Posted Mar 15 2011 10:38AM
MIAMI -- All they want is some peace and quiet around here, or at least a little understanding, which is hard to get for a team that was built to generate buzz -- much of it unfavorable. What the Heat just did was buy itself time, since the basketball world won't give them any for free.
Miami whipped the team with the best record in the NBA by 30 points, days after beating the defending two-time champions, thereby muting all the "noise" (to borrow coach Erik Spoelstra's word).
For about week (five straight defeats, to be exact), the Heat once again found themselves under siege. They heard it all before, and suddenly heard it all again: Spoelstra isn't cut out to coach, the Big Three is a mad experiment gone wrong, LeBron is a choker, Chris Bosh is a joker, the season is a disaster, etc.
Maybe they're too sensitive for their own good, but just the same, isn't everyone when it comes to the NBA's most polarizing team?
"Sometimes when you suffer the results that we were suffering, and you have this extreme noise from the outside, it can be distracting only if you let it," Spoelstra said. "In terms of the guys' confidence, it never really wavered. This is a very confident group."
That's easy to say after the Heat's lockdown performance against the Spurs on Monday. It was paybacks from the thumping Miami took in San Antonio a week earlier. The hard and cold truth? Until they sent Kobe Bryant back onto the American Airlines Arena floor for a midnight workout after beating his Lakers, Miami was 1-9 against the only teams in the NBA that matter. And so the world laughed -- Charles Barkley the loudest.
There's definitely a double standard when it comes to weighing the merits of a team that held a pep rally before it won anything. When ex-champs like the Lakers or Celtics go into a funk, it's usually rationalized as a necessary evil of a long season. When Miami loses to the Knicks, Magic, Spurs, Bulls and Blazers -- as it did during the five-game slump -- and also "cry" about it (to borrow another Spoelstra word), then it's suddenly 30 degrees on South Beach.
It wasn't just media-fueled, though. Even the Heat players themselves didn't react well to the skid, whining about the ball and Dwyane Wade lamenting how "the world is a better place" whenever Miami loses.
With a highly anticipated NBA playoffs approaching, judging the Heat has been a game onto itself. And here are the rules: You see what you want to see.
LeBron James blew a string of opportunities to be a hero during the swoon, and therefore the chorus said he was unqualified to win games on the final shot. Of course, he did win at the buzzer quite often as a Cavalier, when the entire arena knew where the ball was going. Again, you see what you want to see.
Spoelstra regretfully used the word "crying" to describe the scene in the Miami locker room after the Bulls loss. It quickly became a national catch-phrase, sort of like Charlie Sheen's "duh, winning!" And that tuned the conversation to Spoelstra and his credentials. Yet, this is the same guy who led a team of Wade and filler material to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Again, see what you want.
Miami won't finish with the NBA's best record, which is understandable when a team is thrown together on the fly and must learn as it goes. But: Didn't Jeff Van Gundy predict the Heat would win more than 72 games and set a new standard? Nobody chided Van Gundy for that -- only the Heat for not meeting his expectations.
See what you want to see, then. In your eyes, Miami is a massive mistake, or a potential championship work-in-progress. Feel free to yawn, now that they've won three straight. Or proclaim Miami as a threat to, at the very least, reach the East finals.
Or better yet, why don't we heed the advice of Heat president Pat Riley, who finally emerged from his cave the other day pleading for patience and saying the playoffs are all that matter? As much as people are loathe to wait for anything these days, what Miami does in April, May and June will be the right time to figure them out.
"It's all a part of what we have to go through to get to where we want to go," said Bosh, who dropped 30 points and 12 rebounds on the Spurs. "Sometimes when you feel that pain, you don't want to feel it again. We need to play with some intensity, and maintain, so we don't feel it again."
In a span of 10 days, we've seen the best and worst of the Heat, who were embarrassed by the Spurs and then returned the favor Monday night. San Antonio was held to 80 points in a game highlighted by Wade blocking Tim Duncan's layup and Wade and LeBron hooking up for back-to-back, arena-shaking dunks.
Said Manu Ginobili: "They needed the game more than us."
What they need now is some quiet time. They're back to being great again, but with Oklahoma City visiting Thursday, disaster is just around the corner.
Is it possible to go from one extreme to another in a matter of days? If you're the Heat, yes. See what you want with them.
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