Cohen: Heat Would Lose Playoff Series to 90 Percent of Past NBA Champions
By Josh Cohen
June 21, 2013
MIAMI -- It’s not to scorn or tarnish the Miami Heat’s latest accomplishment.
It’s not to diminish LeBron James and his impeccable play.
It’s not to insinuate that winning an NBA title is ever supposed to be effortless.
It’s not to claim that it is a fluke that the Heat are now back-to-back champs.
Like it would be for any team who outlasts the competition, the Heat and their fans deserve to celebrate. Hats off to them.
But, listen to me when I lecture to you; this year’s Heat would have lost to 90 percent of the league’s past champions and a handful of other star-studded teams of old who failed to capture the title.
Again, this is no disrespect or insult to the Heat.
But let’s face it; Miami is not the dominant force we all assumed it would be when the Big Three formed three years ago.
Sure, they have reached The Finals in all three seasons together and have two rings to silence all the cynics.
I applaud their unwillingness to fold when the pressure seemed insurmountable. I commend LeBron for his resilience and relentlessness to become, categorically, the best basketball player in the world today. I revere Erik Spoelstra for preaching the “There is no I in TEAM” philosophy.
But come on folks; after what we watched during this year’s playoffs, Miami is rejoicing today because the competition just simply wasn’t stacked enough.
The San Antonio Spurs were never a “Finals” team this year. We all tried to claim that San Antonio’s “experience,” “poise” and “intelligence” warranted a title and it almost worked.
Tim Duncan, as good as he still is, is only half the player he was in 2003 or 2005 when he was in his prime and establishing his place in history as the greatest power forward ever.
Manu Ginobili has become reckless and volatile. Do you really think Ginoibili was careless like this when he led Argentina to a gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics?
It’s natural for players to decline. Today’s Spurs would have been swept by the 2005 Spurs, for instance, when Duncan would likely average better than 25 points a game in a series, Ginobili wouldn’t create turnover after turnover after turnover and Tony Parker’s health was optimal and vivacious.
But no slight against today’s Spurs. They nearly overcame the most difficult obstacle in professional sports, aging and instinctive deterioration.
The Heat took advantage of a lot during this year’s playoffs. Aside from San Antonio’s slow legs, they never had to deal with a Rajon Rondo-led Celtics. They never had to worry about an explosive Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook. They never had to be concerned that Kobe Bryant would completely annul L.A.’s tumble for most of the season.
Let’s not forget to mention that Oklahoma City, Miami’s opponent in The Finals last season, disbanded its Big Three by trading James Harden last October because of financial constraints. If he returned to the Thunder and Westbrook was healthy, who knows how good they would have been this year.
Dwyane Wade was masterful in just two of Miami’s 23 playoff games this year, including Game 7 of The Finals when his mid-range jumper was automatic.
Nobody in Toronto can recognize Chris Bosh. And that’s not because of his change in hairstyle. The last time the Raptors were in the playoffs, Bosh averaged 24 points and nine rebounds a game. This year in the postseason, he averaged 12.1 points and 7.3 boards.
Most assumed that when they formed their star-studded trio, the Heat would win between 70-75 regular season games a year and perhaps not lose a single game in the postseason.
Most anticipated it would be the collection of talent rather than resurgence from LeBron that would catapult Miami to titles.
The Big Three has instead transformed into a Big One-And-A-Half. And that, at the moment, is enough to earn the crown.
We can start off with the obvious great teams from the past that would demolish today’s Heat.
Michael Jordan’s Bulls, coached by the legendary Phil Jackson, would likely sweep the Heat. The same could probably be said for Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics.
Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers would burn out the Heat, for sure. The Diesel would average at least 35 points a game if he had Bosh or Chris Andersen trying to contain him.
We already alluded to the “real” Spurs, who claimed four titles over an eight-year span.
The Bad Boy Pistons, featuring Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer, would make the Heat submit. Miami thought Indiana was a grueling matchup. Try that Detroit team from 1989 or 1990.
How about Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets? Hakeem torched Patrick Ewing and Shaq in back-to-back Finals appearances. Let’s see what you got Bosh.
The premier Big Three before Miami’s version, featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in Boston, would have probably overwhelmed the Heat as well.
And then we can go old school and refer to Bill Russell’s Celtics, Wilt Chamberlain’s Lakers or Kareem and Oscar’s Bucks. Again, size may be the ruler of all. Naturally, though, players are physically different today compared to then so it's rather impractical to judge.
I have said it before and I will repeat it again, the 1995 or 96 Magic, who emerged to advance to two straight conference finals and one NBA Finals, is the best assembled team to fall short of a title. If Shaq doesn’t bolt for Hollywood in 96 and knee problems don’t disrupt Penny Hardaway’s development, Orlando wins at least one if not multiple titles; guaranteed.
Those Magic teams of the mid 90’s would have a field day against today’s Heat. In addition to O’Neal dominating inside, Hardaway’s length and versatility would be challenging for Miami to deal with and the supporting cast of Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott would be enough to run over the Heat.
The bottom line is this; the Heat are champions for two primary reasons. For one, LeBron has become “that” good. Second, the competition, partially because of league-wide injuries, was deficient during this year’s playoffs.
Again, this Heat team after what transpired in the summer of 2010 was supposed to be unconquerable, unshakable and flawless.
It was expected that Miami would cruise to championships. It turns out LeBron is the one cruising to them.
It was intended that the band would have three lead vocalists. It’s now proven that the ensemble has one immaculate singer (James), a decent guitarist (Wade) and a drummer that is only performing with one drumstick (Bosh).
The Heat are an “ordinary” championship team. They have the best player in the world and a good enough supporting cast to finish the deal.
Don't let LeBron fool you into believing that this is what he envisioned when he chose to leave Cleveland for South Beach.
He expected to become part of a powerful compilation of talent, not to be the guy carrying everyone else's luggage every step of the way.
My prediction, nonetheless, if everyone in the NBA is healthy next year, Miami will not reach the 2014 NBA Finals. They are simply not three-peat material.
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