March 29, 2012
Turning up the heat in Miami
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency
When the bar’s been raised so high, when so much is expected and every little flaw gets placed under the microscope, there’s really nothing that needs to said when winning is the only way to silence everyone.
That, in a nutshell, is the plight of the Miami Heat, a team that won’t escape the burden of expectations and the media attention until it wins a title, and even then it won’t be enough when multiple championships must be achieved for validation.
As Miami prepares to make its first and only visit to Toronto on Friday night, the team was playing host to the reigning champions on Thursday, a Dallas Mavericks team that would claim the franchise’s first championship when they closed out the Heat on Miami’s home floor last June.
In Dallas, you have a team that has basically positioned itself for this summer’s free-agent market, a competitive team that would have to exceed last spring’s improbable post-season run when no lead was safe, when Dirk Nowitzki stepped up to a level in crunch time that drew comparisons to Larry Bird.
The Mavs, no doubt, will be a tough out in this year’s playoffs, but they are not a serious threat to repeat.
In Miami, the Heat is a team that found itself answering questions following back-to-back double-digit road losses, first to Oklahoma City and then to Indiana, in the days leading up to Dallas’ visit to South Beach.
Whether it’s a full season or this year’s lockout-shortened backdrop, every team in the NBA goes through a tough stretch, a period when fatigue leads to sloppy play, when too much one-on-one play compromises the team game.
The Heat’s no exception, a team that’s lost only twice at home heading into play on Thursday, a setback to Atlanta when the visiting Hawks limited their turnovers to 10 while shooting 56% from beyond the three-point arc, the second to Milwaukee on a night when Miami lost its temper and would commit 22 turnovers.
“It’s that time of year for us to hit a little pothole in the road,” Dwyane Wade was telling every reporter this week in Miami.
“Obviously, we’re in a rut right now mentally,” Chris Bosh said. “We just have to hang in there and figure something out. We have to be mentally tough and survive this.
“You’re going to have to go through tough times,” Bosh said. “The sign of a great team is fighting through adversity. We’re there right now and we’re going to regroup, stay together, and we’re going to figure it out together.”
Miami will because there’s too much elite talent in Wade and LeBron James and too much to be lost if it can’t figure out a way.
Ultimately, this a Heat team that will be defined once the post-season begins and by how long of a run it’s able to mount.
When the NBA last featured a lockout back in 1998, a team such as New York got a late-season run to qualify as the eighth seed, making a run that went all the way to the NBA final until Tim Duncan and David Robinson led San Antonio to its title by winning the close-out game at Madison Square Garden.
In 1998, the NBA used a best-of-five opening round format, a sprint series that saw the Knicks upend the Heat.
In a best-of-seven format, the only team in the East that will keep Miami out of this year’s NBA final is Chicago, a team the Heat will face twice more before this year’s playoffs begin.
Even if Miami has to open up on the road, a scenario that played out in last year’s conference final against the Bulls, the Heat will win because two superstars will always beat one, in this case Chicago’s Derrick Rose.
“Every team goes through this where you have slippage,’’ Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“Sometimes you just take things for granted and you become flat during the course of a long NBA season. This season’s been a challenge for everybody.”
In the long run, Miami will benefit from a stretch that had seen the team yield four 100-point games in the last eight tips heading into Thursday night.
In the long run, Miami will improve on a road record that has seen the team go 2-6 since the all-star break.
Whether it’s getting Wade touches in the fourth quarter or having James adjust to a broken finger in his non-shooting (left) hand, Miami will figure it out.
Ultimately, what the Heat must avoid is that cocky attitude it showed when Miami led big against Dallas in Game 2 of last year’s championship final.
The Heat would drop its first playoff game at home and basically never recovered, even though it did win Game 3 in Dallas before meekly being eliminated by losing three straight.