Miami Heat Playoff Run Demonstrating the Real Problem with the Decision
Namely, their collection of talent virtually guarantees them an annual trip to the NBA Finals regardless of whether they play their best basketball. Which means they can (do) coast along on the brute force of that advantage, even in the postseason, when intensity is supposedly maxed out.
And lackadaisical basketball on the sport's biggest stage isn't a good look for anyone, least of all the class of the league.
LBJ is undoubtedly the best basketball player currently walking Planet Earth, and he's probably the most physically gifted cager of all time. Wade is well into the back nine of his career, but he was one of the most dynamic players in the Association during his peak years and can still channel a similar standard of play when feeling right.
Bosh takes a lot of heat (thank you) because much of what he does is awkward and, thus, hilarious to the Internet. But the man was drafted by the Toronto Raptors as a franchise centerpiece and was doing a decent impersonation of one before pulling up stakes for warmer climes and an infinitely better team.
Yes, Miami failed in its first bid for the hardware, but even transcendent talent will take a while to mesh when you're talking about any endeavor practiced at its highest level.
A reality evidenced by the Heat's 2012 Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy and the others they're about to win. Even with Wade in decline, you've still got James and Bosh in their physical primes. Meanwhile, you're starting to see aging-but-still-effective athletes gravitate toward the American Airlines Arena and the promise of glory offered within—Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis jump to mind.
Those guys aren't useful as primary, secondary or even tertiary options, but that's why Pat Riley has 'Bron, D-Wade and Bosh. When used as and sold on being role players—as they must be if they're even considering a contract with the franchise—they're significant weapons (granted, that might be too generous with regard to Lewis).
Really, though, it's about the Big Three.
With the trio acclimated to each other and relatively healthy, the Heat should breeze through the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and then beat either the San Antonio Spurs or Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA Finals.
The Grizz could give LeBron and company a run for their money with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol inside, but the modern NBA is engineered to maximize the more fan-friendly perimeter play, which is Miami's bread and butter.
Consequently, while Memphis seems to stand the best chance, it's not a good one from where I sit.
Of course, the Heat's recent charlie foxtrot versus the Chicago Bulls has convinced a lot of people otherwise and for good reason.
Did you watch that series?
Some of the mess was Chicago's fault because Tom Thibodeau's crew made a conscious effort to slow things down in an attempt to neutralize their adversary's aforementioned bread and butter.
But Miami did its part to make the series an unsightly war of physical/mental attrition.
Most obviously, the South Beach boys fell for the Bulls' trick. They allowed themselves to be dragged into the muck, getting technicals of their own and generally taking the bait. But, hey, basketball is an emotional game, and it's never easy absorbing cheap shots, so let's give them a mulligan for that.
What was inexcusable was the Heat's blatant lack of focus and heart.
Instead of showing the pride of a champion and dismissing an overmatched team from the playoffs with extreme prejudice, Miami let Chicago hang around when it had no business doing so. The Heat dropped Game 1 in South Beach and let Chicago scratch its way back into Game 5 before clinching the series and moving on to the conference finals.
At first blush, that doesn't sound so bad.
Favorites lose a game or two in the postseason every year, and the Heat held on to win the decisive game after squandering a big lead.
Except that the Bulls are probably outgunned against the Heat even when 100-percent healthy, i.e. when Derrick Rose is on the court wreaking havoc in hyperdrive.
As you might've heard, D-Rose was not in uniform, but neither were Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. Additionally, Joakim Noah was playing with plantar fasciitis, which is no picnic from what I hear, regardless of severity.
An underdog under ideal circumstances got exactly zero minutes from its Miana (Rose), regular-season leader in minutes per game (Deng), regular-season leader in points per game (Deng again) and regular-season leader in assists per game (Hinrich, who also finished fourth in minutes per game). For his part, the hobbled Noah was the club's regular-season leader in the rest of the major statistical categories and checked in at No. 2 with regard to minutes per game.
Consequently and with all due respect, you can take your "anyone can beat anyone at this level" platitudes and light them on fire.
A determined and focused Miami Heat team would've blown the doors right off their weakened opposition. You don't even have to take my word for it—just go back and watch tape of the Game 2 shellacking, the Game 4 romp or the stretches in Game 5 where LeBron and friends took Chicago behind the woodshed.
So how did the Heat drop Game 1 and allow the others to be so close?
Whatever happened to the "playoff mode" bluster?
I get that these are professional athletes, and they all have pride, but that's really the point: If they all have pride and Miami had a massive edge in talent...well?
Which brings us back to King James' decision.
This is why many call it the easy way out. He and his buddies have assembled a dazzling array of talent around an other-worldly nucleus. They've also created a buffer that can absorb lapses in concentration and/or effort that result in mediocre (for them) basketball.
And they're using that buffer.
You can't totally fault LeBron for choosing this route because it's smart from a competitive perspective. The goal is win a championship every year, and the game is unpredictable so, if you want to achieve the goal, you create as much margin for error as possible.
But it lacks a certain element of heart.
It's not Drake soft (Ghostface Killah's words; I don't know the man), but it's hard to imagine Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant making the same decision. For all their faults—and both men have their share—they went about their careers with a sort of wild competitive abandon that is more congruent to the world of sports than The Chosen One's colder, more calculated approach.
The drive to be the best seemed organic in MJ and Kobe while it almost feels like a marketing necessity for James.
While that's a meaningless distinction in the grand scheme of things, it's an important one if King James wants to be remembered as the greatest of all time.
The safety net of talent all but assures the championships necessary to be in the G.O.A.T discussion, but it's likely to keep LeBron James from gliding by the other legends in it.
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