The only answers are more questions. If that makes no sense, good. It’s exactly the amount of sense the Miami Heat make now that they’re on the cusp of a second unforgivable collapse to an inferior opponent in the NBA playoffs. Why haven’t the Heat put the Celtics away yet? How in the world does LeBron James seem to disappear in a game where he put up a 30-12 line? Why doesn’t he impose his will to close out these games? Are the players to blame? Is Erik Spoelstra ? Pat Riley? Should they really blow it all up and trade Chris Bosh and/or Dwyane Wade next year? These are just a few of thousand questions I’ve asked myself over the last week or so since the Heat managed to turn a dominant 2-0 series lead into a stunning 3-2 deficit.
This all bothers me because the Miami Heat should be important. Historically, the Heat should mark a turning point in sports history whereby we could draw a line of demarcation and tell those who come after us that this was the moment it all changed. Never before had three individuals with such a combination of talents and skills so willingly flipped “the model” on its head. They eschewed the conventional wisdom that a GM or franchise alone should have the power to create a team and instead went about accomplishing it themselves. This made us uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is a good thing.
Their identity could have been that of the outliers of the NBA or, even better, the villains. Instead what has evolved is some sort of bizarre identity that is defined only by the fact that it has no identity at all. The Heat can’t seem to figure out what exactly they want to be and, as a result, struggle when they get into the late stages of the NBA playoffs when teams seem intent on exposing this. Veterans especially (think: Garnett & Pierce this year or Marion & Stevenson last year) seem to revel in the opportunity of uncovering the fallacy during live broadcasts. At times they’re a great defensive team, at times they’re breath-taking on the fast break, most times they just fail to live up to expectations
This revelation has its roots in the Heat’s best player, LeBron James. Since the disaster that was “The Decision” James seems intent on going into full on Tiger Woods/Michael Jordan mode. He basically refuses to take a stance on anything publicly (Trayvon Martin shooting aside) and instead speaks in a well-rehearsed language of saying lots of things without saying anything it all. While successful at earning money through endorsements, it fails to endear him to any one group of people. This would not be a problem if he was winning championships. As you’ve noticed though, LeBron James and this current version of the Heat don’t have any championships. The result is a disaster in that James comes across as trying to be too many things to too many groups of people.
The great misconception of this Miami Heat experiment is that America hates villains. America does not hate villains. In fact, America loves villains. As an example, I am a huge fan of late 1990s professional wrestling. I was a WCW guy and that period is almost entirely known for the great rivalry of the WCW vs. the NWO. The huge success of that era was predicated on Hulk Hogan’s turning heel into the greatest villain the sport had ever seen. And you’re never going to believe this, but people loved it!
I worshipped the sport, tuning in religiously every week as the good guys battled to save wrestling from Hogan and his gang of misfits. Hogan embraced the new identity of Hollywood Hogan and the sport flourished. There are more examples of this in sports history: the Miami Hurricanes, the Raiders, the Bad Boy Pistons. There most certainly exists a place in America’s heart for the Heat to exist as villains, should they so choose.
There is nothing that this country enjoys more than laughing at the failures of hypocrites though. By choosing to go to Miami and holding what closely resembled a championship trophy celebration in which he suggested that the Heat would win eight titles, LeBron came across to many as though he believed that the titles were already won. The implication was that the hard work was done with now that the big three finally came together. This all would be fine, again, if the Heat had won a title last year.
Instead the Heat failed to win a title and, in the biggest atrocity of all, failed to embrace a team identity. They come across instead as whiny wastes of talent who will never fully live up to their potential. Once Rajon Rondo made us all aware of the Heat’s tendency to complain to the official’s in transition, Americans had all the ammunition they ever needed to tie what they were thinking in their heads to what was actually happening on the television.
If we must look at facts to attempt to explain the Miami Heat, they do actually exist. In a sports world dominated by theories and opinions though, this isn’t very popular though. What’s really going on right now, in a purely basketball sense, is that the Heat inexplicably lost their discipline. They’re failing to take care of the basketball which couldn’t come at a worse time because the Celtics improbably morphed into a team that doesn’t turn the ball over at all. The Heat have also been noticeably lazy on their defensive rotations in the last three game (especially 3 and 4). And finally, they really are griping to the officials during transition opportunities for the Celtics that is allowing Boston to convert easy baskets. In games that are decided by such close margins, all of these mistakes add up.
For the Heat to avoid a second consecutive playoff collapse they’re going to have to do all the little things better, apologies for the cliche. They can’t afford lazy passes, they cannot be a second late on defensive switches, and they have to convert their free throws. In all seriousness, LeBron and Wade missed four free throws in game five. And guess how many points the game was eventually decided by? You guessed it, four points. Avoiding the little mistakes yields great dividends in the final box score.
So please, don’t waste time attempting to surmise once and for all whether LeBron James really has it in him to close out a game like Michael Jordan. It’s a ludicrous and fruitless endeavor that will never result in satisfaction. Look at the basketball itself. More than anything, the Heat might just be unlucky. That three point attempt Paul Pierce converted in LeBron James’ face at the end of game five was one of the worst shot attempts of the whole playoffs. It’s incredibly inefficient from a statistical standpoint, but for whatever reason he made it. You can’t criticize a team for being unlucky.
Instead, criticize this team for it’s failure to craft an identity and not living up to their own expectations