Don't think for even a split second that the Miami Heat are satisfied with winning titles in both 2012 and 2013.
Without a 2014 title to complete their three-peat, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the two-time defending champions will feel quite unfulfilled. But based on their dominance during the first two rounds of the postseason, they don't have much reason to worry.
A sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats has been followed up by a convincing pair of victories against the Brooklyn Nets, and the threat posed by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the veterans who have made a habit out of terrorizing LeBron has been almost completely neutralized.
This type of dominance just isn't something to take lightly.
If it continues—and it looks extremely likely that it will—the rest of the NBA should be quaking in their collective boots.
2-0 is Greater Than 4-0
Feel free to interpret the title of this section in one of two ways.
First, you can view the "2-0" as the Heat's record during their second-round series with the Nets and the "4-0" as Brooklyn's regular-season record in the same matchup.
Much has been made of the Nets' clean sweep of the two-time defending champions during the first four games they played against each other this campaign. Granted, Dwyane Wade was missing for two of the relevant contests, and the Heat weren't entirely motivated to play with the switch flipped all the way on, but four wins in four attempts is still impressive regardless of the opponent.
In fact, it's so impressive that no team has ever managed to bounce back against a squad that so clearly had its number during the regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information:
There have been 25 instances in which a team was swept 4-0 or worse in the regular season and then went on to face that opponent in a best-of-7 series in the postseason. The team that swept the regular-season series went on to win all 25 of those postseason meetings.
Though the sample size isn't abundantly large, it's pretty telling that an 0-fer is present after 25 instances. And this makes 26, but the Heat are looking quite likely to change that zero into a one.
Not only did they pounce on a tired Brooklyn squad during Game 1, emerging with a 21-point victory against a team coming off of a brutal seven-game series with the Toronto Raptors, but they also followed it up with an even more disheartening victory two days later.
Instead of holding Kevin Garnett scoreless ("The Big Ticket" had four points), the suffocating Heat defense kept Deron Williams from producing anything in the scoring column. It was his first goose egg since his rookie season, when he was held scoreless twice but spent a combined 22 minutes on the court during that pair of games.
The result? A 12-point victory that rendered the 4-0 regular-season mark completely irrelevant for Brooklyn. And that's where one more note from ESPN Stats & Information comes into play:
The Heat went 0-4 against the Nets in the regular season, but if they don't seem too concerned, it's because they've been in similar situations before. This will be Miami's 4th playoff meeting in the James-Wade-Bosh era against a team it lost 3 or more times to in the regular season. The Heat won each of the 3 previous series.
Miami went 1-3 against both the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls during the 2010-11 season, then did the same against the C's one year later. And the Heat emerged victorious during the part of the season that matters most in all of those instances.
So far, it appears quite likely they'll do the same.
Even though Joe Johnson told the Associated Press after the game, via ESPN, "This series is far from over," it sure feels as though it is.
But as noted above, this was only one interpretation of the subheading title. The other indicates that the 2-0 start in the second-round series is more impressive than the sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats in Round 1.
And it is.
Charlotte would've been overmatched even with a healthy Al Jefferson, but the version that featured a less-than-100 percent center just didn't even stand a chance against the two-time defending champions. Satisfying and beneficial as a sweep may be, it has to be even more special to knock off a team with four household names in back-to-back contests.
There hasn't even been any drama, as ESPN.com's Michael Wallace explained after Game 2:
Now, the Heat are pulling away at the finish to make sure the Nets don't even get close enough in the final minutes to pose a legitimate threat. James faced more suspense after the game than during it as he waited in the locker room to watch the NFL draft in hopes his marketing client, quarterback Johnny Manziel, would be selected with the 16th overall pick by his beloved Dallas Cowboys.
There's just no other word—synonyms being the exception—that sums up the Heat's postseason run better. Six games and six victories, all of which have been decided without the opponent getting too close.
Quite simply, there isn't another team left in the playoffs playing as well as the Heat have through their first six games.
Take a gander at the offensive and defensive ratings for each of the eight remaining squads, as well as their ranks among all 16 original playoff teams, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com:
|Team||ORtg||Ortg Rank||DRtg||DRtg Rank|
|Los Angeles Clippers||115.1||1||110.9||11|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||109.6||8||105.8||5|
|Portland Trail Blazers||110.7||5||116.2||16|
|San Antonio Spurs||114.1||4||107.5||6|
Sure, the Heat have had the luxury of beating up on the Bobcats for four games before moving on to their next opponents, but they've been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field thus far in the postseason proceedings.
They're outscoring opponents by 13.6 points per 100 possessions while ranking in the top two on both ends of the court.
The San Antonio Spurs are the only other team on the right side of five, and they've outdone the opposition by "only" 6.6 points per 100 possessions, leaving Miami in a class of its own.
But now, just think about the slate of teams that the Heat are scheduled to face.
They're in progress against the Nets, and things haven't exactly gone swimmingly for Brooklyn thus far. A sweep is a real possibility at this point, and the Nets would have to consider themselves lucky if they even pushed Miami to six games.
Next round, the Heat are set to play either the Washington Wizards or Indiana Pacers. Both teams have won with defense thus far, but neither one would be even slight underdogs to the two-time defending champions.
Washington's pick-and-roll offense would have lots of trouble against the Heat's trapping schemes (h/t discussions with B/R's Grant Hughes), and it's tough to see such an inexperienced team faring well against a veteran-laden squad full of seasoned title-winners. And the Pacers, unless they magically rediscover their early-season form, simply don't boast any type of threat offensively.
Unless something drastic changes in the near future, the Eastern Conference looks like it will be a cakewalk for the Heat. All the while, the winner of the Western Conference will inevitably complete what can only be considered a Pyrrhic victory.
There are too many elite teams playing at a high level, and that lends itself to a grueling gauntlet of tough matchups. Lengthy series, potential injuries and mental exhaustion are all going to hinder any representative during an NBA Finals appearance.
Oh, and Miami is only going to get better.
The defense is finally clicking for Miami, but it's still hard to imagine this is what the offense looks like at full strength. There's just not enough LeBron.
During two games against the Nets, he hasn't had to do that much. The rest of the team is strong enough to do the heavy lifting, leaving the four-time MVP free to assert himself in tougher matchups during later rounds.
James is averaging 22 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game through Game 2, and he's shooting 57.6 percent from the field. His usage rate, per Basketball-Reference.com, is only 28.4 percent, down from 31.6 percent against the Bobcats and 31.0 percent during the regular season.
That's going to go back up. But only when it needs to.
And the team's defense can get even better as well.
"Miami struggled defending the three-point shot in the 2013-14 regular season. However, it would have been reasonable to expect that once playoff time came, and the Heat clamped down on defense, such a problem wouldn't exist to the same extent," wrote Bleacher Report's Sam Richmond after the Game 2 victory.
But as Richmond went on to note, that hasn't happened yet.
In fact, postseason Miami is allowing opponents to shoot 0.6 percent better from beyond the arc than they did during the regular season, and that's coming while they're hoisting up just over one fewer triple per game. Keep in mind that two-thirds of those numbers are coming from matchups against the perimeter-challenged Bobcats.
Who would you take to win the title?
This is about effort. Defending the three-point line, given the length and athleticism employed by Miami, is dictated by being willing to exert that extra energy and contest shots. The Heat, just as they were during the regular season, have largely been a step slow and a tick late with their reactions.
If this changes against an opponent that actually demands constant respect, Miami will look even more likely to get the three-peat.
Not that the Heat have played like anything less than overwhelming favorites, of course.