It sounds crazy to say that about a team that pops up on national broadcasts every week, but the truth is we've all become desensitized to Miami's brilliance.
Examples of the odd tendency to overlook the Heat are evident in everything from our discussions of the league's up-and-coming clubs to our monthly awards. I mean, Paul George had a fantastic November, complete with excellent per-game averages and a lot of team success.
But he wasn't nearly as good as LeBron James, and he shouldn't have won Player of the Month.
More broadly, we're constantly on the hunt for the "next great NBA team" while the Heat are still in the middle of their prime. Looking ahead is great; it makes for fun arguments and heated discussions. But why can't we just enjoy the best team right now?
Miami currently has the second-best net rating in the NBA, despite resting Dwyane Wade frequently and carefully restricting the minute totals of every veteran on the roster. The Heat deserve praise for amassing a 21-6 record under any circumstances, but what they've done this season is especially impressive because they're prime candidates for the malaise that so often befalls defending champions.
Instead of complacency, though, the Heat have embraced consistent efficiency.
Well, usually they're consistent. Sometimes, though, the Heat blow past "consistent" on the way to "otherworldly."
We can't go any further without a deeper treatment of how fantastic James has been this season. It just wouldn't be right.
After raising the bar to heights that we never dreamed of seeing a year ago, LBJ has returned from an offseason of work with more game than ever. He's playing with an unselfish nature that nobody with his raw talent has ever shown, he's hitting shots at an absurd rate and his approach to the game is somehow still maturing.
We've never seen anybody mix the subtle and the eye-popping so effectively.
So, the next time he throws a 40-foot skip pass with barely a flick of the wrist, completely destroying conventional defensive rotations with his vision, just sit back and appreciate it.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who deserves a ton of credit for morphing Miami into the small-ball juggernaut it is today, spoke of James' singular brilliance after watching him go for 38 points, eight rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers on 16-of-28 shooting in a win over the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 23.
Per David J. Neal of the Miami Herald, Spoelstra said: "For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set."
And then there's James' shooting. He's killing opponents without even trying, picking his spots and taking fewer attempts than ever. Check out his shooting percentages measured against his overall career averages:
|LeBron James' Shooting Statistics|
It's not just efficiency, either. James is still turning in spectacular plays on the regular. Just ask Paul Millsap, LBJ's latest victim.
Put simply, James is greatness personified. He's the game's best player by a huge margin, a stand-up guy and a terrific leader. How many alpha dogs would have apologized to a role player after crossing the line like James did with Mario Chalmers earlier in December?
Despite James' unparalleled dominance, we're all in a bizarre hurry to nitpick his game, to crown his chief challenger and make cases for others to steal his MVP throne. When you think about it, we don't spend enough time talking about how lucky we are to watch the King in his prime.
Why the Backlash?
I'm guessing that right about now, a good portion of NBA fans are fighting off nausea.
Heat detractors are vocal, passionate and, to a person, illogical. That's not a knock; it's merely a factual observation that anyone who dislikes the Heat doesn't come by the feeling objectively. In a vacuum, there's nothing to hate about Miami.
The Heat play unselfishly, defend with serious effort and display the kind of confident class champions are supposed to possess.
Everyone loves to complain about perceived preferential treatment from officials or the way Miami players sometimes whine about calls. But those feelings are typically motivated by a drubbing that the Heat gave to the naysayer's favorite team in the past.
Fans have an absolute right to like or dislike whichever team they choose. But anyone who can't appreciate how Miami plays the right way has to admit to themselves that they're just cranky, jealous of success or too caught up in homerism to appreciate the excellence of a team that resides in another city.
Personally, I don't understand what's so bad about giving credit to teams that perform at the highest level. What's wrong with being great?
So, this Christmas, let's all agree not to take the gift of the Miami Heat for granted. We've all seen how quickly good teams can be dismantled in the past, and this year alone we've watched as the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers have basically fallen apart.
The Heat are in the midst of a brilliant run, and they're led by the best player on the planet. It's time to enjoy those holiday blessings.
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