The Miami Heat aren't just facing the Celtics tonight at American Airlines Arena, they're playing against them every single time Pat Riley's fantasy basketball team takes the court. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have learned it's not easy trying to be the Green.
The Celtics made the hasty merger of three NBA superstars look so simple back in 2007-2008. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were imported to play with Paul Pierce and the Celtics were NBA elite faster than you could say 'rolling rally'. The learning curve for Boston's Big Three was a beeline to basketball eminence. They won their first game together by 20 points. They scored victories in 29 of their first 32 games, ended up with 66 wins and brought home Banner No. 17. They all knew their roles and were on a roll from the opening tip-off.
So, we've been conditioned that is how the process is supposed to go. Thus, the expectation -- no rather the demand -- that Miami's unholy hoops trinity of Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh mesh without any mess. That hasn't been the case. The Heat are 5-3 to start the season. The dream team has gotten a reality check. So far, all the Heat has in common with the original three-point planners of the Eastern Conference is the presence of Eddie House in uniform.
As the new-look Heat fumble around for chemistry, synergy and identity like a house guest trying to find an unfamiliar light switch, the appreciation for what Pierce, KG, Allen and their coach, Doc Rivers, were able to do three seasons ago grows. They made going from paper champion to actual champion look easy as 1-2-3.
Last year, before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge touched on just how special the maiden season of the Big Three was. Ainge, who played with the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, said he'd never seen a team fuse faster than those 2007-08 Celtics.
"I think that was unique. I've been in pro sports now for 30 years. I've never seen a team like that," said Ainge. "A team that was, just from Day One, just that in tune with one and another and coachable. That doesn't mean that they didn't have little personality conflicts behind the scenes here and there."
But the hiccups stayed hidden from the basketball viewing public. The Heat's trial and errors have been on display for all the world to see. They lost on opening night to the Celtics, looking like a pick-up basketball team full of strangers. They made New Orleans center Emeka Okafor look like Moses Malone in a loss to the Hornets. Miami blew a 22-point lead at home two nights ago to the Utah Jazz to send them to defeat for the third time this season.
The 2007-08 Celtics had won 20 games by the time they lost their third game, an 87-85 defeat to the Detroit Pistons. That was the famous contest when Tony Allen fell for a Chauncey Billups up-fake and sent Billups to the line with just a tenth of a second. The Celtics then ripped off a nine-game win streak to go 29-3, before losing again.
The Heat would have to win 24 straight games to match that start.
No one is writing off Miami, but it's been pretty obvious after eight games that the Heat has some flaws in their design. In short, the Heat is more a collection of talent than a coalition of it.
Bosh, who has endured the most bashing, is averaging just 5.9 rebounds per game and takes the power out of power forward. Miami is 29th in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (8.4). Bosh is not a banger. He is a floor-stretching forward. Miami would have been better off with a true power forward like Carlos Boozer or Al Jefferson.
D-Wade has failed to really alter his game to accommodate his superfriends. He is currently third in the NBA in scoring at 26 points per game. He averaged 26.6 last season. His shots are down to 17.6 a game from 19.3 last year, but keep in mind that on the '07-08 Celtics no one averaged more than 13.9 shots per game, and the guy who did that was Garnett, the least offensively-accomplished of Boston's Big Three.
LeBron's decision to join the Heat looks like a demotion. He has taken his talents to South Beach to be a sidekick, instead of a co-star. James is only taking 15 shots per game, by far the lowest of his career, and scoring 20.9 points per game. His 8.6 assists per contest are the exact same average we witnessed last season in Cleveland, and he is up a full turnover per game from last season.
What does bode well for the Heat is it has adopted a defense-first mentality like Boston's Big Three did in their initial season together. Miami has turned out to be tougher to get past than the doorman at an Ocean Drive nightclub, as they're allowing the lowest field goal percentage in the NBA so far this season (41.6) and are tied with the Hornets for the fewest points allowed per game (90.1).
You figure that at some point Miami will figure things out, even if it means removing Erik Spoelstra from the equation. But what we've learned is that creating a contender isn't as easy as lumping three All-Stars into the same laundry and pressing play.
The Celtics only made it look that way.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.