Heat Strokes, Game 5: The Last Asshole Standing

FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse and co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (visit the FreeDarko store, too!), is keeping a game-by-game diary of the Heat's season — the one you're pretending not to care about.

Result: Heat 129, Timberwolves 97
Record: 4-1

Suddenly, Chris Bosh is the last asshole standing.

On Tuesday, around the time Rand Paul won a spot in the U.S. Senate, the Heat were gently trashing the Timberwolves. As is becoming a pattern with Miami games, this one was over after three quarters. (When I have time, I should check on the fewest minutes-per-game ever averaged by an MVP.) LeBron and Wade moved as one, finishing with 20 and 17 points, respectively, even if the third belonged — almost sadistically — to LBJ. None of this trading-off possessions crap; they went with the hot hand. There's your answer to the ratty "who takes the last shot" questions: whichever dude is on!

Bosh, though, was ripped to pieces by Kevin Love, and for those watching box scores, he once again failed to put up a suitable line. In the preseason, it looked as if the real love connection was between James and the former Raptor. I forgot who said it — maybe it was out in the ether — but you could easily imagine Bosh feasting on various dunks, put-backs, open shots, and mismatches, and leading the league in field goal percentage. He was also just versatile enough to sneak into any high-concept description of how the Heat would change basketball.

Except, as it turns out, Bosh isn't doing much to fuel the break; he has been exposed as a prosaic on-ball defender by the Heat's defensive schemes (oops); and he is getting bullied and crowded at both ends by teams who prefer to avoid James and Wade.

Let's put it this way: What makes the Big Three so grandiose, so offensive? Is it the pairing of James and Wade? On some level, yes. But the presence of a third max player, a fellow Olympian, Class of 2003 alum, and summer 2010 prize, made it downright excessive. James and Wade, best buddies, would have been an easier sell if Chris Bosh hadn't filled out the decadence. Maximalism gave way to overkill. It's getting increasingly difficult to fault the two wings, unless you're still smarting from the summer's crimes against honor and tradition. They are proving the doubters wrong, and winning as tastefully, and intelligently, as is possible; generally, we call this an accomplishment.

Bosh remains vulnerable. He is the weak link, a condition made worse by other teams' making a target out of him. What's more, Bosh's passivity — formerly, the reason why he fit so well — has become a source of frustration. It's not for nothing that, over the last week, Amar'e Stoudemire's name has popped up here and there as a "what if" scenario. Stoudemire wears many of these same weaknesses on his sleeve, but damn it, he's the devil we know. And for every point he allows, he'll go after two, with a vigorous, if limited, sense of pride.

Bosh is getting max money to push this team past the unthinkable and consciousness-altering. Rather than come along for the ride, he's been left behind, stranded on the highway, as the Heat team takes shape. What should this tell us? The Heat's team defense, premised on Wade and James at their most aggressive, neither includes Bosh nor is hurt by him. At least not when taken as a whole. Whatever modes of interaction James and Wade have started to develop, they don't really accommodate, or encompass, Bosh. Nor, apparently, is he able to provide the kind of standard-issue big man support that we expected of him after the first few preseason games.

Maybe he's finding his way still; maybe Wade and James take up too much space. Regardless, he should have the easiest niche to fill this side of Eddie House. It's hard to tell if he's a poor fit, or if he has been disregarded, or if he is easily thwarted. Whatever the case, it has to be addressed — unless the most invisible member of the Heat wants to become its sole laughingstock.

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A word about that LeBron James ad: When the commercial lit up the interwebs, it never occurred to me that I would soon be seeing it on television — again and again, often against the backdrop of a game that featured James himself. What initially struck me as a crystal clear bit of messaging, albeit one that ended on a dead note, is now an ever-shifting object of the present. The tone of James's sentences, the inflection of each word, and the way he carries himself through the spot's hyper-real imagery, changes in meaning depending on the last possession. Sometimes, it doesn't even take a Heat game to produce this effect (see last week's Cavs column). What should LeBron do? It depends wholly on what he's doing — or what's being done to him.

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Right before the Heat's first exhibition contest — the most fabled four minutes in the history of early October NBA — I was trying to come up with the best entrance song for a team that was built for a great entrance song. I can't be the only person who made a "Hate Me Now" joke right after Bron signed; even the man himself eventually got around to tweeting it. Unless my ears deceive me, they came out to "Down 4 My Ni***as" against the Pistons that day, which was just a little too rugged for them.

Before the opener, I kept thinking about Coltrane's "Chasin' the Trane," especially the alternate takes with Eric Dolphy. That's because it was all basketball on my mind. Somehow, though, David Bowie's "Station to Station" crept in there. At this point, I think it goes well with the Heat's unsettled, and unsettling, strength. That should be troubling to anyone who has just agreed to write about the Heat for a year.

Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of FreeDarko.com and a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse. You can buy The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and lots of other stuff at the FreeDarko store.