Also, the Heat had enjoyed a series of charity events/gatherings that serves to strengthen the team’s bond – “Battioke”, “TaHEATi” and gathering at Ray Allen’s house for the Super Bowl – these things can’t be underscored. This theme is the sub-text to the Heat’s improved play. And, lastly, we’ve got the six-game road trip coming up. I really see that as a defining point for this season.
Call me a homer, but I’m still not buying the “Durant is catching up to LeBron” thing. I have two main reasons for this. (1) Durant HAD to step up because Westbrook went out, and (2) LeBron is pacing himself (or, as some people would say, coasting). So we have Durant completely turnt and LeBron giving something like 70-80 percent of max power.
When LeBron wants to be, and we’ve seen this during certain points, he is the best wing defender in the league. Durant isn’t bad, but he doesn’t do the spectacular things as often as LeBron. Are the Thunder really putting Durant on Tony Parker or Derrick Rose to shut him down in clutch time? Then asking him to go and be the leading scorer and catalyst of the offense on the other end? I just don’t see it. The Heat ask so much more of LeBron and for those reasons, I still give him the edge and a half.
I’m sure you agree, as most people do, that James is the better player. I’m just not sure the gap has closed as much as people say. I’ll wait to see both go 100 until I’m ready to make that judgement– and I think we will in April.
David: That’s an interesting argument, especially the Westbrook angle. When James led the Cavaliers to 60+ wins, it wasn’t held against him in the MVP vote that he was carrying the team and I’m not sure that his individual defense was at the same level that it is capable of being at today. Yes, you’re right that I still see LeBron as the better player. He’s proven himself for longer and at the highest levels of play.
The problem with giving him a pass for, in theory, only being at “70-80 percent” is that I think his “coasting” – if in fact, he is – could cost us in the long run. Let’s say he fails to make the defensive rotation quickly, as he has on a few occasions this year, and his man knocks down a three.
Also, maybe during those same games, he puts up a bad shot, either with plenty of time left on the clock or, conversely, with only a second or two to spare. And then we lose those games by anywhere from four to nine points. Was it all LeBron’s fault? No, but he was certainly a factor.
The long-term effect? Miami finishes second n the Eastern Conference, loses home court advantage to the Pacers and, in a crucial Game 7, referees being human, they get swept up in the emotion of that Indiana crowd, the Heat doesn’t get the benefit of multiple calls and Miami loses the game.
He’s the best player in the game. That means it’s every night he’s on the court. In January or in June. It shouldn’t matter. If he’s tired, tell Spo to take him out of the lineup when D-Wade’s definitely going to play. But if he wants to be seen as the MVP, that effort has to be there all of the time.
Wes: And I think that is exactly why he asked for more minutes, showed up to an impromptu practice hours early and turned it up these last couple of games. I think he was sick of it. He knows he should be coasting, but he is too competitive too.
I think he is leading the team from the coast and to higher ground, simply because he is sick of mediocrity. That games against Durant fired him up, and the competitor inside said “this kid from Akron, Ohio, has had enough.”
David: So we both see Miami going “next-level” at some point this month. But the trade deadline is fast approaching. Do you see the Heat making a move? Maybe nothing major (say the pickup of Kyle Lowry) but maybe trading Udonis or cutting Beasley? I don’t see it myself…but I’ve always been a big fan of the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” motto.
I still think waiving Mike Miller and trading Joel Anthony were mistakes. One of the best things about this team since the “Big 3″ era started was how consistent it was, specifically with its roster moves. Losing Mike was bad karma, man. Even Pat Riley talked about how winning teams can suffer from what he calls “the disease of more.” Miller certainly was a casualty of that, except from the owner’s side and not the players’. And The Warden? Don’t get me started. Joel was too solid a citizen to trade away like that. I don’t think it was a coincidence we got crushed in Washington the night after the trade went down.
Check back for Part 2 later in the week, when Wes tackles this question and more.