NBA Preview: Can Anyone Beat the Heat?
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010
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Only 14 percent of those surveyed regarded him positively, while 39 percent viewed him negatively. Both his decision and the subsequent hullabaloo in Florida were seen as selfish. That said, Jordan had an all-time top-50 player in Scottie Pippen for all six of his championships. James has been without a top-50 player for his seven professional years, and, unbelievably, has never played with anyone who was even voted first-, second- or third-team All-NBA.
Aside from James’s reputation, legacy concerns loom. Does his tattoo proclaiming “King James” indicate that the kingdom is nevermore now that he has left Ohio, or has his gaze always been set on the “Kingdom of All-Time,” a lofty space now occupied by Jordan? Is James’s current move to a stacked squad tantamount to his ceding that all-time position to Jordan, and that henceforth he will play a more subordinate role to win a title? Is it appropriate to laud the trio’s selflessness for accepting less money to make their salaries fit under the cap? After all, winning NBA titles brings money, endorsements and international branding, so where’s the altruism?
Before we assess the temperature of the 2010-2011 Heat and compare them with the field, there is this other matter of comportment that James hasn’t been called out on. How is it that less than two minutes after playing inconsistent and at times embarrassing basketball against the Boston Celtics, and getting ousted in six games, James is hugging Garnet, Pierce, and Allen—and practically everyone in a Boston uniform, but no one in his own—and palling around with Jay Z? When Jordan lost a crushing game, part of him died. The shoulders sunk, he dragged to the tunnel, not picking his head up, not seeking a consoling hand. He had to go die, alone, before he could emerge to fight again. “There are just winning and misery,” Pat Riley once said, and the Original Trinity of Johnson, Larry Bird and Jordan knew it.
Let’s look at the favored squads for a much anticipated season.
One line of thinking says the outcome of the NBA’s 65th season is a fait accompli. “I agree with a couple of people who have called me and said cancel the season,” says Jeff Van Gundy. “In LeBron they have a back-to-back MVP teamed with a top-three player in Wade, and then Bosh. It’s an incredible team. Miami has also done enough to complement these guys. They have been able to keep Udonis Haslem, and sign Mike Miller and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.”
Yes, contrary to popular opinion, Miami will not have to play three on five. Miller can hit threes and will have more open looks than a birder. Even Bosh, likely a third option on offense, should have more open real estate than a lemonade stand in the Sahara. Carlos Arroyo is the leading contender over Mario Chalmers at point guard. Both can hit the three. “Miami may have a problem with [the Magic’s center] Dwight Howard, but not as much of a problem as Orlando will have guarding their wing players James and Wade,” Van Gundy surmises.
Are Boston and Los Angeles the only squads that can muster some semblance of a defense against James and Wade? “It will come down to the offensive philosophy that Miami puts in place,” says Hubie Brown, former coach, Hall of Famer, and ESPN basketball analyst. “Defenses will double-team them off the dribble—you have to bring the double team and once it comes and the pass is made, they can split the double team. The pressure is to stop the dribbler from splitting the double team. Most teams can rotate to one or two passers. But over 48 minutes most teams make the first rotations but don’t make the second rotation. Will the Miami spot shooter hit a high percentage of threes? We have no idea of the offensive philosophy and the types of continuities that Miami will run.”
To call Miami rich in talent is damning them with faint praise. Last season Haslem posted 21 double-doubles, more than any other bench player in the league. And Bosh averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds per game. “Some people say that James needs to become Magic Johnson,” says Van Gundy. “But he’s already become that. All three have IQs and have an unselfish nature. There will be a stat decline for them, and the win total will skyrocket. They won’t play as many minutes. If they come out to dominate and they have that mindset, they will crush some people along the way.”
We will see the occasional 115-75 routs. Beyond that, Van Gundy thinks the Heat can leave a mark on history. “If they win under 70 games, it’s because they got injured or they didn’t play all out. They have a chance to go after the 33-game winning streak [set by Los Angeles during the 1971-72 season] and the 72-10 mark [set by Chicago in 1996]. It depends if going down as an all-time team matters to them. To me, wining an NBA Championship will not be a great accomplishment; it’s expected. It’s more impressive to break or challenge long-standing records and put an historical stamp on the season. They could finish 40-1 at home. I don’t know them well enough to know what type of demeanor they will have as far a being an all-time great team.”
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