When Pat Riley engineered one of the greatest offseasons in the history of sports, Miami fans were beyond ecstatic. They rightfully looked at the team put together by Heat management, and salivated at the possibilities.
Throughout the preseason, fans were fed a steady diet of “possibility” as they watched Miami show flashes of brilliance despite the absence of Dwyane Wade for nearly all but three minutes of the games prior to the regular season.
There were haters galore, but there were also a multitude of media analysts, former and current players and coaches, and legions of bloggers who assured them the Heat would dominate like no other team before them.
Even Jeff Van Gundy, a former rival of Miami who could never be mistaken for someone with a lot of love for the franchise, stated he believed the Heat would break the Chicago Bulls’ record for wins in a season.
Then the Heat went to Boston, and everything changed.
In the first half of that game against the Celtics, the Heat looked more like a D-League squad of scrubs than they did a “South Beach Superteam” destined to win title after title.
To their credit, and mostly due to the brilliant play of LeBron James, Miami stormed back in the second half of that contest and made it a one-possession game at 83-80 with just a minute to go; only to see Ray Allen stab a dagger in their hearts with a clutch three-pointer with 49 seconds to play to effectively seal the win for the boys from Beantown.
After that game, Miami seemingly found their way. Wade shook off the rust that had marred his play in the game against Boston, and has played with a fire ever since (leading the Heat in scoring on all but one occasion from that night forward).
Although he led the team in scoring in the contest against the Celtics with 31, as well as against New Jersey in the first contest against the Nets with 20 to Wade’s 17, LeBron has gone on to show he’ll be more of a facilitator in most games; leading the Heat in assists since that night, including a 12-assist performance.
While he’s struggled at times, Chris Bosh has slowly begun to get into a groove, and seems like he’s ready to begin playing like he did in Toronto; albeit with a far better cast of characters around him.
The Miami bench has shined in many ways, with James Jones sinking 20 of his 40 three-point attempts, Udonis Haslem continuing to be a mainstay for the second unit, and Eddie House providing a spark on occasion.
All these positive points pale in comparison to how well the Heat’s defense has performed a majority of the young season, holding their opponents to incredibly low shooting percentages, and basically hounding and harassing opposing offenses into numerous mistakes that have led to fast-break opportunities in the open court.
Yet, none of Miami’s positives have been consistency.
This can be attributed to the idea they’re still feeling themselves out as a team, and still searching for that total chemistry all championship squads have.
“We’re starting to get more of a comfort zone,” Wade said about the Heat’s play.
Well, they better get into that comfort zone very quickly, if you ask me. I’m the biggest cheerleader of this team, and have spoken highly of them since LeBron made his “Decision.”
However, if they think they’re going to continue to come out of the gates slowly and still be able to turn it on enough in the second half to beat their opponents, they better think again.
Sure, such a strategy will work almost every night against teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves or New Jersey Nets, but as we learned with the Celtics and Hornets, there’s a serious flaw in deploying the logic the Heat have enough firepower to come back from anything.
They showed against both those squads they have what it takes to at least make it a game, no matter how badly they’re being beaten at any point in the game, but if they’d come out with the same fire right from the tip, Miami might actually be 7-0 right now, and the NBA would be abuzz with speculation as to when the Heat would lose their first game.
That horse is already out the door, so there’s no use whining about it incessantly, however, the Heat needs to really take a good hard look at themselves, and decide whether they truly want to be great.
The loss to New Orleans was only Miami’s second, and they could easily reel off 10-20 wins before they lose another, but that will only happen if they come into the upcoming games on their schedule with a fire and focus right from the start they’ve seemingly only had in the third-quarter this year.
The Heat were built not just to win, but to dominate. They weren’t built just to contend, but to win titles. They were designed and put together to be great and historic, not good and common.
The Atlanta Hawks, not Miami, lead the Southeastern Division with an unblemished 6-0 record, and while I’m personally confident they’ll end the season with a worse record than the Heat, that will all depend on whether Miami takes every game so seriously they play it as if it was a Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Their passion, their focus, their desire, must be unmatched by opposing teams.
They can’t afford to take a quarter off, especially at the start of the game. They can’t afford to be complacent at any point in the contest; but must keep their foot on the gas at all times. They can’t decide they’ll turn it on when they want to.
They need to have that flame burning white-hot from start to finish.
If Erik Spoelstra is able to instill that mindset into them, they’ll have a chance at greatness. If not, they’ll be one of the biggest disappointments in the history of sports; and will assuredly implode from the frustration.
I still believe Miami will come through the rough patches to mold themselves into a team like no other we’ve ever seen. Yet, only time will tell if my confidence is justified.
The Heat will have to play with far more passion than they’ve played with so far this young season, in my view. They’ll have to find a way to sustain the defensive play they’ve shown in stretches. They’ll have to prove they can be consistent.
For without consistency, the Heat will just be another team with flashy players putting up ESPN highlights on occasion and winning a nice number of games. We saw that out of the Cleveland Cavaliers the past two years, and hopefully the Heat won’t fall into that trap.
Their next big test comes this Tuesday against the Utah Jazz, who despite their 3-3 record, have three players in Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson who, while not as hyped, are playing as well as the Big 3 of Miami; if not better.
The Heat need to come out in that game at AmericanAirlines Arena and simply dominate right from the tip. They need to shut down any opportunity the Jazz have of finding their game by playing aggressive defense immediately.
If they do, there’s a chance they’ll find themselves with a 6-2 record Wednesday heading into the rematch with the Celtics on Thursday. If not, they’ll drop to 5-3 and all the support in the world from their fans won’t be able to drown out the deafening roar from the haters telling the world the Heat are a fraud.
Come out on fire, Miami. Show the Jazz and the haters you’re for real.