dexter has been given chances. He given got a start in Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers. However, it was short-lived as Pittman played only three-and-a-half minutes before picking up a foul and two missed field-goal attempts.
He did have a few solid games near the end of the season. He scored 16 points in a blowout win over Charlotte, and scored 12 points in two games over a three-day period.
Still, you would expect a little more progress to have been made by this point.
There really isn't much else to ask for when you're Juwan Howard.
He's 39 years old and has been in the league for 18 seasons. He didn't do much last year with the increased role as a result of Udonis Haslem's injury, and he didn't do much this year, not even when Chris Bosh went down with his injury in the postseason.
Howard played in only 28 games, averaging a stellar 1.5 points and 1.7 rebounds per game while shooting a staggering 31 percent from the field.
This is probably going to be Juwan's last year win or lose. The Heat are getting absolutely nothing out of him on the court, but he is being looked up to as the resident statesman for the team, as well as being a mentor to the many young talents that inhabit this team.
It's funny how everyone clamors for James Jones when there's any sign of trouble in Miami, yet they quickly rescind that talk once they see him on the court.
It's as if coach Erik Spoelstra throws him out there to say, "Is this what you all wanted?" to prove his point of why Jones doesn't play.
Jones had another great year shooting 40 percent from the field, but his lack of intangibles cripples his chances of getting on the court. Outside of his shooting stroke, which isn't always consistent late in games, Jones doesn't have much going for him. He can draw charges, yes, but he also can't play actual defense, create a play, pass or rebound.
As a result, Jones played in 51 games this year and averaged only 13 minutes of action per night. He's been given minutes in every playoff game since Game 2 of the Semifinals, but hasn't really made his presence felt as he's only shot 6-of-22 from beyond the arc.
Jones contract with the Heat is up next year. I have no reason to see why he doesn't spend more than a year in a Miami uniform.
One of the Miami Heat's better midseason pickups of the past two years, Ronny Turiaf has provided a defensive and rebounding spark to this team that they didn't always possess.
Hey, he's better than Mike Bibby and Erick Dampier. Let's not go down that trail, for humanity's sake.
Turiaf was brought in midway through March after being waived by the Denver Nuggets, which happened as a result of a trade from the Washington Wizards.
Ronny immediately made his presence felt with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in his first three games to go along with 12 rebounds. He was so convincing that the Heat gave him a start two weeks after he joined the team. He started five games before being sent back to the bench as a result of some soreness.
We saw more of Ronny in the Heat's series against Indiana and early on in the series against Boston, but made no impact worth mentioning. However, there should be plenty more of Ronny as the Heat face a tough Oklahoma City frontcourt.
We haven't seen much of "The Warden" lately.
Trust me, we here in the South Florida know and we don't like it too much. As inept an offensive player as he can be, we know that Joel Anthony is a big-time hustle player who makes huge plays on the defensive end with his shot blocking ability.
Anthony is an underrated athlete and is one of the Heat's most valuable pieces on the defensive end. At 6'9", Anthony has been relied on as a crucial defender in the Heat's system of defending the pick-and-roll. He's able to use his length and quick feet to keep up with the ball handler, in case the original defender doesn't get back in time.
Joel was just as effective at shot-blocking this year, averaging 1.3 blocks per. He also had a near career high in points per with 3.4, which shouldn't come as a surprise if you watched him this year. Joel actually did make improvements to his catching and finishing, as well as a short jump hook.
Once again, Anthony is another player who may find himself with an increased role on account of the Thunder's frontcourt. Not to mention, he'd be a huge piece in limiting the drives of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the cases where they are able to break through the Heat's first line of defense.
And it all started so well, too.
A rookie out of Cleveland State, Norris Cole took the world by storm with his 20-point effort against the Boston Celtics in just his second game of his NBA career. The numerous crucial mid-range jumpers he hit in the waning minutes earned Cole a lot of praise from around the league, including the Heat who immediately threw him into the rotation.
Cole would have some great games over the next two months, including another 20-point effort in a win over Indiana, but would hit a huge wall following the All-Star break.
Post All-Star break, Cole has had six games of at least 10 points. He has shot terribly, been turnover prone and was constantly finding himself in tight spots that he got into by having a little too much confidence in his driving ability. The pace of the game obviously caught up to him.
Still, it's no reason to immediately cast him aside. He's still a rookie and he has a lot of promise in him as a mid-range and slashing threat, as well as a solid defender with quick hands and aggression.
The Miami Heat didn't utilize their amnesty clause on Mike Miller at the beginning of the season, and they're now paying for it at the worst possible time.
All I can say is thank goodness for Shane Battier and his rediscovered stroke.
Miller shot 45 percent from beyond the arc in the regular season? I have no idea how it happened. Every memory I have of watching Miller during the first 66 games was of watching a zombie hobbling around the court missing wide open three-pointers and throwing himself into players for loose balls he had no chance of getting.
Miller has had his games. He really has. He shot 4-of-7 from deep in the Heat's Game 6 victory over Indiana and had 11 three-pointers overall in the Heat's series against the New York Knicks. He would even start off well against Boston with 6-of-12 shooting in the first three games.
Since then, however, Miller has shot 1-of-10 and is really starting to show some signs of wearing down.
He only played in four minutes Game 6 against Boston. The Heat will need him to consistently hit some shots if they expect to beat the Thunder, or else they're going to be shaking their head at a $30 million investment.
I can't even begin to describe how excellent and significant Shane Battier has been in this year's postseason.
Battier has shouldered a huge defensive load and does not get credit for it. He didn't get credit for wearing down Carmelo Anthony, playing extended minutes against a much larger David West or any sort of recognition for limiting Brandon Bass. Battier played out of position the majority of these playoffs, yet all we can talk about is just how good LeBron James is.
As crucial as his defense has been, his rediscovered three-point shooting stroke has been just as more uplifting. Battier struggled throughout the regular season to find any sort of offensive rhythm and only managed to shoot 34 percent from deep; not something you'd expect from someone who had shot 39 percent for their career.
Battier's slow shooting continued into the playoffs, but it appeared he finally got it turned around in the Heat's series against Boston. The former Duke star shot 14-of-40 from beyond the arc, including four three-pointers in the Heat's decisive Game 6 win over the Celtics.
It has been nothing less than depressing watching Udonis Haslem get his shot blocked just about every time he takes it to the rim.
The sudden interest in driving comes as a result of Haslem having no confidence in the mid-range jumper that he based half his career on. The torn ligaments in his foot that he dealt with in November of 2010 appear to still be lingering, and I say this because it's the only excuse for Haslem to shoot and perform as badly as he did this year.
He still made his presence felt on the boards averaging over seven per off the bench, but he became an offensive liability too many times to notice.
Haslem shot a career low 42 percent from the field this year. Considering that he had shot 49 percent or better the previous three seasons and had never shot anywhere near below 45 percent, it certainly was a surprise to see him perform this badly on shots that he used as his bread and butter.
Even into the postseason, Haslem is still looking for that shot. The Heat are truly hoping that he will eventually find it as the spacing that he created is sorely missed.
It was barely last year when Mario Chalmers play was so pitiful that the Heat ended up choosing the likes of Carlos Arroyo and Mike Bibby to start over him.
How foolish they were, especially in those NBA Finals when they continued to start Bibby, who couldn't make a wide-open shot to save his life.
Mario Chalmers has easily had the best year of his career since his rookie season. He's shooting a career high 45 percent from the field, 1.6 three-pointers per game and converting those shots at a 39 percent clip. He's also posted up nine points, four assists and three assists per.
Chalmers is mostly known as that guy who is always getting yelled at by LeBron James, but he's so much more. He's an integral part of the defense because of his quick hands, he's been one of the Heat's most consistent shooters and has been relatively sound in the turnover department this postseason.
His lack of turnovers is huge since Wade and James are too busy committing nearly four on their own every game on account of their wayward passing from time to time.
Yes, it finally appears that Mario is maturing. He's only been in the league for four seasons and has shown a great deal of promise, which will most likely result in him starting at point guard for the remainder of the 'Big Three' era.
As disappointed as I want to be in Chris Bosh for not even averaging eight boards per, I can't be after what I saw in the final two games of the Eastern Conference Finals.
It shouldn't be in my priority to get hung up on two games, but then I realized that those two games are exactly why the Miami Heat need Chris Bosh in order to make a title run.
It's not just because of the 18 points and eight boards per, either. Those could be replaced by anybody. However, what can't be replaced is Bosh's ability as a dual threat who can consistently hit the mid-range jumper and drive the lane. What makes his presence on the floor even more significant is the fact that he's 6'11" and draws the attention of opposing big men.
That means opposing power forwards or centers have to stray away from the lane in order to defend the shooting of Bosh. They can't camp out in the lane or risk double-teaming on a Wade or James drive because things like this could happen. You can't cheat on drive without risking giving away another nearly guaranteed two points in the form of a Bosh jumper.
Don't be too certain that Bosh making three-pointers is a fluke, either. He practiced his three-point shooting throughout the offseason.
Bosh has had better regular seasons, but the impact he has on this team is incredible and that's why I have to give him a good grade. He does his job on the court by becoming the third option Miami asked him to be and hitting the shots that the team asks him to make.
Although, I would certainly like to see him average more than eight boards per on a team with absolutely no rebounders.
Normally, 22.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per game would be an incredible stat line for about 90 percent of the players that have ever played in the NBA.
Not for Dwyane Wade. Hampered by injuries all year, Wade averaged the lowest amount of points per game he's had since his rookie season when he wasn't even recognized as a first option, yet. Dwyane's ability to get to the rim and lift off took a hit on account of various injuries that took a toll on him throughout the season.
Wade missed nine games before the end of January and was given maintenance minutes throughout the final month of the season to not risk any other type of injury. However, Wade found a way to hurt himself after dislocating his finger in the 62nd game of the season. The injury hasn't appeared to affect his game in any way, although it may just be the reason why his shot has been so off in the postseason.
Dwyane has had moments on both ends of the spectrum in this year's offseason. He had one of the worst games of his career when he scored only five points on 2-of-13 shooting in the Heat's Game 3 loss against Indiana, but has also had some of the best games of his playoff career which includes a 41-point outing in a Game 6 that closed out Indiana.
Wade struggled scoring against Boston, but it mostly came as a result of the Celtics double-teaming on account of Chris Bosh not being on the floor. Even then, Dwyane found ways to get himself going in the second half of each game and had a pivotal 23 points, six rebounds and six assists in the closeout game against Boston, which was also capped off by a strong second half.
Dwyane has looked sluggish at times. However, the NBA Finals has been his. He averaged 36 points per in the Heat's 2006 victory and 27 points per on 54 percent shooting in the 2011 loss, so we should only expect huge moments from Wade for the next two weeks.
What more can you say.
Are you not entertained?
Is this not why you are here?
Are you not here to watch the league's greatest player devastating team after team, shot after shot, dunk after dunk? Is the ultimate purpose of watching basketball to be able to observe someone who is so good at what he does that you can only watch in awe? Does it not make you feel ridiculous attempting to criticize a player who just averaged 34 points and 11 rebounds per against one of the league's best defenses?
LeBron James has been nothing less than incredible in the 2011-'12 NBA season. He came back stronger, faster and more complete than ever after taking post-up lessons from Hakeem Olajuwon over the offseason. Instead of sulking for the rest of the offseason over losing the NBA Finals, James went to work by reaching out to a legend and asking him to help his game.
As a result, we are witnessing the best LeBron James has ever been. It doesn't matter that he didn't lead the league in scoring, average over seven boards and seven assists or lead his team to 66 wins; all that mattered was that we saw James playing the game as comfortable as we've ever seen him play. The adjustments and the sulking was over and we got a better LeBron James out of it.
Think about it. Does LeBron become the MVP if he won the Finals last year? Is he putting in work with Olajuwon? Is he taking this year's postseason run as seriously as he did last year? Doubtful. The 2011 NBA Finals was a wake-up call to James telling him that this is going to be a lot more difficult than he thinks it is.
What we got out of it was an MVP who averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game while just so happening to lead his Heat team to the second best record in the East and their second consecutive Eastern Conference crown. Trust me, if the Heat lose this year's Finals you will not be blaming LeBron James.
James has played like a man possessed. His 45 points and 15 rebounds here, 40 points and 18 rebounds there; LeBron has making this look routine. He's posting up numbers that we haven't seen since the 1960's and is doing it with a smile on his face and without a bead of sweat dropping onto the court.
In 18 games this postseason, James has scored under 20 points on only one occasion, has scored over 30 11 times and over 40 twice. He has scored at least 30 points in seven of the past nine games.
Seriously, still not entertained? It's going to really hurt a decade from now and James is retired and all you can remember are your conspiracy theories about how David Stern favors him. That's not how you want to live out James' best years because what we are seeing could very well be the beginning of something downright prolific.
If I gave any Miami Heat fan the control of this slide, it would be overloaded with expletives and sheer rage.
I certainly don't blame them. It does suck to be the coach of the Miami Heat and I truly understand the mental torture Erik Spoelstra has in dealing with the constant threat of being fired by the fans of this team.
However, you don't allow yourself to get any leeway with an offense that has gone through lengthy stretches of nothing or a defense that sometimes allows too many wide-open shooters on account of constant rotation. While it should always be in the priority of a team's defense to get the opposition into a jump shot, it shouldn't end up with that jump shot being open and taken from a comfortable area.
Also, his rotations and lineups are truly a nightmare at times. I'm still scratching my head as to why Udonis Haslem was getting so many more minutes over Joel Anthony against Boston in Game 6.
For the most part, though, I've really gotten no quarrel with Spoelstra. His offensive system is a nightmare and it's absolutely insane how you could ponder a team with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade being unable to score for minutes, but he does know how to run a good defensive unit and has been excellent at making adjustments, especially in the postseason.
That's the problem with being a coach. If you win, it's solely because of the talent on that roster. If you lose, it's because you're a terrible coach that doesn't know how to do his job properly. Of course it would hit both of those ends because we live in a day and age where analysts are so quick to make knee-jerk reactions that don't always make too much sense in the long run.
Spoelstra goes from moron to genius within days. It's literally that drastic. However, it all goes away if 'Spo' takes home a title this year.