Luck isn't something the Miami Heat want associated with their repeated NBA Finals runs, successive championships and potential dynasty.
For these Heat, seekers of history and iced-out fingers, luck isn't good fortune. It isn't a godsend. It's an omnipresent bombshell that, however baseless or substantiated, can be terminated with a pure, incorruptible, luckless triumph over the San Antonio Spurs.
Is it fair to look at the Heat's remarkable run as some sort of serendipitous endeavor they stumbled into by chance?
Of course not.
Then again, little about the way Miami is perceived can be called fair—mostly because of LeBron James.
When he left Cleveland, a morbidly large target was placed upon his back. Two titles and four Finals appearances later, it remains there—slightly smaller but still prominently displayed (see: Crampgate).
The rest of the Heat are examined under that same lightning rod by extension. They are James' team, so their collective distinctions are subject to conditional, context-charged, purpose-polluted scrutiny.
That includes their 2013 title run.
Seconds away from defeat and their second Finals loss in three years, the Heat defied logic in Game 6 against the Spurs. Trailing by three, James caromed a long trey off the rim. For a split second, it looked like the game was over. The Spurs would win.
But Chris Bosh beat out a combination of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili for the offensive rebound. He deferred to Ray Allen, who drilled a right corner three to tie the game and force overtime, where the Heat would win and live to see a series-deciding Game 7.
In that Game 7, the Heat would prevail, capitalizing on San Antonio's missed opportunities and securing their second consecutive title.
"We feel slighted," James told ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst about last season's championship being lucky ahead of this year's Finals. "I can't sit here and lie to you, we do."
This isn't isolated analysis. Everything and anything the Heat have accomplished during the Big Three era is a double-edged sword. Their accolades are impressive but strapped to external factors that have left their dynastic path relatively smooth and uncomplicated.
Playing in the Eastern Conference is a joke—child's play to a star-rific Heat team. They've haven't had to go through a Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls contingent since 2011 and have faced only intermittent tests from the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers.
En route to their first championship, the Heat dismantled an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that simply wasn't ready for the Finals stage. As Reggie Evans would be quick to point out, they won during a lockout-truncated campaign.
"It doesn't prove nothing," Evans told the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy in January 2013. "That was a lockout season."
Then there's last year and the second straight title the Heat shouldn't have won.
Two championships, each of which—fair or not—can be seen as an asterisk-loaded accomplishment.
Less Than Ideal Matchup
If only there were a way for the Heat to strip discussions of this championship-devitalizing angle.
Oh wait, there is: by beating the Spurs.
By trouncing the Spurs.
These aren't the Finals-raw 2011-12 Thunder. These aren't the 2012-13 Rose-less Bulls. These aren't the stumbling, bumbling and fumbling 2013-14 Indiana Pacers. These are the 2013-14 Spurs, holders of the NBA's best regular-season record and back-to-back Western Conference titles.
Dispatching them quickly—quicker than many could have imagined—sends a message that cannot be ignored nor devalued.
The Spurs are a great basketball team, a dynasty in their own right and one of the few worthy adversaries Miami has been pitted against.
There is no way to downplay beating them this time around. Not unless the Heat somehow overcome a 17-point deficit in the final 30 seconds of Game 7. Luck has already been removed from this series.
For the Heat, anyway.
If anything, it has been against them. From the air conditioning debacle to James' cramps in Game 1, the circumstances under which the Heat began this year's Finals have been less than ideal, as Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick explained:
The Heat publicly downplayed any trouble the temperature gave them, at least on the court. They were uncomfortable in the steamy locker room, with [Dwyane] Wade rolling an ice bag on his head, Allen starting to sweat again right after taking a shower, Bosh promising to walk to the hotel if the team bus wasn't cool enough, and several players complaining about the media crowd.
A case can be made that it was the Spurs who were lucky in Game 1. James played just over 30 seconds in the final seven-and-a-half minutes. The Spurs went on a 26-9 run during that time. Erase that stretch from the books, and the Heat are up 86-84.
What happens if James is James for the latter part of that fourth quarter? Do the Heat win? Maybe, maybe not. That we can pose such a question, though, attests to the difficulty of Miami's current task.
Difficult, in this case, is better.
No More Asterisks
Whitewashing the Heat's past championships is a crude, inelegant process. However, that's the nature of their beast.
High-profile superteams are going to receive this criticism. Accepting their greatness, their reign as a dynasty and indomitable power, will be delayed as long as possible. It comes with the territory.
Success breeds envy and, more importantly, hatred. The Heat are successful, so they are hated. And because they're in the spotlight, because they were forged via free agency, there will always be those who search for loopholes and technicalities that discredit what they've done.
Would beating the Spurs remove luck from the Heat's recipe for success?
Winning this year would be something no one and no technicality can vilify or take away from them.
The Heat don't even have to beat the Spurs in five or six games. Doing so would send a stronger, more potent message, but they can sill win in seven without being lucky.
Dynasties aren't built on luck or whims or happenstances or random sequences of improbably favorable events. They are symbolic of skill—legitimate, untarnished talent.
They validate everything a team—in this case, the Heat—represents.
A victory in Game 3, after squeaking past the Spurs on their own turf in Game 2, would put the Heat two victories away from another title and incidental vindication. This series could end in five games from there. It could end in six or seven. The time it takes them to win doesn't really matter.
Actually winning does.
They can win this one too—sans the likelihood that their preeminence is seen as anything other than what it truly is: incredibly deserved, not lucky.