Let me begin by stating my bias: I love rooting against the Miami Heat. As soon as LeBron announced he intended to bring his talents to South Beach, I jumped on the anti-Heat bandwagon. Needless to say, I found last night's 88-80 loss to the Boston Celtics to be an enjoyable experience.
As a realist, however, I have to believe that it will be rare experience. Miami has two of the league's best four players. Chris Bosh is a five-time all-star. Aside from the obvious talent, the Heat's roster is full of sharp shooting veterans and hustle players. Did you see how open James Jones and Eddie House were? Just wait until Mike Miller gets back; there should be someone with a wide open three on every possession.
While the talent is clearly in place, the chemistry still needs work. The Heat looked like they just started playing together, which they pretty much did. Their half court offense was atrocious. LeBron James was the only star to play well, scoring 31 on 10-of-21 shooting. Still, by LeBron's standards, it was merely a ho-hum game as he committed eight turnovers and dished only three assists.
The good news for Miami fans is that the chemistry will work itself out. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh chose to play together. They get along off the court and presumably in the locker room. To improve as a team they just need to play together (Wade missing most of the preseason didn't help).
I expect them to be a dominant force come midseason. It doesn't matter if they don't tear through the regular season. The 82-game season is all a prelude to the playoffs. The Heat will be judged on rings, nothing more.
The Boston Celtics played brilliant defense which served to emphasize the Heat's lack of familiarity with each other. The Celtics always seem to be able to dictate the pace and style of the game. I don't think 88-80 games will be common in the Heat's season.
Meanwhile, the Celtics showcased their extraordinary depth. When Kendrick Perkins and Delonte West return, the Celtics may become the deepest team in the league. Perkins will reclaim his starting center spot, which will allow Shaq to join Glen Davis and Jermaine O'Neal of the bench. While both O'Neals are toward the end of their careers, they can still be effective, provided their minutes are kept low.
Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels offer backcourt depth. Daniels played well against Miami, scoring eight points and playing solid defense. If he can stay healthy the Celtics are that much stronger. I doubt I'm the only one cheering for the Celtics and Heat to meet again in the post season.
The biggest disappointment of the new Heat's debut was that they didn't answer the most pressing questions. Mainly, who takes the last shot and who defers to whom? When they made their run, it was a result of LeBron taking over. Dwyane Wade was playing so poorly that there was no decision to be made. It looked a lot like LeBron in Cleveland as he was the only reliable offensive option on the floor.
Obviously, Dwyane Wade will not shoot 4-for-16 often. We still don't know what will happen when both players are feeling it and want the ball. Has Wade ever had a teammate look him in the eye and say, "Just get me the ball"? Has LeBron?
Both players were always the man on their teams. Now, they have to coexist. There is no instruction manual or case study for coach Erik Spoelstra to follow. How often have two star wing players played together in their primes?
Miami played a poor game. It definitely wasn't the debut they hoped for. They are a work in progress. As much as I'd like to see them miss the playoffs, that will not happen. I would be shocked if they were less than a three seed (and falling that far would be surprising).
The Heat will be fine. It will take a little more time than most people expected for them to learn to play together. They probably will not challenge the regular season win record. However, once they get comfortable on the court they are as dangerous as any team in the league.
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