Lost in all the headlines about overtimes, buzzer beaters, “Mr. Unreliables” and culturally incompetent owners, the 2014 NBA playoffs have been void of one key component.
Conspicuous by their absence, the Miami Heat have been resting easy at the crib since Monday. We won’t see the defending champs take the floor again until this coming Tuesday at the earliest. That’s a cool seven days off (or more) in the midst of what many are considering is the most competitive first round in NBA playoff history.
Funny how that works, right? The one team forced to endure every other team in the league’s “A Game” on a nightly basis is enjoying this epic first round the same way as you and I, from the comfort of their own home. The Heatles will come out of their spring slumber to take on the winner of the Brooklyn Nets/Toronto Raptors series, which conveniently lasted seven games.
Strangely, this has been a common theme for the Miami Heat since the construction of “The Big 3”. Miami has won the Eastern Conference each of the last three seasons and seeking their third consecutive NBA title in 2014. There isn’t a championship team to ever exist that wasn’t the recipient of a few strokes of good luck though, but the path taken to the top by the Heat these last few years has been impossibly serendipitous.
Were the Heat the best team in the NBA the last two years? Sure. Did they earn their last two championships? Absolutely. But a torn foot ligament suffered by Al Jefferson in the first quarter of the first game of the playoffs was just the latest manifestation of Miami’s remarkable good fortune. The Heat are notoriously marshmallow-y in the middle and Big Al’s presence up front was the one advantage the Charlotte Bobcats had over the champs. HHSR even expected Al to go nuts at least a couple of times in this series. Instead, the Heat coasted to a 4-0 sweep of Michale Jordan’s squad, which undoubtedly appeased Chamillionaire, wherever he is.
At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised at the lane opening up in the Eastern Conference for King James & Co. The fact that the West was home to nine (yes, NINE) teams with at least 48 wins this year is reason enough to declare shenanigans on this run by Miami. Upon closer inspection though, we see that this is actually a reoccurring theme.
Rajon Rondo injured his elbow in the Boston Celtics 2011 second round matchup against the Heat, which completely changed the completion of that series. Without their best player anywhere close to 100%, Boston was unable to prevent the Heat from celebrating as if they cured cancer. The Heat went on to win the series 4-1.
Sidebar: Three years later and I still can’t believe how ridiculous that celebration was. I know Boston was a rival, but still.
In 2012, the Heat’s stiffest competition in the East was supposed to have come from the Chicago Bulls, who finished with the top seed in the conference for the second consecutive year. But Derrick Rose’s knee exploded in the first game of the playoffs (Chicago later lost Joakim Noah to an ankle injury in Game 3 of the same opening round series), thus destroying any chance they had at knocking of Miami. In Game 5 of a 2-2 second round series against the Indiana Pacers, Indy saw two of their top players, Danny Granger and David West, go down with injuries. The Pacers ended getting smacked by 32 points that game, and — with a hobbled West and Granger — was unable to recover in Game 6. From there, Miami would go on to win their first championship in the LeBron-Wade-Bosh era.
The same injury D Rose suffered in 2012 prevented him from competing at all in 2012-13 season, including the playoffs. This surely aided the Heat’s repeat chances as they faced a Rose-less Bulls team in the second round that could only muster 65 points in Game 4 of that five-game series. Miami also benefited from a hamstring injury to the San Antonio Spurs’ leading scorer and top playmaker Tony Parker in the 2013 Finals, which Miami also won.
Sidebar: And these are just the major injuries that directly affected Miami’s path to a title. Many others in both conferences that could’ve derailed Miami’s run were not mentioned. And it wasn’t until I spoke to my good friend/diehard Knicks fan Anthony Hueston until I realized I had forgot to mention Amar’e Stoudemire’s broken glass incident from their 2012 playoffs series vs. the Heat.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Well, what about Chris Bosh’s injury in the 2012 playoffs? What about Wade’s nagging injuries? And what about Miami rising to the occasion when on the brink of elimination (like LeBron’s classic Game 6 in Boston in 2012)?” All of these are fair questions This isn’t all to say the Heat haven’t come up large in tough spots. But while Miami’s dominance these last four years cannot be directly attributed to competitive attrition, competitive attrition certainly cannot be ignored either.
Al Jefferson’s injury secured yet another lackadaisical series for the Heat, as the path of least resistance seems to seek them out more than any other great team in NBA history. Need more proof? Look no further than the bizarre occurrences that may have fatally disrupted the seasons of two other championship contenders, the Pacers and the Los Angeles Clippers.
None of this is the Heat’s fault, by the way. And Miami shouldn’t have to apologize for their own good luck and the misfortunes of others. In basketball, injuries are as natural as Ray Allen jumper and every team must overcome them at some point if they want to be successful. Perhaps it’s just good karma coming from all they had to endure in the aftermath of The Decision. Whatever the case, somebody is definitely looking out for this team.
Jordan’s Bulls had to knock off some damn good New York, Cleveland, Portland, L.A., Detroit, Phoenix and Utah teams (just to name a few) on their way to their six titles in eight years. The Spurs and Lakers of the 2000s had to overcome each other, while the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons and 76ers cannibalized one another throughout the 1980s. Ten years from now, it would be nice to say something similar about these Miami Heat.
They have no real adversary, and that fact doesn’t have as much to do with their own excellence as it should. Unfortunately, a Celtics team on its last leg, a Bulls team decimated by injuries and a Pacers group fit for a straight jacket won’t cut it. Be it horrific GM decisions, coaching blunders or just dumb luck, the rest of the NBA has, for the most part, weirdly gotten out of Miami’s way.
Fans love a champion, but a champion that appears to have a cheat code shouldn’t be overindulged in praise. Since their formation, the Heat have been playing on Rookie mode when they should be on Superstar. As awesome as the 2014 playoffs have been, there once again doesn’t appear to be a significant challenge for this great, yet beatable Miami team within their own conference.
And that’s damn disappointing.