Thursday, March 17, 2011

Are The Heat Too Unlikeable To Win?

With three and a half minutes left in tonight's nationally televised home game against the Thunder, the Heat were down, 85-78... but they were making headway, and the Thunder were doing that young team on the road shake and waver, where they make you feel like one or two good plays could end them. With the Heat coming off one of their best wins of the year against San Antonio, it wasn't too much to think that the deluge was coming, and that the Heat's superior front-line talent was going to make things go their way down the stretch. And that's when the play of the game, and perhaps the season in microcosm, happened.

Nominal Heat point guard Mike Bibby read a telegraphed pass from Thunder point Russell Westbrook. The best thing that the Heat do is transition hoop, and the ball reached shooting guard Dwyane Wade with a quickness. The Heat's original superstar went straight to the rack, protecting the ball by coming at the basket from the left side, shooting with his left. As he rose near the rim, the Thunder's star Kevin Durant, carrying four fouls, was at the rim to defend. Wade drove to the cup and missed the layup as Durant and trailing power forward Serge Ibaka clearly hit Wade on the shoulder as he rose. The ref, however, just plain missed the call, and Wade reacted badly to it, slamming his fist against the basket support in anger. (Note: Wade generally doesn't freak out over calls, but he also generally gets them.) Durant collected the rebound, and sixth man James Harden eventually hits the open three on a 5-on-4 play to put the Thunder up by ten. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also picked up a technical, and after a 1-for-2 hit, the Thunder led by 11 with 3:11 left. Oklahoma City closed it out from there, winning 96-85.

Now, I'm not certain that things change at all if Durant is whistled for the foul there. It's not as if playing with five fouls is something he's never done before, or that the Heat have been infallible in close and late situations. But with two makes at the line, it's a 5-point game with a loud arena. With the blown call, open transition 3 and tech make, it's 11. That's as big of a swing as you can have in hoop, really.

Now, why didn't Wade get that call? It's not as if the refs habitually deny him trips to the line, after all; the Heat win their championship against the Mavs from nothing but trips to the line. The call was obvious and just plain blown; Durant and Wade are alone without traffic, and when someone with the Heat star's skills in the open court misses like that, there's usually enough surprise from the stripes to give him the whistle, even if it's after the ball stays out. Especially at home, especially to get the game closer, especially in front of the big cameras. The Association's refs do not enjoy that kind of spotlight and attention; they defer to stars on their home court during runs. This has always been true.

Except, well, not in this game. And sure, it's possible that this is just one call and just one night and not indicative of anything greater... except that the Heat routinely blow close games, and are such an object of scorn and derision, and really do seem to bark and bait for every call, especially when you contrast them with the downright adorable Thunder, who had to bring in Kendrick Perkins just to have someone who didn't seem to just be thrilled to be collecting a paycheck for the act of playing pro hoop...

Well, it makes a man wonder. And it's one more reason to not like the Heat's chances at all in the playoffs. File it away for future reference.

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