Do you remember the 9-8 Miami Heat? The ones off to a slow start after putting together a superstar team (then the players doing their part to hype the expectations at a pep rally)? The ones that had national pundits calling for Erik Spoelstra to be sent packing so that legendary coach Pat Riley could come down from on high and solve all their problems, to whip the team into shape?
That feels like another lifetime in Miami, where the defending World Champions play.
Dwyane Wade told Fran Blinebury of NBA.com he thought people might have learned about expectations from that experience, but apparently not.
“There’s excitement, of course,” he said. “And there’s a lot of anticipation about what can be possible. But really, a lot of things tend to get ahead of themselves. I guess, when you think about it, those things are only natural. Now looking back, you see how unrealistic a lot of things are in the early days. But I guess it doesn’t stop everybody from doing it all over again and making the same mistake with expectations.”
It didn’t. And the situation is different — Riley clearly had faith in Spoelstra that Jim Buss never had in Mike Brown. (Which leads to questions of Brown’s hiring and why he was kept through the summer, but that’s another discussion for another day.) The Lakers made an aggressive change to Mike D’Antoni and just simplifying the offense has them playing better.
Chris Bosh said the challenge for the players is to tune all that out and focus on the job at hand.
“You hear all of the talk that’s going on on the outside and you try to ignore it, but that’s not always easy. There are decisions that aren’t yours and that you have no control over. All we focused on was playing basketball and just the day to day struggles that we had on the court, each game, each possession. That was enough.
“People in management are gonna make their decisions and you have to live with them and make them work.”
If the Lakers have that same outcome as that Heat squad — making the NBA finals this year — some of that noise will subside. But for now, the Lakers are the center of the storm and are just going to have to deal with the expectations, realistic or not.
This may seem like a big deal, because LeBron James is kind of a big deal. He’s a basketball machine who rarely misses time, and all things told, he’s one of the most durable players the league has.
So is it a little weird to see him hampered with such a regular folks thing like general soreness? Sure, a little. But don’t be alarmed — this is just a classic example of game recognizing game. This might not be on the level of Gregg Popovich listing Tim Duncan as “DNP – OLD” last season, but it’s a nice homage to Pop to sideline LeBron with “general soreness” for their preseason tilt.
Professional sports are kind of funny like this. Sometimes, players don’t have anything really wrong with them — they just need rest. Other times, it’s the coaches who just want to sit their stars and give them a break. But you can’t actually say that, because people buy tickets and the like. And really, you can’t just make up a specific injury because those pesky media types will start poking around, so you go the Ferris Bueller route with something vague. Flu-like symptoms. Cramps. General soreness.
Popovich has been trying to run the odometer backwards on Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for years, so I’m sure he can appreciate Spoelstra’s ploy here. Not having to coach against LeBron James is probably a nice little bonus, too.
It is the caveat with every team’s lofty goals entering the NBA season — “if they are healthy…”
The Miami Heat’s goals are as lofty as they get, but the team does not enter training camp healthy.
Both Dwyane Wade (knee) and Ray Allen (ankle) are not all the way back from off-season surgery, coach Erik Spoelstra confirmed when he sat down with the media Thursday. But both could be ready when the season starts.
Here is what Spoelsra said about Wade, via Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.
“He’s not 100 percent, so we’re going to be very vigilant on how we progress him. Hopefully, he won’t miss any regular-season time.”
As for Ray Allen, the prognosis for the sharpshooter is a little better.
“He’s been here for three weeks. He’s not 100 percent, but I wouldn’t notice it.”
In both cases, look for the Heat to be cautious. Because for all the lip service Spoelstra will give to the importance of training camp and the regular season, what he really needs is those guys healthy late in the season and the playoffs. That’s a long way off, but you don’t want a lingering, chronic thing. So things will go slow for the veterans in camp. Which is probably how they like it anyway.