Heat Strokes, Game 22: We Are All Hostages

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 88, Bucks 78
Record: 14-8

Don't think I can't hear you. The NBA season is long enough already. Why waste our time dwelling on a single, over-hyped entity that hasn't come close to the show we were promised? Admit it — if the Heat were the Second Coming, this column would make perfect sense, and any of us would gladly make time to watch them. Or not turn away when they showed up on screen. Or, at the very least, not be so hard on this poor slob just trying to make a living at the job he always dreamed of doing. You see, you fuckers, I suffer with you. You talk about resenting the Heat. I live it.

And in a way, that sense of the team as a product still unworthy of its billings has made the NBA's famously irrelevant regular season actually meaningful. There's some weird cultural jiu-jitsu afoot here. Over the summer, LeBron James made his name bigger than ever by pissing off as many people as possible. This season, the Heat have made their season into must-watch basketball not by thrilling us, but by holding us all hostage. At the moment, we still have absolutely no clue how good this team is. They can batter around teams headed for the lottery or a low seed. Against quality outfits — the real litmus test in this top-heavy league — we're still waiting for clarity.

The Heat have won five straight going into tonight's game against the Jazz, the first decent team Miami has faced since that immortal Dallas loss. Before that, they dropped four out of five. So far, they have dropped two to the Celtics (neither as close as the final score suggested), and split a pair with Orlando. They lost to the Jazz once, and to the Hornets, back when the Hornets were good. All at different stages of their evolution.

Unless you believe that the Heat are totally static, at some point there will come a sign. We will start lean something about this team. It will happen once, then twice, then several times in a week. That's when we'll truly understand the Heat past our initial disappointment (or delight, if you swing that way). That mystery, that need for information, is why a game like tonight's is circled on the calendar, and why, as much as we hate to admit it, the Miami Heat have made us a slave to the regular season.

Even if you couldn't care less about who leads the Southwest Division, you still want to know about the Heat. Not track the ins and outs of their rotation, but understand what the fuck is going on there so you can make the best jokes about it. Let's face it, right now, you have no idea. Neither do I. And so, the sport with the least palatable schedule of them all has been rendered indispensable, if still uninteresting. The Heat taking their time, and making us wait and wonder, means the regular season matters. It wouldn't if they were well on their way to 60 wins. It's a celebration of dross and uncertainty, mediocrity as appointment television. From where I'm sitting, it's one hell of an achievement. Even if I hate them for it.

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.

Awesome photo by the AP's Morry Gash.