In a moment, we'll get to the strategic intrigue and various other levels of basketball nerddom that could make the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat an absurdly fun NBA Finals pairing. For now, all you need to understand why you should be praying for a Dubs-Heat NBA Finals is this:
LeBron James has hit game-winners before, but the one he buried to give the Heat a 111-110 win heading into the All-Star break might have been his best.
LeBron: "I was going for the win the whole time."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) February 13, 2014
Look, nobody's promising James will drill a perfectly defended, off-the-dribble step-back three in every matchup with the Warriors. That shot could have come against any team.
But the fact that it was such a perfect, poetic ending to one of the best games of the entire 2013-14 season says a lot.
That shot belonged in a game between the Warriors and Heat. It wouldn't have been fitting to end such an incredible contest any other way.
James finished with 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in a contest that went out of its way to prove the time-honored hoops cliche that basketball is a "game of runs." Golden State put on a 10-0 surge toward the end of the second quarter, but Miami answered with a 9-2 jolt.
Then, Golden state ran off nine unanswered points to cut Miami's 21-point advantage to 12 midway through the third period. Stephen Curry, who finished with 29 points, seven assists and five rebounds on 8-of-14 shooting, went on his own personal roll, bridging the third and fourth quarters with 10 points in 89 seconds.
Of course, Miami answered with an 11-0 run to go back up by eight in the final period. The Dubs ran off eight straight of their own later in the quarter.
Out of breath yet?
The final three minutes weren't quite so streaky, but they featured just as much back-and-forth action, ultimately culminating in James' fantastic finisher.
There were moves and countermoves all night, thrusts and parries throughout.
So, even though that final shot by James symbolically explains why a potential finals matchup between the Warriors and Heat would be worth rooting for, there are also a bunch of other fascinating angles that are too good to ignore.
The Perfect Storm
The Heat blitz pick-and-roll ball-handlers very aggressively in general, but they go positively berserk against Curry. Their game plan is one part sound logic and one part desperation, with the latter ingredient included because of Curry's 36-point outburst in the Warriors' 123-114 road win over Miami on Jan. 2.
Miami knows what Curry can do, and it seems committed to making somebody else on the Warriors be the difference-maker.
What's so interesting about this matchup is that the Warriors have that difference-maker in David Lee. When the Heat force the ball out of Curry's hands, it's Lee who gets the rock in space, usually in the middle of the floor.
From there, it's basketball in a blender. Miami has three defenders committed to stopping four Warriors, and Lee is a uniquely dangerous threat in that position. As the Heat's back-line defenders scramble to cover shooters, stop the power forward's penetration and keep track of Curry in case he floats to an open spot, Lee has a bevy of options available.
Things happen at light speed, and Lee is probably the best big man to make quick decisions in these circumstances. He's a deft passer, can drive the lane with either hand and has a real knack for finding open teammates without hesitating.
Most bigs need a second to process their options in these conditions, but Lee is different. He scored 21 points on 15 shots against Miami on Wednesday and added a pair of assists to his final line. The last time these two teams met, he went off for 32 points and three assists on 13-of-17 shooting.
And remember, we're talking about how exciting basic half-court basketball can be when these two teams meet. Let's not forget the pure joy of watching Curry and Klay Thompson fire off threes in semi-transition, Harrison Barnes getting to the hole or Andre Iguodala attacking on the break.
Both of these teams like the pace fast, and they've got the shooters and athletes to put on a show.
Those are fun things, too, right?
Perhaps more importantly, both James and Curry have now dominated one game apiece in this year's series. The two teams won't meet again unless they reach the NBA Finals.
Warriors win a game with Curry hitting threes from his hip. Heat win a game with LeBron hitting fading threes over Iguodala. We all win.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) February 13, 2014
You can bet that if they do, each superstar will be out to strike the next big blow.
So Much Fun, It's Stupid
Curry was last year's playoff darling, and James is still (controversial opinion alert) the league's best all-around player. It'd be hard to top that pairing in a finals matchup.
Would it be nice to see Kevin Durant and James square off? Sure!
Would a Spurs-Heat rematch be juicy? Of course.
But the individual battle between King James and KD isn't the same as watching two teams with layers upon layers of strategic compatibility going at it in a chess match for the ages. Would Miami eventually stop blitzing Curry?
Could the combination of Iguodala and Draymond Green wear James down over a series? Would Green's ultra-emotional nature lead to some testy moments, or perhaps another game-winner?
Consider this as well: Both Miami and Golden State took the floor on Wednesday without their second-best players. Andrew Bogut was dinged up with a shoulder injury, and Dwyane Wade couldn't go because of a nerve issue in his foot.
Just imagine how much more interesting things could get with those two involved.
Toss in a few wry quips from Shane Battier, some Kent Bazemore celebration dances and the general affability of everyone on both teams (ornery Bogut excluded) and you've got a dream series for the media, too.
Battier on LeBron: "He just wanted to show that there is a God. That (pointing at LeBron) is not a mistake."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) February 13, 2014
Non-Bogut Warriors being affable:
These are things we should all want.
Pumping the Brakes
Wanting something to happen and deeming it likely are two very different things.
In this case, the Heat still have to get past the Indiana Pacers. And the Warriors have to shore up a number of weaknesses (and climb the standings substantially) before we start seriously talking about them as NBA Finals contenders.
Plus, the injuries already afflicting both clubs could linger in a way that might make both of their roads to the finals even more difficult.
But the improbability of these two teams meeting in a postseason series shouldn't stop us from dreaming about the possibility.
You're entitled to your own opinion, but if you don't want to see the Dubs and Heat doing battle for seven games, I have a question for you: Why do you hate fun?