Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
At what point do you start to wonder about the Heat’s chances of repeating? Are we there yet?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Not there yet. The postseason is a different game, literally and figuratively, and only Miami has proven its ability to master it. But here are three scenarios where I will start to wonder: 1) Some team goes up by two games on the Heat in a best-of-seven; 2) The Pacers or someone else plays at home vs. Miami in a Game 7, or 3) One of the Heat’s Big 3 goes out with a season-ending injury.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Only when I hear that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh has an injury that will keep them out of the rest of the season and the playoffs. If they’re all healthy, the Heat are still the team to beat.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The day the Heat face a playoff elimination game is the day I start to worry about the Heat’s chances of repeating. There’s simply no urgency at the moment to be peaking. Right now it’s all about pacing.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s fair to wonder now because of the competition, not fair to think their time has passed. The Pacers are, of course, the real deal. The opening statement of the 2013 Eastern Conference has continued into 2013-14 with consistent play at such a high level that it’s a reasonable conversation to wonder not only about the Heat’s chances of another title but to question whether they will get to the championship series. And that doesn’t even get into the quality of the opponent Miami would face in The Finals. There are challenges. Just don’t confuse that with the Heat needing to scramble.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: We’re there already, because the Pacers are really, really good. Like, best defensive team in history good. That’s a bigger issue for the Heat than how they’re playing themselves, though there is obviously concern with their defense. It goes beyond their inability to play that scheme over 82 games with Wade in and out of the lineup. Teams have seen that Miami defense for a couple of years now and are doing a better job of executing against it.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of us found out last year, you do NOT count the Heat out. And if you are foolish enough to do so, you do it at your own risk. So there is no point that doesn’t include a trophy presentation involving another team. We are not there yet. Whatever doldrums they are fighting through in January honestly have no specific bearing on what might be months from now. Are their current struggles real? Absolutely. Will they last? Perhaps, for a few more games. But not for the remainder of this season. All that said, I am reminded of the warning TNT’s Steve Kerr mentioned before this season began about it being just too taxing for any team to grind it’s way back to The Finals four a fourth straight season. He made a great point about the emotional and physical fatigue that comes with repeated championship campaigns. The Heat may very well succumb to that pressure somewhere along the line. But I’m not ready to predict when and where that happens.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: At what point do you worry that the sun isn’t going to rise? I’m not saying that the Heat winning a title is a law of nature nor a fait accompli, but when a team advances to The Finals three seasons in a row, I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, I agree that they haven’t looked as consistently dominant as they have at times over the last few seasons. We always talk about teams thinking they can “turn it on” when the going gets tough, and how that’s not something most teams are actually able to do. But the Heat are special, obviously, and I think they are one of those teams that can turn it on when we get down to the games that matter most in the postseason.
Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Sorry, I am one of those that were listening when Rudy Tomjanovic shouted “never underestimate the heart of a champion”. If you hear anyone wondering, please remind him what coach-T said …
Karan Madhok, NBA India: The Big Three era of the Heat has been here every year in their last three runs to The Finals, reaching a point where critics and fans have questioned their performance and commitment. But the Heat, like always, will be alright, peaking at the right time when Wade is back healthy to join LeBron and Bosh consistently, Oden starts to find his in-game rhythm, and the bench gets their groove again. The difference this year, though, is that Miami’s competition – especially the Pacers – is tougher than before. Ultimately, the title may come down to the performances of Miami’s competition more than the performance of the Heat themselves.
Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Given they’re still second in the East and have a nice seven-game cushion over the Hawks, I don’t think we can write them off. They do need to start worrying about a couple of things though, mainly their defense. They’re currently ranked 10th in defensive efficiency, the first time they’ve been that low in the Big Three era. And if they continue to free-fall it will be hard to three-peat. Generally you need to be ranked in the top 10 to challenge for the title. In the last 12 seasons, 22 of the 24 teams that made the Finals were top 10 defenses.