At the outset of the NBA playoffs people jumped all over themselves for a chance to throw dirt on what they presumed was the Miami Heat’s casket. There was no chance they would win the title – none at all! Many experts assumed it was OKC and Kevin Durant’s year and for a while it appeared they may be right until the team was promptly slapped around in the first two games of their series by the Spurs. Now everyone, including @madadub are wondering if the Spurs can possibly be stopped. Remember they are a year older, but Kwahi Leonard is a year better…
Quietly, Miami has been having an unreal postseason, and the past two games have finally shown just how good the Heat can be. On defence their pressure was so intense last night that Indiana simply could not get anything going from the second half onwards. Offensively, Wade and LeBron have been their usual selves and are making everyone around them better. Just keep hitting those wide open shots guys. In many ways this sort of feels like ’93 or ’97 when Barkley and Malone stole MVP trophies from Jordan and he proceeded to kick their asses in the finals. Only, we will likely be denied a LeBron vs Durant showdown due to the Spurs and their otherworldly play. Here is the thing though: the Pacers are throwing everything they have at the Heat and it just does not matter. I do not think the Heat care who they have to go through or how tough it is. As a group the big three have lost one series and it was when LBJ had a complete mental breakdown. The team is so good and has been for so long that it seems we are almost under rating them. Who, after all, in their right mind would want to take a chance of playing LeBron in a seven game series? He is too good, his talent ethereal and he is at his absolute zenith. The Spurs and Thunder are surely praying that Indy comes through (a thought that haunts the nightmares of Adam Silver like a zombie apocalypse. No one wants that series….not even people from San Antonio) and then do not have to take the chance of beating LeBron four times.
Lets face it – not easy to do, as the Pacers are finding out now. As Omar said so eloquently on The Wire, “come at the king and you best not miss”. The Heat just keep rolling, gutting out wins and turning it on when they need to and truly, they do not care who they have to play. They feel they can go through anyone – other teams may not feel the same.
This past week Chris Paul and the LA Clippers made a second round exit from the NBA playoffs, for Paul this matched the farthest he has ever gone in the big dance. Pretty incredible when you think about it, one of the five best point guards, probably of all time and he cannot even make it to a conference finals? The Clips seemed like contenders this year before owner Donald Sterling destroyed them again, but the fact remains, even on an incredibly talented team, Paul could not lead them through.
The NBA has a bit of a golden generation going on right now with guys like Paul, LeBron and Melo hitting their absolute apexes and yet, this has not translated to much success. Most of these guys have never been in the Finals and only Bron, Wade and Bosh are champions. Dwight Howard made the Finals once and then fell off the contender roadmap. Melo made a conference finals with Denver before killing his own team in an insanely selfish bid to get to New York. The first guy of the generation (other than Shaq aided Wade) to get to the Finals was LeBron who dragged a truly terrible Cavs team there in 07.
Meanwhile, for the LBJ and co group, the next generation is beginning to make their move: KD and Westbrook have been to 3 conference finals and one finals. Harden has been to the finals, DRose made the conference finals and even John Wall has equalled CP3’s success by making the second round. (When you factor in Joe Johnson and Deron Williams you get another group of 2nd rounders) and let’s not even get started on Indiana.
Yet every playoffs still becomes a legacy defining one for LeBron. He has had been substantially more successful in the playoffs and MVP ballots than his peers and we still want to make him prove himself over and over again. Why? Why do we judge him against a steeper curve than anyone else? In truth it is because we can only judge James against one other player, ever, and that is MJ. Is it fair? Jordan never had an MJ to overcome when he began, but now LeBron does because we have seen what the greatest of all time is capable of and not only do we want that from LeBron but we are intent on demanding it. There is a double standard for LBJ and fair or not there is only one set of criteria to judge him, and it is the best of the best. So once again he has to put the creaky Heat on his back and take them as far as he possibly can even though for many, the only acceptable place for him to finish is raising the trophy. I firmly believe that he will once again.