Posted Oct 4 2010 8:50PM - Updated Oct 5 2010 10:27AM
MIAMI -- Tonight we get to see how three players, all firmly among the NBA scoring leaders at their positions the last few years, demonstrate the fine art of ... looking for each other.
See LeBron shoot? No, it's more like see LeBron James dump inside to Chris Bosh and find a cutting Dwyane Wade. For sure, the Heat can't embark on an earnest championship journey if those three don't score plenty and score often. But just the same, this won't work without sacrifice, the buzzword of training camp.
"That's the same message that was lost this summer, when this team came together," said coach Erik Spoelstra. "It was strange to us because you would think in today's time in sports, a team assembled like this would be celebrated. Guys willing to sacrifice not only financially but to give up statistically, and how they are judged. To give up all that in order to get something bigger than themselves, and to be part of something special.
"But that's not what happened. So all we can do is continue to embrace the concept of sacrifice, which is what brought us together in the first place."
Any resentment or frustration from not being "celebrated" will be taken out on the other team, and that includes the pre-season, which opens with the Pistons. The "us-against-them" mentality that consumes the organization is bonding the players and fueling their resolve. Whether that results in a championship for the Best Team On Paper will have to wait. It will, however, encourage them to show unity by passing the ball and checking their egos at the parking lot. At least that's the company line, anyway, here in early October.
There are a few good reasons to suspect LeBron, Bosh and Wade will give it up freely and willingly:
1. Being selfish with the ball is not in their DNA. LeBron is the most generous big-time scorer since Rick Barry. How many players can score 30 on any given night and be viewed as a pass-first guy? He averaged 8.6 assists a game in Cleveland last season (6th in the NBA), and seven for his career. And he rang up those assists by deferring to players who ween't scorers. Wade is much the same, finishing 10th in the league at 6.5, mainly because he doubles as a point guard. Bosh was a finisher all those years in Toronto but has the skills to pass from the double team.
"We're alike, in that regard," said Wade.
2. They know sharing equals wins. LeBron averaged 30 or more points twice in his career. Wade hit 33 last season. Bosh carried the Raptors offensively. But they appear ready for change. They're not young players looking for scoring titles and a name for themselves anymore. They've been there are done that.
"They put a great deal of thought into their free agency and would not have made a move like this if they were worried about things like that," said Spoelstra.
3. They respect each other. Normally, when there's a degree of disrespect or lack of confidence in a teammate, the ball doesn't move very much. But LeBron will give it up to Wade, and Wade to Bosh, and vice-versa, and none of the players will regret their decision because they know whom they're passing to.
"We came to play as a team," said Bosh. "People talk about individualism too much. We're all good players, but we're all going to play together."
It also helps that Wade, Bosh and LeBron were all on Team USA and bonded from that experience, where there was no specific pecking order or star system. This Miami season will seem like a scaled-down version (or 3-man version) of those Olympic teams.
They also know they'll be matchup hell for most teams, and can take advantage of that only by passing the ball. LeBron and Wade are used to being double-teamed; now, when that happens, somebody will be open. And if teams decide to play those two straight-up, with no help, that's the time for isolation plays. The Heat will cause teams to rewrite gameplans on the fly.
It's not a stretch to envision LeBron making a serious run at leading the league in assists, and Bosh getting plenty of easy looks from 10 feet in, and Wade spending half his time at point guard.
"And that means a point guard's going to have to guard him, too?" said LeBron.
"Exactly," said Wade.
"Aw, man," said LeBron. "That's tough."
The soft spots on the Heat are obvious. They don't have a center to handle Dwight Howard, or any other elite post player; Bosh is really at power forward and his game more finesse. Plus, depth could be a real issue if any of the Big Three get injured.
But they don't think sacrifice will be an issue. By agreeing to play on the same team, they already made sacrifice a priority. Now we'll see how much and how well that translates on the floor.
"If ego was going to be a problem," said Wade, "we wouldn't be wearing the same jersey."
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