Five quick-hitting Miami Heat items as the regular season draws to a close:
1. LeBron James isn't competing with the league anymore, as much as with himself.
That's the rare air that NBA superstars occupy, and that—as much as Kevin Durant's spectacular numbers—is why James will likely finish a fairly distant second in the upcoming Most Valuable Player voting.
Many voters would have tilted toward Durant anyway, with James having won four of the past five awards, and with Russell Westbrook's knee injuries clearing the way for Durant to dominate more of Oklahoma City's offense. But there were openings for James to make this a closer contest, especially with Dwyane Wade missing so much time, headed toward almost as many absences as Westbrook.
While James had some extremely strong stretches, especially the one that just preceded and followed the All-Star break, his seven-game March stumble (2-5 record while averaging 20.7 points on 45.5 percent shooting) after his 61-point explosion cost him any shot.
LeBron on Durant: "I would say he's the most consistent player as far as MVP this year."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 9, 2014
If James sits the final two games, as he should, he'll finish ahead of last season in just field-goal percentage (.567 compared to .565) and points per game (27.1 compared to 26.8). Otherwise, his rebounds, assists, steals and blocks are all down, while his turnovers and personal fouls are up. His offensive rating slipped from 125 to 121, per Basketball-Reference, and his defensive rating (for which lower is better) went up from 101 to 105. And the Heat's wins have slipped from 66 to, at most, 56.
Again, his numbers would be exceptional for just about anyone else. But to win an MVP, his statistics need to be sufficient for advancement out of the "LeBron bracket" first.
James at a little less than his best is not enough to trump Durant at his peak.
2. Michael Beasley is still on the Heat.
This hasn't been all that obvious to those watching Miami in April, during which the forward has played only six minutes over two games, even with Erik Spoelstra missing key components. While Beasley isn't likely to be part of the postseason rotation, he should have two opportunities to make a final impression, with James expected to get an overdue rest.
It's appropriate that the first of those opportunities would come in Washington. Beasley grew up nearby, in the Hilltop Garden in District Heights, Md.
"When (we) just moved there, and when I was probably three, there was a basketball court right in the backyard of our apartment building," Beasley said. "I remember going out there and never being able to shoot the ball. I would literally look at the basket for hours, two hours, three hours, until I just started shooting (underhand, over my hand), wasn't making no baskets, hitting the bottom of the rim. And from that point on, that was just what I wanted to do."
Next, Beasley spent many of his formative basketball experiences in Georgetown's McDonough Gymnasium, where the Heat held practice and shootaround earlier this season, and held it again Sunday. During that earlier trip, Beasley spoke with wide eyes about "the thousands and thousands and thousands of times" he'd stepped foot, and left footprints, on that site.
Michael Beasley in McDonough Gym in Georgetown, the place where he grew up playing pic.twitter.com/AU1eS4Gjk4— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) January 15, 2014
"I've been coming here since I was young, watching games," Beasley said. "When I was old enough to play, that's when I was 14, that's when we started playing. I remember Steve Francis coming here for a summer league game. This is when his first pair of shoes came out. He dropped 40 in the first half. He said his shoes weren't feeling good. So he changed them at halftime. He dropped 48 in the second half. I remember a whole lot. I remember Sam Cassell coming through here, with 50. Just everything. Everybody came in town, everybody came to this gym."
Including himself, Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson, Jeff Green, Donte Greene and Nolan Smith.
All took part in the Kenner Summer League.
"It was our turn," Beasley said. "And when it was our turn, we definitely put on a show. Especially when you had Big John (Thompson) sitting right there—his chair's not there right now—but Big John, sitting right there, you gotta put on a show, you gotta put on a show. Those bleachers would come down, these ones would stay up. Concession stand right there, you come in through this door right there, oh, man, brings back memories. Great memories."
One of those memories?
That came after Beasley had already established himself as a star at Kansas State. He got off the flight and went straight to the gym.
"I was like, 'I want to play basketball,' " Beasley said.
After some trash talk from the Georgetown team, Beasley "looked at Big John, and I said, 'Can I play in this next game?' He said, 'Yeah.' So I dropped 48."
Those days are long gone.
But Beasley's still 25.
His season didn't fulfill its early promise, but his story isn't over just yet.
3. Norris Cole has struggled of late.
Anyone can see that.
After shooting 50.5 percent in December, with an effective field-goal percentage of 55.5, per Basketball-Reference, his accuracy has declined in every month since. Since the All-Star break, his effective field-goal percentage is just 39.3, per NBA.com, and he's committed plenty of key turnovers. In general, Cole has had a tough time at home this season, with an effective field-goal percentage of 43.2, compared to 51.6 on the road, per NBA.com.
But one thing that's held up: his shooting in the fourth quarter.
Cole has an effective field-goal percentage of 52.5 in the fourth, according to NBA.com, his best in any quarter.
So long as that continues, he may still get some late minutes.
But if he continues to scuffle in the first three quarters, Toney Douglas may get some of that time, anyway. Either that, or James will be playing plenty of backup point guard.
4. Dwyane Wade, as noted earlier, has already missed 28 games.
That wouldn't be the most of his career (he missed 31 in 2006-07 and 2007-08), but if Miami wins a championship, it would be the most that any of a title team's top scorers have missed since Scottie Pippen missed 38 in 1997-98. Yes, more than Pau Gasol (17) missed in 2009-10 or Tim Duncan (16) missed in 2004-05 or Kobe Bryant missed in 1999-00 or 2000-01 (16 and 14, respectively). It would even be more than Shaquille O'Neal ever missed on the way to his rings, including the 23 he sat for the 2005-06 Heat.
Pippen played all 21 games during that 1997-98 postseason, and that was all that mattered.
Miami must hope that Wade can muster the same.
5. Justin Hamilton figures to get some time in the final two games.
But even if he, James Jones, Toney Douglas and the rest of the Heat's spare parts help to pull out wins against Washington and Philadelphia, the best winning percentage Miami can achieve is .683.
The significance of that?
If the Heat win a title, they would have the lowest winning percentage of any champion since the 2005-06 Heat. And that team, which went 52-30 (.634), had the lowest since the 1994-95 Houston Rockets (.573), though the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons (.658) weren't regular-season world-beaters either.
In the end, though, no one remembers that unless they dig for it.
And why would anyone—well, other than me—do that?
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.