Monday, March 17, 2008

Heat-Mavs Not What it Was, or Was It?

On June 20, 2006, the Miami Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 to take the NBA crown. Any soothsayer on that day would have predicted that last night's matchup would have meant something (the only way it wouldn't have is if both teams had already clinched their highest spots).

How could the Heat fall from grace so quickly? So badly, in fact, that the Heat trailed by a whopping 35-12 after 1 and lost by 25 (thanks to a strong garbage this team never-say-die or what?)

There are three legitimate reasons and one uncomfortable truth. Let's start with the reasons:

1. Aging. As Toby Keith would say: "I'm not as good as I once was, but I was once as good as I ever was." Such is the story of the Miami Heat, who clearly aren't as good as they once were, but reached their pinnacle there. Shaq aged, Jason Williams aged enough to have bad knees, Gary Payton aged to the point of forced retirement, Alonzo Mouring aged to the point of career-ending injury...the list goes on and on. This team didn't just lose a step...they lost a giant leap, as if summoned back from the moon on an inoperable Apollo 13 LENS.

2. Pat Riley. Riley knows how to turn a great team into a champion, but his coaching this year has been nothing short of apocalyptic. You mean to tell me Stan Van Gundy couldn't have gotten 25 wins out of these guys? Riley never adjusted his message, even when it clearly wasn't working, and the players became exasperated.

You see, I have a theory that professional sports teams need a constant switch from discplinarian to players' coach, to disciplinarian, to players' coach. Why do coaches never last forever? Eventually, the disciplinarian wears thin, and eventually the players' coach gets too lax. The Heat have reached that point where they need a calmer influence (Spoelstra perhaps?).

3. Dwyane Wade. Wade hasn't been above 70% all year, and that's the biggest reason the Heat have been so horrendous. A healthy Wade puts this team in playoff contention (not title contention, but playoff contention in a pathetic East).

Now for the uncomfortable truth:

The Heat weren't all that much better when they beat the Mavericks in '06. They just had a lot more hunger, more depth, but most importantly, a superhuman Wade. People conveniently forget how the Heat were almost embarrassed 4-0 before Wade turned the series around with one of the greatest performances ever. Take Dwyane Wade out of that Game 3 4th quarter, and the Heat lose by double digits there too.

Some might call it sacrilege to say that, but what we should be doing is revering Dwyane Wade. Don't forget how phenomenal he was, and how he good he'll be again.

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