As a lifelong San Antonio Spurs fan, consider what I'm about to say an exercise in devil's advocacy. To many Spurs fans, saying anything nice about the Heat is tantamount to selling one's soul to that devil. But to fair-minded fans on both sides, it shouldn't be too hard to respect what the other team is doing.
These two teams are among the best we've seen in a long, long time.
As Frank Vogel noted to media during the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami is the Chicago Bulls of our era. It boasts the best player on the planet and a couple of sidekicks with All-Star credentials of their own. The Heat's dynasty may not measure up to Chicago's when all is said and done, but four straight trips to the NBA Finals is a remarkably rare achievement in its own right.
Returning from a 3-1 series deficit would become one of the rarest of all.
No team has ever done that in the Finals, and 31 have tried. They all came up empty.
So the first reason to root for this Heat team is history. The only thing more improbable than stealing Game 6 in the 2013 Finals would be stealing this series altogether. Framed as back-to-back accomplishments, this wouldn't just be a three-peat.
It would easily rank as the most impressive three-peat in league history, fitting for a franchise run by a guy who has the very term "three-peat' trademarked (that guy being Pat Riley, of course).
Such a feat would speak to truly unprecedented resilience and fortitude, the kinds of things we all know LeBron James and Co. have in bunches. It would speak to this club's ability to dig deeper than anyone thought possible.
And it would speak to Miami's dominance in a way that few championships have. You see, they wouldn't just be beating the Western Conference champions. They'd be defeating a true offensive juggernaut, arguably the most successful team of its generation.
And they'd have beaten them at their very best.
The Spurs are rolling right now and making basketball look beautiful in the process. If the Heat are today's Bulls, the Spurs are today's Showtime Lakers. Their ball movement and tempo have drawn loud and persistent praise, and for good reason. Few teams ever reach this level of excellence.
And Miami has a chance to be even better.
The Bulls never faced a team like these Spurs. Even though the Utah Jazz twice made a run in 1997 and 1998, that team wasn't remotely as dangerous as San Antonio. The Spurs are virtually one of a kind, and denying them a title two years in a row would rank among league history's greatest accomplishments.
Doing so after succumbing to a 3-1 series deficit would be nothing short of mind boggling.
But if anyone can do it, it's James and his teammates. His talent, production and versatility are all well-documented. What's less heralded is his will power—his focus, his mental game. James isn't scared away by history, the Spurs or any combination thereof.
If anything, he's just a little more motivated.
Even the most avid Heat hater has to respect that—and maybe even root for it.
James isn't the only one with his head on straight, either. After losing Game 4, Chris Bosh told reporters, "I don't care about odds. Odds are for people that can't do it."
The Heat most certainly can do this. Whether they will remains to be seen, but no one should bet against a group this talented and well-coached, even if that's objectively the smart bet to make. Miami has the resources to take its gameplay to another level, and there's a decent chance it does just that.
CBSSports' Zach Harper explains how it might do so:
If the Heat are going to make history and win this series, it starts and ends with effort. It's not to say the Heat aren't trying in this series, but their anticipation and execution of a defensive game plan has been poor at best throughout the majority of this series. It's the little things such as navigating screens to close out on shooters in the corners, blitzing pick-and-rolls to force them to side instead of allowing the ball handler to turn the corner, and finding ways to turn San Antonio mistakes into momentum-shifters for the Heat.
The good news is that effort is the kind of thing Miami can control. This clearly isn't a series defined by a significant talent disparity. The Spurs may be deeper, but they're outgunned when it comes to star power.
Nor is this a series defined by coaching. Masterful as Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been, Miami's Erik Spoelstra has firmly established himself as one of the best in the business.
The Heat can try harder, and you have to believe they will.
With the series taking on a new level of win-or-go-home urgency, Miami has little choice. We'll either see more energy and aggression now, or endure a summer of hoping the Big Three don't terminate their contracts early.
You don't have to love everything about the Heat to appreciate its excellence in all its dimensions. Some will always see this team as the product of a free-agent coup, an artificially constructed assembly of superstar talent that almost seemed unfair.
But there's so much more to this team than that. It's a team that's won titles thanks to the role-playing likes of guys like Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. For every ring-chasing Ray Allen, there's a blue-collar workhorse like Chris "Birdman" Andersen.
This organization isn't just about glitz and glamor. It's about doing things the right way, playing sound basketball and running a professional operation. In many respects, it's not all that different from the Spurs themselves and the many clichés used to describe them.
It's unfortunate that many of Miami's fans haven't taken the opportunity to cherish the team they've been so fortunate to cheer on. And it's equally tragic that so many Spurs fans have demonized this club in spite of all its virtues.
It doesn't take a devil's advocate to know better. It just takes a real fan of the game, the kind of person who can't help but also be a fan of the Heat.