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Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Streak is Over but the Heat are Still the NBA's Best Team

A very determined, physical and well-coached Chicago team defeated the Miami Heat 101-97 last night, ending the Heat's 27 game winning streak. The Heat fell six games short of tying the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers' record 33 game winning streak, which is a reminder of just how great those Lakers were: a six game winning streak in the NBA is not easy to accomplish--the San Antonio Spurs, the team with the second best record behind the Heat this season, have only had two such streaks this season. In other words, the Heat were not quite as close to setting the record as some people suggested. Or, as Miami running back Mercury Morris said when the 2007 New England Patriots threatened to match the perfect record established by his 1972 Dolphins, "Don't call me when you're in my town, call me when you're on my block and I see you next door moving your furniture in."

This is not a criticism of the Heat at all--what they accomplished is tremendous--but it is interesting that when a player or team threatens an old school record we can gain a new, deeper appreciation for just how great the record-setting player or team really was. By the same token, it will probably be a long time before another NBA team matches the Heat's 27 game winning streak, so if that happens 20 or 30 years from now then young fans at that time will be reminded just how great the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh Heat were. Wade looked like a declining player earlier this season but now it seems like he just needed some more time to recover from offseason knee surgery. He performed very efficiently during the winning streak, though his lack of durability is still an issue--he missed the two games prior to the Chicago loss due to a nagging knee problem. Chris Bosh is the most underrated great player in the NBA, a mobile, versatile and athletic weapon at both ends of the court. Bosh should be remembered as a key cog in Miami's attack but his greatness seems destined to be overlooked. Speaking of forming memories/commemorating greatness, you can find some great NBA-themed apparel and collectibles at Sports Unlimited; much of the rancor emanating from James' ill-conceived "Decision" has dissipated and we are now seeing James jerseys being proudly worn even during the Heat's road games, something that was almost inconceivable a year or two ago.

The Bulls beat the Heat by attacking them in the paint at both ends of the court, by making timely fourth quarter shots and by never backing down mentally or physically. Is that the blueprint for winning a playoff series against the Heat? Of course it is--but the problem for Heat opponents is twofold: (1) not many squads have the coaching and/or personnel necessary to execute that game plan and (2) in order to eliminate the Heat a team must execute that game plan four times in a seven game series.

The streak--and this season in general--showcased the emergence of a new LeBron James, one that we saw glimpses of during the 2012 playoffs. Simply put, James has no weaknesses now: he has improved his shot selection, he has fixed his once erratic outside shot and he has overcome the mental/psychological obstacles that prevented him from performing at his peak level in playoff series against elite teams. The Bulls seemed to get James off of his game a bit by repeatedly fouling him hard and teams will undoubtedly do that in the playoffs as well but James has faced a lot of physical contact throughout his career and he has generally kept his composure.

Even though the Heat did well during the 2012 playoffs with a small lineup--aided greatly by the fact that they did not have to face a team that had a dominant low post presence--I was initially skeptical that such a team could survive a full 82 game season plus a long playoff run; I am beginning to change my mind about that because the Heat have vastly improved their half court offense--which I can no longer call a "clown car" offense--and because their speed/energy/efficiency create enough extra possessions to compensate for their weaknesses in the post and on the glass. Also, LeBron James' greatness covers up a lot of flaws: he can play power forward on defense and point guard on offense, so his versatility essentially gives the Heat added roster depth. If the burden of doing so much work does not wear James down and if the Heat do not suffer an injury to a key player it is difficult to see a team beating them four times in a seven game series.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:06 PM



At Thursday, March 28, 2013 8:06:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

It is just too bad that the Heat couldn't keep the streak alive until Sunday at least, when they face the Spurs. It would be one of the most anticipated games in decades, if not all time.

As for the 72 Lakers, their streak was even more dominant: according to SI their victory margin was over 16!

At Saturday, March 30, 2013 9:49:00 AM, Anonymous aw said...

I was rooting for Miami to get the record. Its not an easy task. They had some impressive wins during streak.

Yes, LeBron is better than what he was when he was with the Cavs but he also has much better teammates also.

We all know how great Wade is.

But as for Chris Bosh being underrated, you coould make that case. Bosh is overshadowed by LeBron and Dwayne on the Heat. But at the same time I don't believe Bosh can lead a team to a championship as the team's centerpiece. More like being a great supporting player. So I wouldn't say he's highly underrated.

At Saturday, March 30, 2013 2:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


At any given time there are only five or six players who could lead a team to a championship. You are right that Bosh is not on that level but he is on the next level even though for the past several years we kept hearing nonsense about Pau Gasol being the best all-around big man in the NBA. Bosh is no worse than Gasol and one could make a case that he is better, though because their roles are different it is a bit misleading to directly compare their statistics; the point is that from a skill set standpoint Bosh does not take a back seat to Gasol at all.

At Saturday, March 30, 2013 3:24:00 PM, Anonymous aw said...

Gasol is a good example of a guy that is best suited to be a great supporting player next to a true superstar/franchise player. I do believe Gasol as of now is declining. At their best, Bosh and Gasol are more skilled than Dwight Howard. There may be a lot of guys more skilled than Dwight. But at the end of the day hes one of those five or six guys you are talking about. Dwight gets knocked because he isnt that skilled, but the magic went deep into the playoffs with him as their best player and he made first team all mba for like four or five years straight. That tells you something. Its not all about skillset, its about a players impact. When at one hundred percent, I cant name not even ten players I would take over Howard.

I still believe Wade is a superstar/franchise player when healthy.

As for the Heat, They improved their bench with the addition of Ray Allen. Somehow I dont think them being undersized will ever be a major issue.

At Saturday, March 30, 2013 5:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you about Gasol; my point is that Bosh is every bit as good as Gasol--in fact, Bosh is better now because Gasol is a declining player--but you would never know that if you relied on mainstream media commentators who have been pumping up Gasol ever since he had the good fortune to become Kobe Bryant's sidekick.

If you have read my previous articles then you know that I would easily take a healthy Howard over Gasol or Bosh and that I agree that Howard is one of the few franchise players in the NBA.

The 2004 Pistons are one of the few teams in NBA history that won a championship without having a legit franchise player--but they had several high quality All-Stars (i.e., not guys who barely made the team) plus a Hall of Fame coach.

Wade, at his peak, was a borderline franchise player. He went nuts in the 2006 Finals when the Mavs were preoccupied with containing Shaq, who was a declining but still potent franchise player. Wade is clearly not as good as peak Bryant or peak James and his style of play/lack of size (generously listed at 6-4) will result in a steady decline in his play as he gets deeper into his 30s; James can evolve into a pure post player when his athleticism declines and Bryant's complete skill set has enabled him to thrive as an older player but Wade's career will not likely follow either of those arcs.

The Heat's lack of size is an issue in certain matchups but they compensate for it very well. A healthy Dwight Howard surrounded by a healthy supporting cast could have caused the Heat major problems. The teams that have beaten LeBron James in the playoffs in recent seasons had a strong defensive presence in the paint (Tyson Chandler, Kendrick Perkins/Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard) and if the Heat lose in the playoffs this season it will most likely be to a team that is very strong in the paint.

At Saturday, March 30, 2013 6:23:00 PM, Anonymous aw said...

I think Heat make up lack of size with good enough rebounding and good individual and help defense from different guys. And as you stated last year in playoffs they didnt have to deal with a dominant low post scorer. I juat dont really seeing a team in the east beating them.

I disagree with you about Wade. I believe he is currently a top ten player and when healthy i consider him a franchise guy. Im not basing my opinion on what happened in 2006 neither. At his peak hes not as good as peak bron or kobe, but i still believe hes good enough.

Heres something to think about. Tony parker is the spurs best player. I dont consider him a superstar/franchise guy. But if the spurs won it all would you consider him one? I still wouldnt. I look at Parker as the best player on a deep spurs team. I doubt Parker could lead a mediocre team to the playoffs.

At Sunday, March 31, 2013 2:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Chicago with a healthy Derrick Rose could challenge Miami but that probably will not happen this season. If Hibbert and West play well in the paint and George excels on the perimeter then the Pacers can challenge Miami as well but I agree with you that the road is wide open for the Heat in the East.

It could be argued that Wade is a top 10 player this season. He has a good chance to make the All-NBA Second Team.

When Parker won the 2007 Finals MVP I thought that the honor should have gone to Duncan and I agree with you that Parker is not a franchise player even though it could be argued that he is San Antonio's best player now.

At Sunday, March 31, 2013 7:04:00 AM, Anonymous aw said...

Yes, I agree that A healthy Bulls team with A healthy Derrick Rose could challenge the Heat.

Heres something to think about. As great as the Heat are, I think Game six of the ecf last year meant a lot. Spolstra is considered a great coach and one of the game's best coaches. But if the Heat loss game six in the ecf last year, I believe theres a great chance Spolstra gets fired. And if that happened Spolstra probably wouldnt be fortunate to be in another great situation. And he wouldnt be considered one of the games best coaches or a future hall of fame coach.

Some coaches are just more fortunate than others. But any coach can get fired whether its deserving or not. They take a lot of blame so thats how it works. Phil Jackson is considered the goat coach, but jes capable of being fired also. He always lands on a team at the right time and leaves at the right time and he picks his destinations.

Is Spolstra a great coach, or is he a good coach in a great situation?

At Monday, April 01, 2013 7:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't think that any coach or player should be disproportionately praised or criticized based on the outcome of one game. One of the worst and most stupid articles I have ever read was John Krolik's feeble attempt to prove that one particular playoff game would serve as the defining moment of Kobe Bryant's career if the Lakers lost. That is just idiotic and Krolik's bias shined through after the Lakers won and the game suddenly lost all meaning or interest to Krolik (if the Lakers had in fact lost then Krolik no doubt would have written about the loss ad nauseam).

So, I am not buying your premise that Spoelstra's career should be evaluated based on one game, nor do I accept your implication that Phil Jackson just happened to land in the right place 11 times (!).

At Monday, April 01, 2013 1:22:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

David, have you read Rosen's comparison between the 72 Lakers and the 2013 Heat?


Is this a fair and balanced take, or is Rosen just a curmudgeon from the 70s?

At Monday, April 01, 2013 4:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Rosen's take on the matchup is very reasonable.


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