The Heat’s Ceiling Has Appeared

When LeBron James announced that he was taking his talents down to South Beach it was the signal of an all-star team coming together as a unit for close to 100 games of competitive basketball per season. Finally LeBron was going to get the help that he wanted and more importantly needed. NBA championships are not won by hero ball and isolations, they’re won by teamwork and the power of understanding “the secret”.

LeBron’s first seven seasons led him to a championshipless plateau in Cleveland. He had to get out. He had to find his Scottie.

This season was supposed to be the year the Heat cruised to a second straight ring without any resistance from any team in the Eastern Conference. Hell, a fo’-fo’-fo’ was totally in play before the playoffs started. That’s a run reserved for a healthy Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, not for a supporting cast led by Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Chris “Birdman, Birdman” Andersen. Mike Miller wasn’t supposed to provide a spark off of the bench. Norris Cole wasn’t supposed to play this important of a role.

Didn’t LeBron already move on from Anthony Parker and Drew Gooden?

The main problem in the Heat’s championship machine is obvious. Dwyane Wade looks like he’s aged 20 basketball years in the playoffs. We’ll never know just how much injuries have played in his incredible demise, but we do know this isn’t what LeBron thought was going to happen when he made the infamous announcement in front of the Boys and Girls club of Greenwich, Connecticut.

And then there is Chris Bosh. Let’s take a look at how the $67 million guaranteed third banana has fared recently.

1.) He’s attempted three or more three pointers five times in 14 playoff games, including games 2-4 of this series against the Heat. He attempted three or more three pointers just six times all season.

2.) He’s had three double digit rebound games since March 1st.

3.) He made just one field goal in one game during the regular season, he’s done it twice in the last three games.

4.) He sat on the bench for most of the second half of Game 6.

5.) Roy Hibbert is going to be the villain in many of Bosh’s nightmares.

Here is a First Take like question: Who is more expendable at this point Bosh or Wade?

LeBron is being pushed to the limit in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not so much physically, even though he wants no part of David West, LeBron is playing what I think is his most impressive series of his career. LeBron’s frustration is oozing out of his pours. The ridiculous sprint down the court in Game 6 after being called for an offensive foul was a Wade-ian level of expression that not only warranted a tech, but it gave every Bron hater out there the ammunition to say “Jordan would never do that.”

Ugh…

The Future

The best part about this series if you’re a Heat or LeBron hater is the emergence of the Pacers. In fact, let me take that back, if you’re a fan of the NBA the best part of this series is the emergence of the Pacers.

Think about the immediate future of the East for a second. The Celtics are set to enter the Garnett-Pierce retirement era; the Knicks have way too many questions right now (What’s the status of Tyson Chandler moving forward? Can Amare stay healthy and can Woodson find the right role for him? Will JR Smith repeat his impressive 2012-13 campaign? Can the front office find the right complement player for Melo in the 2014 free agent pool without totally destroying their rotation?); the Nets are the real housewives of the NBA without the drama (soulless rich people who like flashy items); Derrick Rose has to set foot on the court before we can talk about the Bulls.

The Masai Ujiri hire makes the Raptors interesting to me, but there are just too many kinks that need to be worked out before they can join the rest of the teams in the previous paragraph.

Not only have the Pacers become a legitimate threat to making the NBA Finals this year, they’re a couple correct bench moves away from becoming even more dangerous.

In six games Roy Hibbert has not only proven to be one of the most entertaining postgame interviews in the league, but Shaq has declared that Hibbert is the best big man in the league (take from that what you will, but yes Hibbert has dominated by doing exactly what he needed to do against a small Miami frontcourt). Paul George is a top 15 player and is one game away from accomplishing something Carmelo Anthony has never done before. David West had his own version of the flu-game in Game 6. Lance Stephenson is the Richard Sherman lite of the group. His mouth doesn’t stop, but he does enough to back up the talk. He gives the Pacers a much needed identity on the fast break (it was amazing to watch four Heat defenders commit to stopping a Stephenson fast break late in Game 6). And don’t think I forgot about George Hill, I just couldn’t write a sentence that didn’t somehow involve his backcourt mate Stephenson. I guess I should just let Gregg Popovich take it away:

“He worked so hard before practice, after practice, everyday,” continued Popovich, “and became a team favorite. (He) wouldn’t say a word in the beginning, (but) by the time he was traded, he was holding court on the bus and telling jokes,” Pop explained, “and talking and really blossoming as an individual. It was fun to see that growth in him.”

(Full article here)

The Pacers weren’t ready for the spotlight after jumping out to a 2-1 series lead against the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, but they needed that experience to understand what it would take if they wound up meeting the Heat again. It’s the same scenario the Heat experienced when they lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Spoelstra needed to go down in flames to understand just how hard they had to work in order to win a championship.

The same goes for the Pacers. They needed to lose that series last year. They needed to see LeBron dominate a playoff game to understand just what kind of Space Jam monster he is. A year later, they are not only more experienced, but supremely confident that they can stun the world and beat the Heat.

Ask yourself, would you be surprised if that happened?

Follow me on Twitter @ScottDargis

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