There is no “maybe this is a good thing” here for the Miami Heat. There should be no “just the wake up call they needed.” This team, with the aspirations it has, should not be looking for wake-up calls. They should be looking for toe tags. Miami’s 91-72 loss to the Celtics on Sunday should not be considered a positive thing in any way. There is no silver lining. There is no reassuring bright side. There is only the boot print left on the Miami’s neck and backside, imprinted with 16-11-14, Rajon Rondo’s triple-double he not-so-casually spit on the reigning East champs on national television.
And there’s nothing surprising about it.
This is who Miami is, capable of whipping reigning NBA champion Dallas three days earlier, then turning around and falling apart against the Celtics, their biggest rival over the past two years, a team that despite last year’s playoffs, likely feels it’s better. This is the same Miami team that torches the Lakers in their first meeting and gets trounced in the second, the same Heat that toppled the Bulls when they had Derrick Rose and lost to them when they didn’t.
It’s the same Heat that looked invincible in the Eastern playoffs and laughable for the final four games of the Finals. They are a good team, a great team when they choose to be. But they seldom choose to be. And it shows in their reactions to things like Sunday.
Consider this, from the Miami Herald:
LeBron on his no-assist game, the second of his career: “In order to get assists, you’ve got to make shots, you know.”
— Joseph Goodman (@MiamiHeraldHeat) April 1, 2012
James is right. They do have to hit shots. But that’s not what you say. That’s not how you lead. You say you have to put guys in better spots. You take the responsibility of being the best player on the planet. But of course, that’s not what was said. From the Sun-Sentinel:
“This was a good, old-fashioned you-know-what,” LeBron James said after going without an assist for only the second time in his career. “We’ve got to own it, and we’ve got to get better.
“We’ve got to figure it out before the playoffs. . . . We understand we have to fix this right now.”
The Heat are now 6-5 in their last 11 games overall and 3-7 in their last 10 road games.
“You’ve got to figure it out,” said guard Dwyane Wade, who was victimized by a humbling blocked shot by Celtics guard Avery Bradley and shot just 6 of 17. “We’ll figure it out. That’s what good teams do.”
There isn’t a sense this is unacceptable to Miami. This game can’t have surprised them. They knew Boston, desperate to cling to their fading chances at a championship, would circle this game. They knew this was a crucial opportunity to illustrate to everyone that Miami is read for a playoff run.
And they were blown out in the most Heat-way possible, looking totally underwhelming, as if the energy simply could not be spent.
This is kind of a recurring pattern, when you look at the Heat’s comments last year. A loss resulted in Wade’s “the world’s a better place” comment. The Finals disaster gave us LeBron’s “wake up tomorrow” speech. In general, the Heat’s response to every low point since they joined together in 2010 has been “eh.”
The concept of effort in the NBA is kind of ridiculous. If you’re a superstar, you’re not lazy. There are lazy guys, guys who have either already succeeded or simply have physical advantages that make them think they don’t have to work (being tall). But anyone who is successful works their faces off. That’s the thing. You could dismiss the Heat if they were a bunch of talented underachievers who never showed any potential for excellence. But they’re not. They’re made up of the elite.
James is talented? That’s nice. He built that freakish body of his into a super-human machine and put the abilities to go with it, which aren’t natural fits for a frame like that. Wade is gifted? Sure. He also put in the time and effort to be able to hit those impossible layups. Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, all have done the work to be some of the best basketball players on Earth. So why do they continually have these games where it looks they’re not giving it everything?
It’s easy to just say every team loses. It does. But it’s different with this team. If it was just a cold shooting night, if it was just the Celtics executing better, if it was just the Warriors, the Thunder, the Lakers playing better, you can understand that, it takes nothing away from them. Every team loses. But this team was formed with the intentions of being one of the greatest of all time. It was that boldness that created such a backlash against them. But if you’re going to set that kind of standard? You had least better submit every ounce of sweat you can into reaching them.
But then, can you say the same for yourself? Have you committed to unparalleled effort in each of the biggest moments of your life? This is a regular season game against a likely 4 or 7 seed. That doesn’t even crack the top 50 of the most important games of these players’ careers. And yet it was an opportunity to say something meaningful. And instead, they largely laid down. Again.
This game means nothing in the grand scheme, except for this: If the Heat want the benefit of the doubt, they have to win a title. To win a title, they have to play consistently. And that’s not something that’s granted. It’s developed. The Celtics and Lakers have slept through regular season stretches in the past and won titles. And still this feels different.
The Heat are still a mystery, the most frustrating one you’ll find.