MIAMI — For all of the uncommon attributes that Chris Bosh offers on the basketball court, there's something about his personality that is even more unusual.
Unsparingly, unequivocally and endearingly honest.
The Miami Heat center/forward doesn't conduct interviews so much as carry on conversations, uttering exactly what's on his mind, without concern for what the cameras might record or how the public might respond. He was the one to call out the team in New Orleans two weeks ago, during its sorriest stretch of an uneven season. And he was the one who has acknowledged the importance of the No. 1 seed, when most of his teammates have acted if they are ignoring the chase entirely.
So, naturally, it was Bosh—after the Heat's 93-83 win against Toronto put it percentage points ahead of Indiana atop the East—who best expressed the spirit of the achievement. Bosh, you see, had peeked at the Pacers' score at halftime, seen that the Spurs were already rolling to a victory, produced a mini-fist pump, and viewed the opportunity as "more incentive to take care of business tonight."
And now, after holding the Raptors to 32 points in the second half—aided by the absence of sore-kneed Kyle Lowry—the Heat had made up for a lot of embarrassing nights, against the likes of Philadelphia and Utah and Sacramento and Boston (twice), and made up ground against a team that led the conference by 4.5 games on Jan. 20, and was eager to let everyone know.
Meanwhile, Miami kept emphasizing the expansive nature of the season. They even did so Wednesday night, after losing a game in Indianapolis they felt they should have won.
"That's what we've been saying for the whole time," Bosh said. "You know, that's why when the Pacers were talking, 'hey, No. 1 seed, home court!' it's like, hey, it's August. Calm down a little bit. We know how it is. We know it's a marathon. That's one of the conversations you have to have amongst yourselves, and it's a reason to go out there and play hard every day. Saying it to everybody, shouting it from the mountain top, that's not our style."
Not anymore, anyway. They've learned their lessons since that opening smoke show, when they promised "not one, not two, not three, not four," and more. And so, here they are again, in the top spot, even with Dwyane Wade missing 21 games—three times as many as the entire Pacers' starting five combined. Here they are, though Wade and LeBron James have played together in just 13 of the past 24 games, with James acknowledging that he's learned to expect Wade's absence. Here they are, though they played their 20th different lineup Monday, this one with Toney Douglas—discarded by Golden State earlier this season—making his eighth start for the defending champions. Here they are, though neither of their experimental offseason acquisitions (Greg Oden and Michael Beasley) have borne much fruit.
Here they are, though they've dropped two of three to Indiana, with the fourth and final meeting in Miami on Apr. 11.
"Our work is just beginning," Bosh said. "Cause, I mean, we can still lose it. We have to keep concentrating on what we've been doing, look to see how we can improve our play. We're gonna have a shot. That's all we need. One shot."
They'll get that shot in 11 days.
But right now, the Pacers' most formidable opponents appear to be themselves.
In their past six games, they have scored 71, 77, 84, 78, 76, 77.
That might get them in the Final Four—the University of Wisconsin has scored 83, 75, 75, 85, 69 and 64—but it won't get them to the NBA Finals.
Roy Hibbert, who averaged 4.6 rebounds and shot 42 percent in March, referred to "selfish dudes in here" after Sunday's loss to Cleveland. After Monday's loss to the steamrolling Spurs, Hibbert apparently wasn't any more upbeat.
Hibbert on losing the No. 1 seed to Miami: "Good for them. We don't deserve it."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 1, 2014
There have been times this season when Miami didn't appear to deserve it either, times they've drifted and coasted, times they've been beneath themselves. But playoff time is finally approaching, and they are right where they expected they'd be.
"It doesn't feel like anything, actually," said James, who posted 32 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. "The standings are what they are. We want to play the best we can. The fact that we are in first place, I think that's pretty cool. But we got so much work to do. We got too much work to do. We got guys that need to get healthy. So we haven't even talked about it. We still probably won't talk about it."
Well, other than Bosh. And a few others, who have taken notice of Indiana's troubles, and even commented on the Pacers' personnel mistakes, trading or releasing popular players (Danny Granger, Orlando Johnson) late in the season. A couple have even spoken of their appreciation that the Heat kept old standby Udonis Haslem, even when they received offers near the deadline.
Now Haslem is starting again, posting the team's best defensive numbers since the All-Star break, after he posted the team's worst before it.
Long, long season.
As this race with the Pacers has already proven.
"We just got to play the season out," James said.
No shouting from the mountain top.
Even if they've finally joined Indiana there.