By: Alex Bogach
It’s odd how each team plays 82 games and we have this long-winded, ‘seems-like-an-entire-season-in-itself’ playoffs yet, these next four to seven games hold so much more weight than the rest of them.
(Hold that thought! There was one game this year that had significant impact on the Finals. Raptors-Heat on April 13th. Yes, you heard my right. When Eddie House—easily number one on my most hated list—dropped 35 on the Raptors in a game that saw Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magloire play significant minutes against a Raptors team that was happier to lose than win. Well, despite doing everything humanly possible to lose (they started Mike Bibby, Eddie House, James Jones, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joel Anthony), the Heat won big. Now granted, we were starting Joey Dorsey, but losing to that Heat team that put shame to the word roster, 97-79 put a sour ending on even sourer season. But here’s the kicker, my Raptor fans. Do you know what the Heat accomplished that night without even trying? They got home court over the Mavericks should they meet in the NBA Finals. But that wasn’t going to happen because the Lakers were making it out of the West…)
These next games, which could be our last taste of NBA basketball for the foreseeable future, are much more significant than your average game for certain and most likely more than your average Finals’ series. Let’s just dive right into it.
With Scottie Pippen officially commencing the Lebron-Jordan debate before Lebron has even won a title, I can only imagine the amount of discussion around the Jordan-Lebron debate if Lebron actually wins a championship. Look, there are a lot of good points made around this discussion and I know people will say championships are all that matter. It’s simply not true. Some of the greatest players all time never won six championships, let alone one! But here’s my problem with Pippen’s comment. How can Lebron be the greatest if he has never achieved the greatest accomplishment? How can we even begin the conversation? It’s like calling someone the greatest President ever when they lost every election they ran in. He simply isn’t there yet. Lebron could score 100 points in a game this series, but if he loses he’s still behind Jordan in my books. At the end of the day, if you want to be the greatest, you better have the greatest achievement any basketball player can attain. Once Lebron wins, we can open up the discussion but Pippen’s comments were pre-mature and on top of that, seemed closer to a petty slight of Jordan’s owning his spotlight in Chicago than an endorsement of Lebron’s career.
But besides Lebron’s legacy, which I would equate to analyzing safety features on hover cars today, this series holds incredible bearing for the NBA as a whole
Let’s go back to Tuesday October 26th. The season opener (!) for the 2010-2011 campaign. Remember how the Celtics dismantled the Miami Heat? Dwyane Wade had returned from a pre-season injury and played a game so bad that even Juwan Howard would echo my thoughts. Point is, that even though that game was the tiniest of sample sizes—we turned it into a Game 7. We looked at it as the reclamation of the East by the Celtics and an embarrassing and shameful introduction to the Miami Heat.
Well, the Celtics are back in Boston resting their dislocated elbows and various lower leg injuries while Miami looks invincible. We forgot that the season ends in mid-June and the Heat had plenty of time to re-group. Their subsequent 9-8 start to the season took a toll on them. People began to seriously question Lebron, Wade, Bosh, Spolestra and even Pat Riley who had managed to orchestrate two signings that will go down in history as the only press conference with a fog machine.
They went through intense scrutiny like no other NBA team had. It was really remarkable. ESPN devoted specific writers and even an entire page just to cover the Heat.
What happened was that when the Bulls and Celtics were flying under the East radar, the Heat had playoff level pressure on them for almost every game. Even trips to lottery-bound Cleveland and Toronto had heightened pressure. By playing in mock playoff games all year, the Heat were ready. So, when the defense started to buckle up and crowds started to get rowdier—it was like another regular season game for Lebron, Wade, Bosh and the South Beach Retirement Home. They were used to it.
The opening game of the season got scrutinized like a Game 7—so the Heat were ready for anything. While they cracked and cried at certain points, we forgot the season ends in June. It’s a long way away from October 26th, from the All-Star break and even from mid-April.
It’s a long way away.
And that’s why this NBA Finals means a lot. Because if the Heat lose to the Mavericks, it will be like nothing they have ever experienced. Before when they lost, they had another opportunity to recover. Another ESPN appearance, another marquee game. But now, the recovery time is much longer. It’s a long way away.
With a lockout looming over the NBA, a Heat loss this year will follow Lebron, Wade and Bosh like that absolutely atrocious, chemically dangerous, ‘atomic-bomb-level’ Axe-body odour combination when you leave a high school gym locker room.
In other words, it’s gonna stink for the Heat.
Not only do they have to face an entire off-season of questions but then do the same journey—from September to June with all the added pressure. On top of that, teams have seen you fail. They have seen you lose.
As much as the Heat have been prepared for any stage—they have never experienced this. With this being perhaps the final NBA games until January 2012—or even September 2012, the amount of pressure placed on the Heat cannot be compared.
Or can it?
While the Heat do face an impending disaster of an off-season if they lose, in which I can guarantee that YouTube will feature “not one, not two, not three, not four…” parodies of the Yes We Did concert, they have plenty of time to win. The Mavericks are running on empty. Jason Kidd is 38, Terry is 33, Dirk’s 31, Caron Butler is going to be coming off major knee surgery and Tyson Chandler is only 28 but has been in the league for a full decade.
And if you think an entire locked out off-season will weigh heavily on Lebron, can you imagine what it will feel like for the Mavs? Instead of planning their ways back to the Finals wearing blue and white, they may have to begin planning their life with the NBA’s pension plan (or, in other words, the Miami Heat bench). Dallas fans have much to be weary about as well. With a hard cap on the horizon, Mark Cuban’s spend-spend-spend ways may not only be curtailed—but also, penalized under the new CBA.
There are equally compelling cases for who needs this championship more but we know one thing for certain—one team will be spending its off-season with a heavy burden. The storylines are tantalizing. You don’t think Dan Gilbert, after attempting to acquire the second pick in the draft this off-season, is anxious to see Lebron go down in flames and introduce the Cavs next year with Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams?
But, unless the Mavs can sign Nick Gilbert to play alongside JJ Barea, my pick is the Heat. I’m happy the Mavericks made it to this point. They proved themselves the best team in West this playoffs by dispatching their opponents with ease. But the easiest answer I can give you is that the Heat are just too good. They don’t surprise me with miraculous 4th quarter comebacks or wild 20-0 runs.
I have NBA Jam for my Super Nintendo that I dust off occassionally and play every once in a while (Stockton and Malone or Payton and Shawn Kemp, for those were wondering) and whenever you play the computer, the game makes it nearly impossible for you to win. As the game gets towards the end you cannot make a single shot, the computer rips the ball out of your hands on every possession and you even miss wide open dunks. You’re in full-out Mavs ’06 Finals mode. Not only that but the computer turns up the Robert Horry meter for the last minute and a half by hitting anything and everything—full court shots to win the game are quite probable. I plan for it going down the stretch. I can be up 10 going into the fourth quarter and I know the computer is going to claw its way back in and take the lead—it’s inevitable. It’s programmed into the game. Same goes for the Heat. It is almost programmed into every game they play. You know Wade and Lebron will reel off a 30-8 run at some point—it’s inevitable. It’s the same feeling of hopelessness I saw in the Sixers, Celtics and Bulls.
Everyone that is picking the Mavericks has them winning in seven. I haven’t read anybody that says the Mavs can win in four or five. You’d sound crazy thinking Dirk and his flip-floppin’-fadin’ style is going to guide the Mavericks to a clean sweep of the Heat. But guess who doesn’t sound absolutely insane when making predictions? People that say the Heat will win in four or five. It’s not insane because we can totally envision it. Tack on the fact that Dallas, if they won in six or seven—which seems to be the only somewhat realistic answer—would have to do so on Miami’s home floor, where they have yet to lose this year.
I wonder how the Heat got home court in the playoffs anyway?
My NBA posts are now being syndicated on Beating the Buzzer. You can check out Beating the Buzzer on Twitter @btbsports. Follow Two Guys Sports @2_GSB or my own Twitter @the_REAL_alexb. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet.