HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — One of the best things about this new season in the NBA is how far removed we are from last season, when a three-game losing streak by the Miami Heat signaled doomsday chatter.
Gone are the days when each and every Heat loss was met with an endless cycle of analysis, statistical and otherwise, in a vain attempt to explain the most basic of principles in a league where the difference between the best of the best and the rest is razor-thin.
The Heat’s current three-game skid will serve as the bedrock principle of the 2011-12 season that we’ll keep tucked away in safe place from now until the NBA Finals end, just as a reminder (and I promise, this was scribbled on the back of an old airline boarding pass late last night after the superstar-starved Nuggets upended the Heat in Denver):
“THERE IS KRYPTONITE FOR EVERYONE”
Maybe it’s the abbreviated season that has produced this sensation. Or perhaps it’s the fact that through the first three weeks of this season, no team stands out to us as a head and shoulders prohibitive favorite to sprint through the competition on their way to the Larry O’Brien trophy presentation.
The Heat being exposed the way they have by zone defenses and the ravaging grind injuries can have on any team in a compacted season, Heat star Dwyane Wade turned an ankle against the Nuggets, serves as the latest reminder that what looks one way on opening night or even the first week of the season can shift dramatically the deeper we delve into the season.
Every single team with legitimate championship aspirations has an exploitable weakness that could cost them a shot at their ultimate goal this season, which is not exactly breaking news. But the fact that those weaknesses have been exposed in every single one of those teams less than a month into the season is worth noting.
We’re not suggesting it’s time to write off the favorites, not by any stretch. The Bulls, Heat, Thunder, Lakers and Spurs all seem to be who and what we think they are on their best nights. But not a one of them seems to possess that aura of invincibility that we’re used to seeing out of someone at this early stage of the season.
We use the Heat only as an example, and because they entered this season as the prohibitive favorites in the eyes of most any reasonable observer. To see Wade and LeBron James and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra trying to explain away their struggles the way they have before we get to Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a bit jarring and refreshing at the same time.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com’s Heat Index saw the same things:
For all their gawdy numbers and impressive highlights, the Heat are two Wade baskets and a Chris Bosh 3-pointer from being 5-7. The Heat looked like they were going to be a freight train to open the season but their margin for error has closed very fast. Teams have figured out how to give them problems in the halfcourt and their defense has not been putting together complete efforts. Friday it was terrible.
For anyone wondering, we’re not backing away from our Heat title prediction … it is just three game, but we are buckling up for a journey that should prove far more interesting than we might have imagined after seeing the Heat steamroll the competition early on.
They have issues to sort through that were on full display against the Nuggets. James said it best after the Nuggets had their way with them, “They just broke us down too many times, broke down our defense too many times and were able to get pretty much whatever they wanted.”
If the biggest of the big dogs is this vulnerable this early in the season, we should be in store for some serious fireworks between now and June.