HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – After watching the Miami Heat steamroll the Atlanta Hawks in person, I wondered if it had the same impact for those watching it at home. Did it look as lopsided as it did from Philips Arena? Could you tell how little regard the Heat had for the Hawks, a Southeast Division rival that defeated the Heat on their home floor Jan. 2?
The Heat flipped the switch last night and flicked the Hawks away with ease on their way to a stunning blowout 107-87 win over a team they claimed to have the utmost respect for. If this is how the Heat treats teams they respect … witnessing the Heat rise to the occasion of beating back a team they consider a challenge spoke volumes about what this Heat team is capable of when they are focused. (The scoreboard said it was a 20-point demolition but it felt twice as bad in living color.)
Sure, they had a willing accomplice — the Hawks were outrebounded 31-13 in the first half, trailed by 25 at one point and surrendered 63 points to a team that shot just 21-for-45 (.467) from the floor — and comfy environment, there were more Heat jerseys in the stands Sunday night than there were Hawks jerseys.
But it’s stunning to see just how unstoppable this Heat team can be when it plays its game and up to the magnitude of the moment, which has been something of an issue (as much as it can be for a 21-7 team) this season.
“This was as close as we’ve gotten to our identities at both ends of the floor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterwards. “There was a real focus and commitment to play towards our true identity.”
That it took 28 games for a crew that brought back its major parts — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Joel Anthony — intact, with only Shane Battier and Norris Cole as significant additions, seems a bit odd.
Yet Spoelstra made clear that the Heat has wrestled with this identity crisis basically all season. For a team whose season will be defined in June, this time isn’t supposed to be as crucial to who and what they are. Still, that need to establish some sort of consistent identity is on their minds as they continue on their most treacherous stretch of the regular season journey.
They’re in Milwaukee tonight to face a team that’s already defeated them twice this season and then move on to Indiana Tuesday night in their dreaded back-to-back-to-back scenario. If they operate the way they did against the Hawks, the Bucks better prepare for the storm.
“We took care of business,” James said. “We played Heat basketball.”
If the blueprint of “Heat basketball” includes bullying an opponent into submission and snatching their pride and will to compete, then this refocused Heat team is going to be interesting to watch in the coming days and weeks.
Perhaps even more salient, as one astute observer pointed out in the middle of the Heat’s beatdown of the Hawks, is that “we need to see them do this in June. Then we should be impressed.”
There’s no doubt about that. Can they do this when the season itself is one the line? We all want to know that. No one will dispute that Heat’s regular season performances, no matter how impressive, must be capped off with an equally compelling postseason effort in order to validate their season.
That’s why Wade’s dismissal of this one win or any cosmic stretch of the regular season being anything more than a blip on the Heat’s timeline is the proper approach.
“I don’t know, I guess you never know your breakthrough game until you look back on it,” Wade said. “In the middle of it, you don’t now. I think for us, this is a good step in the right direction. But it starts all over again [today in Milwaukee]. We’ve got a very tough team in Milwaukee that’s beaten us twice this year. So for us, we just worry about playing and getting to our game on both ends of the floor. We’ll let coach point out what he game he thinks was the breakthrough later in April or somewhere else down the line.”