Five quick-hitting Miami Heat items as the team bides time prior to the second round:
1. Adam Silver won't list the names of the elite players that the Heat avoided on their way to a third straight championship.
The parade won't be suspended because the likes of Toronto, Washington and Atlanta pushed out Miami's more traditional rivals. Historians won't be heard, should they suggest that the Heat had it easy, because they only faced one elite team, whichever one staggered out of the brutal West.
The Heat's last two rings still sparkle, even though Derrick Rose missed each of the past postseasons, even though one title came after a lockout, even though a slew of key players (starting with Russell Westbrook) fell by the wayside last spring.
Asterisks never stick.
Everyone only remembers the end.
So, no, Miami didn't need Indiana to survive Thursday night in order to ensure the legitimacy of another run to the NBA Finals. Nor does it need Indiana to win Game 7 at home against Atlanta. No more than the Heat needed the Bulls to eliminate the Wizards, or need the Nets to take the final two games to get past the Raptors.
Still, though, I wasn't surprised by the split reaction when I posted this tweet, before the Pacers rallied to beat the Hawks on Thursday night to force a Game 7:
Heat fans are enjoying this. Still think they would have enjoyed beating Indiana in the ECF more.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 2, 2014
The first three responses:
"This is much better"
"Yes and no, lol"
So, one disagreed, one agreed and one couldn't make up his mind.
The rest of the responses fit that pattern.
So do I stick to that statement?
The Pacers and Heat should meet at some point this season, with a shot at the NBA Finals at stake. It's only right, to settle their scores. Perhaps, in time, the Heat and their fans will harbor similar hostility for other squads in their conference. After all, the ill will toward Indiana festered in a relatively short period (two competitive series plus a regular season), and the Pacers only became the primary adversary because others like the Celtics and Bulls receded due to age and injury, respectively.
But, for now, the Pacers, flawed and fractured, remain the best bet for a compelling Eastern Conference championship series. Heat fans won't cheer their survival, but they'll ultimately relish the opportunity to boo them later.
2. Greg Oden is still 7 feet tall, and yet he seems to be shrinking.
That's largely because we've seen him sitting so often over the past several weeks. He's played just one game since March 26, when he struggled against Roy Hibbert, then was sidelined with back spasms and a stomach flu.
But his relevance has also been hit by what's happened around the NBA. There's diminished interest about his readiness to contribute in the postseason, because some of his anticipated adversaries are already, or headed, out of the playoff picture.
Hibbert? We'll see on Saturday, though his confidence may be irreparably shattered even if the Pacers survive Game 7 against Atlanta.
Joakim Noah, whom Oden faced in the 2007 NCAA championship game—and twice with mixed success this season?
Injured early in the season. And even if the Nets advance, it's not clear Oden will get time against the Nets' current interchangeable power forwards masquerading as centers; he didn't play a minute in any of the four regular-season meetings with Brooklyn.
Nor did Oden play a minute against Toronto, with three of the four meetings occurring before his season debut. Oden did play once (for eight minutes) against Washington. And maybe he'll get a look against Jonas Valanciunas or Marcin Gortat—though, after Erik Spoelstra didn't use him at all against Al Jefferson, that's hardly a guarantee.
And what about a potential NBA Finals against the West?
Well, that needs to settle out. Still, it's hard to envision Oden's style working against Oklahoma City, unless he started against Kendrick Perkins. The Clippers' DeAndre Jordan? Probably too quick. Same for Portland's Robin Lopez, though that would allow Chris Bosh to chase LaMarcus Aldridge. Oden did play one game against Memphis (12 minutes) and Houston (13 minutes), and Spoelstra could spring him on Marc Gasol or Dwight Howard for a spell. What if it's Golden State? Andrew Bogut, with whom Oden might bang, is out for the playoffs, and the Warriors have largely turned to small ball.
Simply, Oden can't seem to catch a break, as if that's anything new.
Prior to Game 4 in Charlotte he spoke to Bleacher Report about trying to stay ready, by running on the treadmill and trying to get anything he can out of practice. While he hadn't played in four years prior to this January, he had grown accustomed to being a key piece—and often the central star—of teams whenever he was reasonably healthy. He described this experience as "very different."
And difficult, in terms of the adjustment.
"Very, very," Oden said. "Just trying to keep it together. I got to stay ready. It's playoff time, it's the time to make sure, when my number is called, I'm ready."
Did he see enough from himself during the season to feel good about where his game can go?
"Yeah, it will just be something I have to figure out," Oden said. "That would be something that would come with more playing time. As of now, I know what I can do to help this team, and know what his role is. Another situation, it would be kind of tough to really think about that."
Though, at this point, you could understand if his mind wandered.
3. LeBron James may have missed the mark.
In February, Bleacher Report asked the four-time MVP when the public pressure to win a championship would shift from him to his friend, Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant.
"When I retire," James replied at the time. "When I retire. They're still talking about, am I going to win a third? You know ..."
James hasn't retired, and no one is any less interested in whether he wins another title. But it's become apparent that the public and press can obsess about more than one superstar at once. That was evident when Durant's local newspaper labeled him as "Mr. Unreliable" after the Thunder fell behind 3-2 against the Memphis Grizzlies in their first-round series.
It brought to mind something else James said in that February interview:
"But I don't know when he's gonna start hearing it. I hope he doesn't. I don't think he should have to go through that. What he's been able to do for that city of Oklahoma City, what he's been able to do for his teammates is amazing. And we'll just see what happens with it. He's going to be in contention every year because of the player that he is, and they've got a great team. And we'll see what happens."
We certainly saw a preview in Thursday's The Oklahoman.
4. Dwyane Wade has done what Russell Westbrook won't.
He's recognized that, in order to win titles, he must step back and allow his star partner to step forward. And he'll probably never get the proper recognition he deserves for significantly tweaking his game, learning to play off the ball and pick his spots, so that he and LeBron James could be more effective together.
Generally, they have been.
But they slipped statistically as a duo this season, posting a plus-7.0 net rating compared with plus-15.4 in 2012-13, according to the NBA's official stats site, and that downward trend continued in the first-round sweep of Charlotte. In the 102 minutes the star duo was on the court, the Heat posted a net rating of minus-1.7. And their plus-minus number was flat.
That's a small sample size, and it must be taken in the context of the starting lineup's struggles as a whole against the Bobcats. Wade and Chris Bosh had a net rating of minus-7.1, James and Bosh were a minus-2.0, while Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem were a minus-16.5 and Bosh and Haslem were a minus-16.1.
The Heat posted their best advanced metrics when James played with three or four subs, while Wade sat. That didn't bite the Heat against the Bobcats. There's no doubt, though, that as opponents roll out better reserves in the rounds to come, Wade and James need to get rolling.
5. Chris Andersen doesn't expect others to match his energy.
"You can't reproduce Birdman," Andersen said.
You can rename him, however.
During the Charlotte series, Andersen revealed a new nickname.
"Zilla," he demanded. "Zilla."
As in Birdzilla.
"If Bird wants to get called by Birdzilla, then I ain't fighting him," LeBron James said.
No, because the Heat need Andersen too much.
He touched the ball 70 times in four games against Charlotte, according to SportVU, and scored 0.37 of a point per touch. That was tied with LeBron James for best on the Heat in that series. His points per half-court touch (0.85) were tops among all players in the playoffs through Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats made only 12 of 30 attempts at the rim when he was defending it.
Andersen's clowning tends to overshadow his impact on both ends. He's an intelligent, efficient player, who just happens to consider himself a comic book creature.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.