Before I say anything else, in the spirit of Veteran’s Day, I’d like to start this article off with a hearty “thank you” to the overwhelmingly selfless men and women, both past and present, of the United States military. If it were not for the battles you guys have fought, who knows if us Bleacher Report writers who voice our opinions about everything would even have such a luxury?
That said, let’s now segue from the boys literally in the line of fire, our soldiers, to my boys who will figuratively be in it from now until 2014 or whenever they play their last game together, my hometown Miami Heat.
Growing up in Miami, I’ve been attending Heat games since shortly after we drafted Rony Seikaly, a 6'11" center out of Syracuse, with the ninth overall pick of our inaugural 1988 season. My attendances usually bring good luck. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say I have an attendance record that hovers somewhere around the 75-25 region, including an awesome 9-1 outing last year. However, in every era of our basketball existence, there’s always been one entity who could almost flawlessly undo my awesome juju.
In the early days, that entity was “His Airness.” As a child, I remember attending Game 3 of the first round of the 1992 playoffs with my mom, aunt, uncle and cousin. We sat in the nose-bleed section of the old Miami Arena “with the real fans” and watched M.J. score 56 points against that aforementioned Lebanese-American and his smaller teammates, who for all intents and purposes were Miami’s blueprint of a “big three.” And sorry, Brian Shaw, but I’m obviously referring to Steve Smith, Glen Rice and Grant Long here.
In the end, we only lost that game by five measly points, but since it eliminated my hometown from its very first playoff run, that game has always haunted me.
In the more recent years, or “our post-championship era” as I like to call it, my unbeatable entity has become the Boston Celtics. Just last year, coincidentally also during a Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs, my date and I were in attendance as we witnessed D-Wade’s leg cramp up, forcing him to leave a tie game with only 14 seconds left on the clock. We then watched the inevitable happen moments later—Paul Pierce sunk a 21-footer at the buzzer for the 100-98 win. (It’d have ended 101-98, but Paul inadvertently stepped on the line as he let the ball sail.)
Aside from presenting massive resistance to my otherwise-great Heat game attendance record, what do these two games have in common? Click the “next slide” button to find out.
As this slide’s title suggests, they both came together again on Veteran's Day, November 11th. The Boston Celtics beat us for the second time this year by five measly points (sound familiar?), as one man led the charge (sound familiar?). In the last game’s case, that man was the one who lets balls loose from three-point land, always supplying just enough “airness” for them to swoosh into the net. In case you couldn’t figure it out, that man was Ray Allen with his 35-point outing.
Ray must’ve been watching Jordan videos yesterday, too, because I swear he stuck his tongue out as he shot some of those sniper shots. For Ray to shoot a nearly perfect seven of nine from behind the arc, not to mention Shaq hitting three of five from the free-throw line (has he ever been that accurate before?), you know my good juju just had to be feeling a bit overwhelmed out there, which probably explains what happened next…
When the game ended, some annoying kid in a Rajon Rondo jersey—who really couldn’t have been all that much older than I was when I was running around town in my Bimbo Coles jersey a decade and a half ago—decided to poke at the frustrated hearts of Miami Heat fans all over the 113 section of the AmericanAirlines Arena.
When the media has overhyped your team to the point where the rest of the nation sees you as public enemy No. 1 because of what they claim you could become (“the best team ever,” “even greater than the ’96 Bulls” and “an almost definite lock to win the East”), you really feel you have something to prove.
Needless to say, a 5-4 start just won’t suffice in proving what we now feel we need to prove to everybody thanks to the unwanted media pressure. So right now, the true Miami Heat fans are aggravated enough without this teenage jerk running around pushing our buttons. Most people were too downtrodden during the moments after that loss to say anything back to this schmuck, but I’m more the emotional reactor, so I did, telling him to “stop being a jerk, you don’t even live in Boston, for Pete’s sake!”
The kid then thought it’d be funny to start doing a victory dance right next to me, and when I tried to get past him to exit the row, he blocked my exit, not allowing me through. Sure, I could’ve gone the other way, but why go 16 chairs to the left, when you could go only three to the right? I simply shoved him aside softly and started walking past him, when the teenager ran to the arena cop at the entrance of our section and said I’d shoved him “into the row in front.” This was total B.S., but it was enough for the rent-a-cop to detain me for about 10 minutes asking me questions.
Once they finally let me go, I worked my way toward the Downtown “People Mover” that typically connects us pedestrians to the Metrorail station at Government Center, only to have that break down on the last stop before my destination. Yeah, this just was not my night!
Once I’d gotten off the People Mover at Arena/State Plaza, walked the rest of the way over to the Government Center and hopped onto the Metrorail, I came to find out that that transportation train was also stuck. It is at this point where a drunken hobo-turned-temporary Celtics fan decided to waltz past our door, look into the halted cart and yell, “Your ‘Big Three’ are pathetic! They couldn’t win $#!+! You guys are so bad, you ain’t going nowhere! Boston is king, just deal with it, mother[bleep]ers!”
I’d already had my unnecessary run in with the law this night, so this time, I counseled myself: “Self, he’s drunk and homeless, and probably has nothing better to do anyway, so just leave this one be!” I did just that. But once the Metrorail started rolling along again, during that long ride home, I started thinking about what he’d said.
Are we really all that overrated? I can argue “yes” and I can argue “no,” but we really won’t know the correct answer until May. Nevertheless, if you want to see me do both, you can flip on over to the next two slides.
This is a team that some so-called experts claimed would challenge the Bulls’ record of 72 wins. Jeff Van Gundy took it one further, saying we’d definitely beat that. As if that weren’t already enough pressure, he also threw in that we’d best the 1971-1972 Lakers’ “33 consecutive wins” record.
I told everybody then that he was crazy, but secretly hoped he was right because Miami as a whole rarely ever gives us championship-caliber teams. And even when they do, those teams usually get there as the “wild card” who has to come back from a 3-1 NLCS deficit (Florida Marlins, 2003), a one-loss college football team that basically needs to be gifted its BCS Championship Game berth (Florida Gators, 2007) or an aging squad that needs to overcome an 0-2 start in the best-of-seven NBA Finals (Miami Heat, 2006).
Never have we had the luxury of being like the Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers, an almost shoe-in for the playoffs any year, let alone every year. We’ve always been more the come-from-behind-in-the-third, score-the-winning-shot-at-the-very-last-second squad. And sure, when you win it that way, it’s a lot more impressive and celebration-worthy, but constantly having to win that way does nothing but drive a fan off the deep end. We thought and hoped maybe this year would be different, but now we ain’t so sure.
Factor in the media’s unyielding pressure, with other NBA fans’ utter hatred and the fact that we’ve lost four of our first nine games, and well, I think “overrated” might seem like the understatement of the year. Do a Jeff Van Gundy (“LeBron won 66 games without Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, so I don’t think it’d be a stretch for him to win just six more with them”) and add to that laundry list of overrating with some analytical breakdown, and you’ve got a sure-fire “yes” to your question.
In this case, that analytical breakdown would be something such as this one: The four teams (Miami beat the Nets twice, so they’ve only bested four teams, not five) the Heat have beaten are a combined 12-20 and, so far, they’re only 1-3 against playoff-caliber teams (the three teams that have beaten the Heat are the Celtics twice, the Hornets and the Jazz).
However, I can also tell you that no, there’s no way in heck that we’re overrated, and here’s why…
Considering Dwyane Wade only played three minutes of the preseason due to injuries, my hometown team's still only played nine games together, so they're still learning one another, unlike all these other heavyweights that know each other very well. We’ll be getting better and better with every possession.
The guy I expect will play the majority of his minutes at point guard has been out for all nine of those games and won’t be back until Christmas day. When Mike Miller’s thumb heals and he rejoins our roster, we will be at least 10 times better. Carlos Arroyo will no longer be given as much time to mess up our games with his horrendous defense, unnecessary “Hail Mary” shots that never go in or even his inability to stretch the floor.
Rumored three-point shooter Eddie House, who since the start of this season has been ice cold, will also no longer be given too many chances to eff us up with his constant three-point toss-ups that he doesn’t even take the time to aim, of which two could’ve already tied and/or won us games we ended up losing (Hornets and Jazz).
We lost both those games by a combined five points. I doubt we would have lost them with Mike Miller, since he never would have shot 2-for-17 as Eddie House did against New Orleans (and this includes 0-for-7 from the three-point line) in a single game, and if he did, he’d surely know better than to shoot the game’s three-point buzzer beater.
In just our third game together, we pounded the Orlando Magic into oblivion, and let’s not forget that they’re the defending three-time Southeast Division Champs or that they currently possess the second best record in the Eastern Conference. We beat them 96-70, by 26 points. That undeniably awesome squad got defeated by a team that, up to then, had only played two whole games together. If we can do that to them now, imagine what we can do to them when it really counts—in the 2010-11 playoffs.
That game against the Jazz should not have been a loss. At one point in the second half, we were well on our way to beating them, up by 22 points. Then, when Spoelstra decided to rest the “Big Three,” that’s when the Jazz made the majority of their comeback. Coach just took way too long to get them out there, but then again, who would guess Paul Millsap would blow up for 3-of-3 three-point shooting and 46 overall points? Nobody saw that coming!
Mix that in with the fact that we were still up by eight entering the final minute, and you could clearly see why our boys were so lax out there, thinking the game was over. Had they just played a little harder than not at all and laid down the gauntlet on defense, as they’ve been known to do all year—up until that last game, the Heat were the number one team in the league in the "points allowed" category—they would have won that game easily.
Instead, they went into overtime, where the “Paul Millsap Show” tore them apart, eeking out the Jazz's second of three come-from-behind victories of the early 2010-11 season. (They also came from behind on the Clippers before us and the Magic after us.)
Disregarding the revelation in Exhibit D that we were playing as if we’d already beaten the Jazz and that’s the only reason why we lost that game, we’ve still only lost to them (Utah Jazz), the last undefeated team in the league this season (New Orleans Hornets) and twice to the reigning Eastern Conference champions (Boston Celtics), all of whom are definite playoff candidates, with their combined 19-5 record.
Those weren’t exactly pushover teams we lost to, and we lost all four of them by a combined 18 points, 13 of which came from the squad that was just shy of winning it all last year. No team has double-digit beaten us yet, so all four games could've gone our way if a few things had been slightly tweaked (e.g. if we'd gotten off to faster starts, sunk more of our free throws, etc.). And again, we’ve still only played a paltry nine games together, so we'll continue getting better and better with every possession.
Despite the Utah loss, we really woke up in that game. Wade scored 39 points, LeBron James threw up a triple-double (20 pts., 14 asts., 11 rbs.) and Chris Bosh got a bit aggressive for the first time all season, almost scoring a double-double by adding 17 points and nine rebounds. And that was the game before last, so we're already starting to show some signs of what we can be.
The Heat seriously only have a few holes to plug. Instead of having two centers, one that can shot block (Joel Anthony) and one that can sink 18-foot baskets (Zydrunas Ilgauskas), they need to look at somebody in free agency that can maybe do both. Someone like, say, Erick Dampier. If they pick him up, that’s already one hole patched up.
Point guard is their other major weakness, since we have no true point guards on our roster, and the people pretending to be are not even equipped to tie the Big Three’s shoelaces, let alone play alongside them. I heard a trade rumor of Mario Chalmers and $3 million for Daniel “Boobie” Gibson. Although I doubt the Cavs will want to help us out anymore than they already have with LBJ and Big Z, if Riley can somehow manage to pull this trade off, I’d be totally on board. That’d help the team a lot until Mike Miller can rejoin the roster on December 25th.
The third other major weakness we have is Coach Spoelstra, who sits his guys at the most awkward of times, takes too long to reinsert them when necessary and focuses so much on defense that his offensive weapons like Eddie House can’t practice enough offense to be useful when the game’s on the line.
Point guards with high assist numbers are eating us alive right now, but considering that Coach Spo’s one major strong point is his defensive scheming, give us a few more games and we’ll figure that one out, too.
Remember, the 2005-06 Championship Heat started off with an 11-10 record, before they switched coaches (Stan Van Gundy to Pat Riley) and proceeded to win it all. So far, we're on that same exact road because I don't think Riley will let Spoelstra continue coaching if he gets this squad to the same mediocre start that Stan had gotten them to that year, and I can guaran-darn-tee you that if Riley takes over as coach again, this team is certainly headed to the promised land. Furthermore, if his televised Veteran's Day note taking is any indication, Riles may already be considering that option.
The next 22 games on our schedule feature a slew of opponents far easier than the first nine. The only real threats in there might be Phoenix, Dallas, Orlando (if they can recover from the thrashing we laid on them the first time around) and the Hornets (if they can keep up their hot streak). The rest? I suppose Atlanta and Milwaukee could possibly surprise us, but I wouldn't bet on it.
So yes, despite their awful 5-4 start, if my boys can keep their heads up, there’s still a very good chance that they’ll arrive at the Christmas game where Mike Miller’ll rejoin the cast with a pretty solid win-loss record of 25-6, 24-7 or something along those lines. If we can do that, all of our early season woes will be wiped away, and it’ll all be gravy.
Despite the fact that I can and did make a case for my boys being overrated earlier in this article, there’s also still a very good chance that maybe we’re not. Like I said at the onset of this slide show, although we may have an idea of where we stand in the rankings by Christmas time, the season won’t truly be over until May. From now to then, anything can happen, as previous Florida teams have already shown. Don’t count us out yet, world!
Remember, seasons are won in the playoffs, not in the regular season. Right now, our only two jobs are to hold down the fort enough to get to that stage of the season and to continue getting better, both of which we’re currently doing despite the seemingly awful start.
My Heat may be down right now, but this team no longer consists of Wang Zhizhi, Malik Allen, Rafer Alston and other such misfits as it once did. Rather, it consists of three of last year’s top 10 point getters in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, so anything’s still possible.
Hate us all you want, but seriously, no NBA season’s ever been decided in just nine games, not even the 1996 Bulls’ season. Do I think we’re better than that squad? As even Phil Jackson, that team's coach, admitted, maybe we will be in a few years, but right now, absolutely not. However, we ain’t exactly slouches either—we’re former MVPs, former Olympians, former scoring champs, etc. We’re only still treading the rough waters we will eventually try to surf.
Right now, the Heat may not be on, but it will be soon enough!