With the Mavericks playing from a position of strength against the Lakers and the Heat in early control against the Celtics, in many ways it’s as if it’s 2006 all over again.
While a Heat-Mavericks NBA Finals this time would have the Heat as the home team (because of what previously seemed like an innocuous 35-point performance by Eddie House on the final night of the regular season in Toronto, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade looked on from the bench), the question on South Beach is whether this would represent something closer to a genuine champion.
For those who forget, the Heat won the 2006 title coming off a relatively benign 52-30 regular season.
It was a championship achieved with the likes of Antoine Walker starting at small forward, Jason Williams at point guard, Michael Doleac as the backup center most of the season and Gary Payton on his last cussin’ legs.
Yet when viewed beyond the Big Three, as has been well chronicled these past six months, this Heat team is full of the type of warts that leave James Jones as the most reliable wing, Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby as the middling point guard rotation, and Joel Anthony as the valued sixth man, despite the reality that he can neither catch the ball or put it through the large orange circle.
The Mavericks we know are better because, thanks to the presence of Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion, they actually play defense this time around, no longer left to the whims of enigmatic Josh Howard.
But 2011 Heat vs. 2006 Heat?
Yes, the presence of LeBron ends most debates. Chris Bosh can do more than Dirk-stopping Udonis Haslem did in 2006, at least as a two-way presence. And in many ways, Wade is a more mature presence these days, less likely to gamble for the homerun play on defense.
But the 2006 Heat did eventually close with Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning in the middle, which certainly trumps (several times over) the current trifecta of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire.
And there was a legitimate perimeter stopper off the bench in James Posey. With James and Wade finding no relief in that aspect this season, left to deal with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on their own.
The reality is that if the Heat win another championship, it again will be with a flawed roster.
A champion, nonetheless. But hardly a complete champion.