What Heat-Celtics means to the Miami Heat

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The Miami Heat want to be great.

Greatness is such a bizarre concept. How often is it used outside of sports? Politics. Spirituality. Business. Show-business. And all those things are complex and contextual. But it’s what we pursue. If the Boston Celtics symbolize that single-minded obsession with gold, the Heat are pursuing something that almost goes beyond rings. They want to cement themselves as great. It takes a special kind of arrogance to pursue that as a goal in and of itself, but then, that arrogance is a product of talent and ability. It is that drive for greatness that brought the Triad together, it is what turns so many off of them. But it’s there, and if we want to talk about them as adults and not self-righteous judge and jury, we do need to recognize it. The Heat want to be great.

The Miami Heat can’t be great without beating the Boston Celtics.

You have to have a villain, and guess what? The Chicago Bulls don’t work because of their youth and relative unknown identity. The Lakers don’t fit because there’s no counter of identity. But the Celtics? The Celtics eliminated James’ Cavaliers. They eliminated Wade’s Heat. And they have made it clear that they neither respect, nor acknowledge any team that lays claim to the East, especially the Heat.

The Celtics represent the old guard, the Pistons to the Heat’ Bulls, the Pistons to the Heat’s Celtics, the team that stands in their way. It doesn’t matter that this is the conference semifinals, not the conference Finals. It doesn’t matter that the Bulls await the winner, licking their young chops while the two go to what will likely be an abject war. This is what they’ve waited for, and this feels like the kind of drama they have to experience.

The Celtics are Miami’s mirror image. Three stars, one the franchise icon, who unite to try and do something extraordinary. The Celtics adopted chemistry and commitment. The Heat have preached chemistry and a commitment to business. The versatile small-forward. The iconic shooting guard. The long power forward. The Celtics are so much like the Heat, but just a little bit closer, a little bit of a better fit, a little bit able to mesh. And if the Heat want to advance, they have to come together like the Celtics did.

The Celtics hate this team. They’ll act dismissive. They’ll talk about it being just another opponent, and how it’s on to the next one if they were to win. But this team hates how they celebrated while the Celtics were still smarting from losing Game 7 of the Finals by a quarter without their starting center. They hate the adulation of the individual over the team. This is more than just a playoff series, it’s a validation of Ubuntu versus the most talented team the Celtics have ever faced. Miami can’t allow a team that disdains them to get this win. If the Heat have been driven to shut up the haters, losing to the Celtics would mean surrendering to the biggest collection of them all.

The Celtics are the villain, the bad guy, the team that took it to them in the regular season and exposed them early and often. The Heat need this series to vanquish those demons. The confidence they’ll have were they to beat Boston, the big bad Boston Celtics, would be enough to carry them as far as they want to go. That’s not a dismissal of the very talented Bulls and Lakers, it’s a testament to the mental edge Boston has carried over Miami.

The Celtics bring defense. The Heat bring defense. The Celtics are individually magnificent. The Heat have some of the most talented players in the league. The Celtics return to their team concept just as the Heat do, for strength and guidance. The identities of these teams are not so different. Garnett whispered in LeBron’s ear after the Celtics defeated the Cavaliers last year. What he said isn’t known. But you have to wonder if it is the way these Celtics have tortured James for three years that drove him to abandon his home and responsibilities as the franchise player (as was within his rights to do) and join Wade and Bosh. The Celtics will make you crazy. They just keep coming, just keep hammering, and just keep challenging you at every position.

The unstoppable force meets… the unstoppable force.

No team embarrassed the Heat like the Celtics did this year, not even the Bulls. This matchup has it all for the Heat. Revenge. Vendettas. A philosophic difference between basketball for basketball’s sake, and basketball as a portal to fulfillment of all life has to offer, including, yes, greatness.

The world does not exist past this series for Miami. It is their entire universe. They may simply not be ready for this challenge, they may not have had enough time together. That doesn’t matter. The moment is here by which they’ll be jumped, their careers put into perspective. The game is the same it was at the start of the year.

You want to be great?

You gotta beat Boston.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.