I already lost my bet.
In the summer when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh signed up to be the nucleus of my favorite basketball team, The Miami Heat, I made a wager that they would win 70 games. I even wrote a post in November predicting as much. But the season started and the players didn’t put much effort into it, winning nine games and losing eight. And so I wrote a letter to the man in charge of the Heat, Pat Riley, demanding he fire his coach Erik Spoelstra and take his rightful place on the bench.
This demand was ignored or perhaps it was used as inspiration because suddenly the Heat looked amazing. They hustled on defense, they drove to the basket, and they were destroying opponents so thoroughly that the stars could sit for the majority of the fourth quarter. The Heat won 21 of 22 games highlighted by a Christmas Day victory in Los Angeles against the Lakers. They pulled their record to 30-9. Using an abacus I realized they could possibly go 40-3 the rest of the way and I could win my bet. But as the streak wound towards its end you could see the Heat players return to their bad habits at the start of the season. They would settle for lazy jumps shots instead of driving. They wouldn’t play defense until the third quarter.
They were still managing to win games where they put forth the minimum amount of effort. They came back from four points down with twenty seconds left against the dismal Wizards and down by seven with two minutes left against the Trailblazers, but they then decided to play with less than minimum effort and have now lost four in a row. Most importantly I have lost my bet.
Part of this I continue to blame on the coach. The next time Erik Spoelstra calls up a successful play on offense will be his first time. And if he continues to pull players off the court while they’re on a hot streak my hair will very soon be a distinguished gray. But during the Heat’s successful run it became evident that the Heat had enough talent that the games shouldn’t be close enough for the coaching to matter.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are two of the ten best players to ever dribble a basketball unfortunately they have both been influenced by a former teammate named Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq should have been the most dominating force to ever hit the NBA. There has never been anyone so skilled and so athletic that was his size. His vertical leap combined with his seven foot, three hundred plus pound frame made him impossible to stop unless you fouled him. Shaquille O’Neal never bothered to master the most basic and rudimentary skill in basketball, the free throw. He refused to shoot it underhanded Grandma style instead preferring to be so much of a liability that opponents would purposely foul him forcing his coaches to take him out of close games. But worse was Shaquille’s attitude that the regular season did not matter. He once needed surgery on his toe and instead of getting it taken care of during the off-season he waited until the season started and famously defended this action by saying, “I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time.”
I see a similar attitude with The Miami Heat. I watched their overtime loss to The Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. Coach Spoelstra was partly to blame. With the game tied and twenty seconds left instead of calling a time out to draw up a play, they let the clock run out before jacking up a really difficult three point shot. But beyond poor coaching the Heat looked out of sorts. I had read that James, Wade, and Bosh all missed practice the day before due to “injury”. But then I learned the injury was a hangover as the Heat partied late Sunday night celebrating Wade’s 29th birthday.
I saw this before in 2006. A Heat team featuring Shaquille O’Neal underachieved throughout the season. Then when the playoffs started… Kazaam… they turned on the energy and won a championship defeating teams that foolishly exerted themselves during the regular season. So, I’m not worried. Rather I’m disappointed. The Heat had a chance to be historically great, but they’re cheating themselves and their fans (and me from winning that bet).
At this point I wish the NBA would follow the NFL’s blueprint. Give us a 16 game schedule with one game a week where the players would all bust their butts for every game instead of picking their spots biding time until the season that matters, the playoffs.