HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –LeBron James still has work to do to solidify his legacy. He still has to stare down his crunch-time demons in the fourth quarter of a season and have a potentially career-defining moment to chase away his haters. He still has to win a championship to shut us all up and to validate all the premature coronation that’s gone on since he was 16.
But there is one debate that needs to come to an end today: the notion that James is riding shotgun on Dwyane Wade‘s team needs an immediate obituary. It’s simply not the case, and never has been as far as we can tell.
The MVP of the Heat is a race that ended months ago. This is a team that rises and falls on the shoulders of James. And it has been that way since the Heat fell to the Mavericks in The Finals last year.
If it’s ultimately his responsibility when they fail, why wouldn’t he be equally responsible when they succeed?
You know how it is those first few months after you’ve brought that Grizzly bear cub home from the family vacation to Yellowstone.
Sure, he knocks over some of the furniture, raids the pantry to eat all of the Doritos and smashes the plasma TV. But mostly he’s fun and he’s cuddly and simply entertaining to watch. Then one day he’s suddenly growling at you over the breakfast table.
That seems to be where the Heat are now. After a long regular season of learning how to grow into their bodies, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are now standing on their hind legs showing the world their fangs. They are no longer just a loose confederation that is getting by on raw talent and just enough points to pile up wins. They have become a dominant team that is imposing its will.
Series after series, game after game, we’re starting to hear the same things from beaten opponents — quality opponents, those unaccustomed to failure and frustration.
“Took us out of a lot of the things we normally do,” Mavericks forward Shawn Marion said.
That’s one hallmark of a dominant team.
In these playoffs, the Heat throttled the 76ers’ running game, disrupted the Celtics’ celebrated half-court execution and turned league MVP Derrick Rose into a reckless chucker.
Other than for very short stretches, none of those teams resembled those the league had come to know.
And, while no one in the playoffs has proven capable of getting LeBron James off his game, he has turned that trick against pivotal adversaries. His primary covers in the first three rounds -- Andre Iguodala, Paul Pierce and Luol Deng, shot 42, 45 and 42 percent, respectively. In the closing minutes, James has chased around smaller, quicker players such as Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, Rose and now Jason Terry.
“Something we hadn’t prepared for,” said Terry, who was 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter Tuesday. “We’ve seen it, we’ve made our adjustment and we’ll be prepared in Game 2.”
Rose prepared. Didn’t matter.
Another characteristic of a dominant team?
It is certainly no coincidence that the rise of the Heat has coincided with the Big Three growing more comfortable inside their own skins around each other on the court. LeBron becoming a better shooter from the perimeter, which allows him to more often play the role of alpha dog, doesn’t exactly hurt the cause either.
When James last appeared in The Finals with the Cavaliers back in 2007, he shot just 41.6 percent from the field and 28 percent on 3-point attempts through Cleveland’s march through the playoffs. This postseason, his overall field goal percentage is up to 46.8 and he’s hit 40.8 percent from behind the arc. Only 2011 3-point champion James Jones (45.9) has a higher success rate on triples for the Heat, yet it is LeBron who has dialed up long distance most often in the playoffs with 25, including a 4-for-5 showing in Game 1 of The Finals.
This is why you don’t bring wild pets home, kids. What it all means is that, not only are the Mavericks potentially in deep trouble for the rest of the series, but likely the entire NBA for the foreseeable future. Now that they’ve learned to get their heads unstuck from the cookie jar, the Heat are just beginning to wreak havoc.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Before a ball officially goes up on the 2011 NBA playoffs, we need to take a little bit of your time so we can discuss a few things.
In fact, we’re going in-depth on all eight playoff series, dissecting the action in both the Eastern and Western Conferences with a few friends of the program on the Hang Time Podcast Playoff Preview extravaganza.
We broke down each series with an insider that has a unique perspective on the matchup, the key players and everything else that comes along with playoff basketball.
Can the Lakers complete the three-peat? Can the Spurs, Heat, Mavericks, Celtics or Magic stop them? Are the Bulls, the league’s top overall team based on regular season records, for real? We answered all those questions and more.
LISTEN HERE (and make sure you turn the volume up):
- Chicago-Indiana,with NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner:
- Miami-Philly, with Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post:
- Boston-New York, with Paul Flannery of WEEI:
- Orlando-Atlanta, with Hawks radio broadcaster Steve Holman:
- San Antonio-Memphis, with Dan Wolken of The Daily:
- Los Angeles -New Orleans, with Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:
- Dallas-Portland, with Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge:
- OKC-Denver, with Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman: