Thursday, March 3, 2011

Heat Failure

So tonight in Miami, the Heat got off to a big early lead against the visiting Magic. With Dwyane Wade and LeBron James outscoring the visitors by their own damn selves, it looked like the paper tigers would finally have an easy win over a reasonable quality opponent... and then the game kept going, and things changed, as they do.

In the third quarter, Wade stopped making everything, and started missing from the free throw line -- a subtle but important problem, especially in close games. Then the Magic's Jason Richardson got loose and hot from behind the arc, and just like that, it was a tie game with eight minutes to go... and it just kept going, eventually going from a 24-point lead to a fourth quarter deficit, courtesy of a 18-0 run for the Magic.

And sure, the road team was crazy hot from 3-point range, but when you employ people like Mike Bibby and Mike Miller, you aren't exactly closing out on the shooters with alacrity. It lead to Reggie Miller cackling with approval -- you get the feeling that no one outside of Miami wants to see anything but continual humiliation for this team, and that's fine and all, but I'd still rather see the Celtics and Lakers suffer -- and the boos raining down, and Heat president Pat Riley looking Corleone-esque at courtside. It got close again late, but the Magic are good at shooting free throws, and after a couple of missed threes in the final seconds, the road team left with one of those wins that felt highly indicative of what will happen in a playoff.

That's because while the Heat have good defensive numbers, it doesn't really show up when it matters. They blow leads all the time, over-commit on defense and leave shooters open, go into Hero Mode rather than trust their teammates, miss free throws in the clutch, can't stop dribble penetration from plus point guards... and, well, no one's scared of these guys. No one should be, unless they are a team that can't control the ball in transition; those teams, the Heat overwhelm, which is why they roll the bottom-feeders. But after nearly 60 games of time together, they should be more than this. A lot more. (Oh, and any bad thing you want to say about Chris Bosh, feel free.)

Will Riley pull the trigger and end the Erik Spoelstra era? You'd have to think he's getting tempted by now, with the East seemingly open for the taking, and LeBron James really getting to the point in his career where the doubts about a championship are starting to outweigh the confidence. A year ago, you'd have to think that James was closer to a ring in Cleveland, since his Cavs team looked better than this, and certainly more confident in crunch time. And yet, since they still employ the best player in the game, and two of the best ten... you still have to watch them, since they are just that big of a tease. But nothing more. Yet again.

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