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NBA Preview: Can Anyone Beat the Heat?

Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010

This isn’t the year to trot out the typical banal sports clichés heard at the start of every season: “All things are new on opening day” or “A load of teams could compete for this year’s title.” Miami became the chief contender on July 8. That was the day LeBron James made The Decision, his much-hyped choice to turn free agent with the Heat.

The move created the daunting Miami Thrice, aligning James with standouts Miami guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh, who came aboard from Toronto. James’s avowed intention was to finally win, and his team is expected to do just that.

At least that’s the way to bet. Las Vegas odds-makers have the South Beach Fab Three—“pre-Fab Three” might be more apropos—as 7-to-5 favorites. It makes sense: who has their combination of talent and youth?

Jeff Van Gundy, the ABC analyst and former coach, thinks that their talent makes them the overwhelming favorite.

“It was a monumental summer,” he says, “the greatest summer for any team since the Lakers’ O’Neal signing [in 1996] and the Jabbar trade [to Los Angeles from Milwaukee in 1975].”

But is the season over before it’s started? For the bulk of the teams that make up the NBA, it probably is. Even if we are generous with our predictions no more than six other teams have a reasonable chance at a title. But a small core of teams—the Lakers, the Celtics and the Magic—may end up deflating James’s dreams of glory.

Regardless of how this intriguing campaign plays out, it is not a year for floating false hopes. ‘Tis not the season to wonder how many wins New Jersey can add to last year’s 12. Nor will we be preoccupied with whether the Bucks can celebrate the 40th anniversary of their last title with a foray deep into the play-offs.

Or whether the Knicks can win for the first time since the Nixon administration, or even how the Cavaliers might fair with Byron Scott, but without James. Eight teams in the West won 50 or more games last year—mostly because nine teams won fewer than 50 games—and the league gained no parity this summer.

At the start, a truckload of public-relations issues emerge. Eschewing the humble approach, Heat guard Wade has proclaimed that he, Bosh, and James are “arguably the best trio in league history.” Others might prefer “arguably the best deck ever stacked.” Still others might school the 28-year-old on yesteryear trios of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor or, if a recent vintage is more to his young taste, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

What does Michael Jordan think of James’s unprecedented Decision and the subsequent celebration in South Beach? “I would never have called up Larry and called up Magic and said, ‘Let’s get together and play on one team,’ ” Jordan asserts. “In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.” Apparently the nation sees it that way, too. Following The Decision—which aired on July 8 in an hour that made continental drift appear rapid—James’s Q-rating plummeted.


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