Win or Lose, Miami Heat Not Nearly as Dominant as We Thought
Between the Indiana Pacers figuring out how to defend them, and the San Antonio Spurs giving them troubles in the NBA Finals, it seems that this Miami Heat team isn't quite as dominant as we once thought.
The Heat won those 27 consecutive games in the regular season, they swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs, dispatched the Chicago Bulls in five games and made the NBA Finals, but it seems they'll end up falling a step short of that legendary status.
During that 27-game winning streak, and even the weeks that followed, we were weighing where to put this Heat team once they tore through the rest of the NBA and claimed their NBA championship.
Of course, looking back at that winning streak, they beat just four teams that finished in the top four of their conference. Many of those wins came over lottery squads or bottom-tier playoff contenders.
The Eastern Conference seemed to be a breeze, and the foes out West were so chock-full of problems that the couldn't possibly handle what the "Big Three" had grown into.
LeBron James had himself a crew of players that looked to easily be his best cast since coming into the NBA, until everything started to go awry.
Milwaukee proved to be no match, and the Bulls could slow the game down, but that couldn't make up for the fact that they just couldn't score.
Against Indiana, Miami looked like another version of the Cleveland Cavaliers near the end of LeBron James' tenure with them: a very good team, capable of winning a ton of games, but missing that little bit of extra pop to put them over the top.
Once they got to the Finals and faced off with Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, it showed that a solid game plan could slow down LeBron, and that their confidence can be shaken with something as simple as a record three-point shooting performance.
What really became surprising in the past two rounds of the playoffs is how quickly either LeBron or Wade could disappear, and how unconcerned the team seemed to be about it.
Wade shot just 43 percent in the Eastern Conference Finals, played defense that fluctuated between "just fine" and "utter crap," and his response wasn't to address his poor play, but rather to complain that he needed more touches.
It was a rare moment when the team noted their shortcomings publicly, although they did from time to time, most notably with LeBron telling the media that he stayed on Bosh and Wade through their struggles.
Now here they are in the NBA Finals, locked at two games apiece and trying to string together consecutive wins in the playoffs for the first time since the series against Chicago.
LeBron broke the 20-point barrier for the first time in the series during Game 4, scoring 33 in Miami's solid bounce-back win over the Spurs.
There's no surprise seeing the series tied, it's just surprising that Miami has played in a way that fails to accentuate their strengths for stretches at a time.
This all isn't to say that they're not the talented team that we thought they were. On the contrary, they've got a lot of talent near the top of their roster, and the right role players sprinkled throughout.
What has become a problem is how that talent is harnessed and focused on a nightly basis.
Whether it be Wade disappearing for stretches, sulking or complaining to referees; Bosh seemingly losing confidence; or James still trying to find the right time to be passive and the right time to take over, there seems to be a disconnect between these Heat and even the early 2000s Los Angeles Lakers.
Going beyond that and looking at Michael Jordan's Bulls, the 1986 Boston Celtics and the 1987 and 1972 Lakers seems to be short-sighted.
It's not that those teams never found themselves overmatched, but key players completely disappearing, and even becoming detrimental to the effort is something that was a rare occurrence, and certainly didn't manifest itself in the final two series' of the season.
Yes, they won 66 games in the regular season, including a 27-game winning streak, and I would even say are still the likely NBA champions, but the past three weeks of play have been a bit surprising.
It's an excellent group of players, but in comparison to the greats, they seem to be locked somewhere in the middle of the second-tier teams, and even a trifle below last season's Heat.
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