Sure, the Miami Heat throttled the Chicago Bulls by 37 points on Wednesday night to even the semifinals at 1-1, and that’s great and I’m sure somewhere else on the Internet someone is discussing just what it all means (it just means that the Heat and Bulls are tied at 1-1, and also that when the Heat get into an offensive groove they are essentially unstoppable, and oh also based on all of the technicals and the ejections the rest of this series will probably be nothing but calm and placid basketball with lots of friendly repartee between the teams). Me, I’ll just be over here staring at this picture taken when Joakim Noah was ejected, trying to figure out the secrets of the universe. [UPDATE: Good lord, her real identity is somehow crazier than anything I imagined.]
The Miami Heat are my favorite professional basketball team. The Miami Heat also happen to be the best team in the NBA right now; as of this writing, the team has won a franchise-record 16 consecutive games. The Heat employ LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, and they are, of course, the reigning NBA champions.
I mention all of this as a way of trying to remind myself that this will very likely be the apex of my experience as an NBA fan, and it will almost definitely never, ever be this good again. Continue reading
HEAT 121, THUNDER 106 | Miami wins series 4-1
The Miami Heat are your 2012 NBA champions. God, that feels nice to type. Continue reading
The NBA Finals start tonight in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder hosting the Heat. There are lots of storylines being discussed w/r/t this series, and as usual these storylines are mostly pretty dumb, but because it’s the NBA Finals any stupid storyline is elevated and treated as though it is something of import.
As I pointed out in March, when I was dreaming about this matchup, a Heat/Thunder Finals is a thrilling simply because they are two stellar basketball teams. We don’t need the fake LeBron/Durant contrast, we don’t need to hear about how the young Thunder were Built The Right Way and are facing off against the greedy Heat, we don’t need anything but these two teams and these stars facing off.
These Finals happen to offer something that the NBA hasn’t seen for years: The two best players in the league facing off in the final series. This was an impossibility during most of the post-Michael Jordan years, where the best players (Shaq, Kobe, Duncan) all resided in the same conference and couldn’t meet in the Finals; the Kobe-LeBron Finals never materialized, much to Nike’s chagrin. The last time this really did happen was 1998, when Michael Jordan and Karl Malone played in the Finals for the second consecutive year.
It has been a long 14 years since Jordan’s famous steal/push-off/jumper. Yet this matchup might be even better, because unlike Jordan and Malone, LeBron and Durant play the same position. Dwyane Wade will likely be guarding Russell Westbrook. These one-two pairings are probably the best in the league, and even though Chris Bosh and James Harden probably won’t tangle much, they are still stellar third options for both of these teams.
Both teams made it here through unsteady and uncertain circumstances. The Thunder were dead and buried after San Antonio took that 2-0 lead in the conference finals (remember when the Spurs had won 20 straight and people thought we might be witnessing one of the great modern teams?), before winning four straight and finally fulfilling their potential in making the Finals. The Heat were lagging behind the Celtics in a 3-2 series going back to Boston, and everyone (myself included) thought Miami was done. They responded with two thrilling games and returned to the Finals for the second consecutive year.
There is a particularly delicious irony in that the Heat — still so loathed, or at least still believed to be loathed, even if I don’t believe people despise them as much now as they did two summers ago (after watching them lose in the Finals, after watching them struggle and win in tough circumstances, after watching the sheer joy that has been some of LeBron’s transcendent basketball, it should be tough for many fair-weather fans to truly hate the Heat with the same passion we saw post-”Decision”) — are facing the team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics. Seemingly any team slotted against Miami would become the fan favorite, is how the logic went; they were the villains, and anyone playing them could become the heroes. Yet in rooting for the Thunder, fans are rooting for ownership that stole the team from Seattle. It might not be quite as bad as rooting for, say, a team owned by Donald Sterling, but it’s close.
As for predictions, I won’t even bother because there is no point. I thought these teams would meet in the Finals this year, just like I thought it last year, and I thought/hoped the resulting basketball would be astonishing. I think Oklahoma City has a depth Miami lacks, but I also think Miami (despite Dwyane Wade’s first-half struggles of late) has the more consistent two leading superstars. I guess Miami in six? I’ll say Miami in six, even if I sincerely want this thing to go to seven. I have no idea what will happen. As a Miami fan, that’s worrying; as a basketball fan, it’s a delirious dream.
Jonah Lehrer — you know Jonah Lehrer, right? Pop science writer? We’re big fans of Jonah Lehrer around these parts. Well, he just up and moved from Wired to the New Yorker, taking his Frontal Cortex blog with him (so congrats, Jonah, if you happen to be reading this; I hope you like parenthetical asides, because I got you one). Anyway, Lehrer decided to go and make his second blog post in his new home about choking in sports. How timely! How very perfectly timed for people who have watched, say, the way the Miami Heat have performed in the conference finals!
He discusses a new study in Neuron that basically says the reason athletes choke is loss aversion, wherein losing something causes a greater amount of harm or pain than the comparable amount of positive feelings created by gaining something.
Oh, and there’s this:
What’s more, the scientists demonstrated that the most loss-averse individuals showed the biggest drop-off in performance when the stakes were raised. In other words, the fear of failure was making them more likely to fail. They kept on losing because they hated losses.
AWESOME. I can’t wait for LeBron to take 35 foul shots and make zero of them tomorrow night. HEAT 2012.
What will become of the Miami Heat? It feels like it was only yesterday when the shorthanded Heat were heavily favored to beat the aged, decrepit Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, having dropped three consecutive games, the Heat find themselves on the wrong side of a 3-2 series heading back to Boston. Continue reading
The Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder are the two best teams in the NBA this season. (Yes, despite the fact that both teams currently trail Chicago in the standings.) They played for the first time on Sunday night, and the Thunder won by 16 points. They meet again on April 4 and then, hopefully, again in the NBA Finals this summer.
I say “hopefully” because even though I am a fan of Miami, and even though I know full well that the Thunder are probably a tougher opponent for Miami than the Clippers, Lakers or Spurs, I want to see the Heat and Thunder play in a seven game series. It seems like no other series that could realistically occur could match Heat-Thunder on the court. Since Kevin Durant is the best basketball player to enter the league since LeBron — and because he seems genuine where LeBron is businesslike, among many other reasons — he has often been held up as the anti-LeBron. These two teams would seem to be perfect opposites, with Oklahoma City’s small market batch of Team Players assembled through the draft versus Miami, playing the role of the NBA’s Yankees.
Bethlehem Shoals does a good job taking this argument apart over at GQ, and in doing so points out yet another reason I want these two teams to play again in June: The nonsense storylines really don’t mean anything for these teams. Yes, lazy sportswriters and pundits will proclaim such a series to be everything it isn’t. They would claim it’s unselfish and kind Durant versus unscrupulous, calculating LeBron. They would be wrong, of course, but that’s besides the point. As it stands right now, these are simply two very good basketball teams who happen to be playing the way the other team used to be playing or is thought to be playing, as Shoals points out. There isn’t a rivalry outside of them being two of the game’s current powers. If they meet in the Finals (fingers crossed), that could all change.
This would and could have been considered a wildly successful season by almost any sane metric. The 2010-2011 Miami Heat completely overhauled their team, signed the three marquee free agents in an astonishingly overhyped free agency period, enlisted key role players (who were almost immediately injured), played through suffocating media coverage, entered 29 bracingly hostile arenas and were scrutinized and picked apart like no other team in modern NBA history. Despite all of the controversy and the literal newness of their lineup, they somehow made the experiment work well enough to win 58 games, notch the second seed in the playoffs and come within two wins of a championship, all while playing a defense-oriented style of ball and having the three stars sacrifice minutes and statistics in pursuit of victory.
So they did that. On the other hand, they didn’t win a ring, they never truly exploded and they never really became what anybody expected, so i that sense, I suppose the season could be considered a failure (unless your sole ambition for this season was to see them come within an inch of the title and have it yanked away from them by a better team).
This season should and would be a success, were it not for a host of internal and external factors. All roads seem to lead to and from “The Decision,” of course, with that monument to ego giving way to the celebratory announcement of Miami’s three star signings. The world seemed poised to expect greatness from this team while simultaneously deriding it, and this wasn’t helped by predictions of multiple titles and a dynasty by LeBron James. (Though, of course they thought they would win multiple rings together. Why team up otherwise? Show me an NBA player who does not think they will win multiple titles and I will show you a Charlotte Bobcat.)
The Heat faced a rather ridiculous set of expectations for a variety of reasons, mostly stemming from this gathering of talent, and what you think of this Heat team largely depends on what you expected. If you thought they could win 75 games and turn into the Globetrotters, they failed. Plenty of other people thought this experiment simply couldn’t work, particularly after Miami came out of the gate playing such wobbly basketball. Clearly, we have our answer: it worked well, to a point, but not well enough. Continue reading
MAVS 105, HEAT 95 | Dallas wins series 4-2
The Dallas Mavericks, picked by many pundits and observers to lose in the opening round of the playoffs and in each successive round, are the 2011 NBA champions. The Miami Heat, crowned before the season as the second coming of the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, end the season in the same boat as 29 other teams.
Credit where credit is due: Dallas played very well in this series. When the games are edited down for ESPN Classic, future generations will note that the momentum shifted not after the second game (when Miami choked away a big lead) but after the fourth game. That was when Dallas seemed to figure out Miami’s defense, and during the final two games of this series they scored at will, putting up astonishing numbers in Game Five (56 percent shooting, 68 percent from three-point range) and pretty good numbers in Game Six (50 percent shooting). If Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t suffer an oddly cold opening to Game Six — missing 11 of his opening 12 shots, many of them shots he would usually make — their percentage is higher and it’s not even a game in the fourth quarter. Continue reading
MAVERICKS 112, HEAT 103 | Dallas leads 3-2
The world can rejoice, for good hath brought evil unto the brink of defeat. Or something like that, anyway. The Dallas Mavericks, sainted as a group of guys Playing Basketball The Right Way because they happened to wind up playing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, are one game away from the title that has eluded their ragtag bunch of forgotten also-rans for so many seasons. The Miami Heat have to win the next two games (at home, against a team where the average age is 82, so it’s not an impossibility), lest the entire season, “The Decision,” this experiment and LeBron James’s entire basketball career be deemed an irrevocable failure. Continue reading