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.
Results: Heat 106, Warriors 84; Heat 104, Kings 83
New York may no longer be the cultural or financial heart of the world — I'll raise my cup to L.A. and Left Singapore — but when it comes to the tectonics of the NBA, it's the epicenter. Early Sunday afternoon, the Knicks took one from the Nuggets, the team they will soon ravage by stealing away their superstar who is too much of a pussy to wait out a few years of mediocrity. And with that, the Mike D'Antoni Memorial All-Stars stretched their win streak to eight. Flood lights exploded and jukeboxes lit up, and all of a sudden, there was tension in the league. The Celtics are at 10 straight and your Miami Heat are at eight. Dallas is burning away at 12. The key, though, is that this week the Heat and Celtics will pay a visit to Madison Square. For perhaps the first time since the Heat's opening game, there's real anticipation surrounding this NBA season.
It certainly helps that the Knicks are a running team anchored by goggle-poppin' Amar'e Stoudemire; the Celtics are Rajon Rondo's very own back-spun point guard fantasia; and the Heat are coming off two absolute demolitions of crappy teams whom they barf-fucked with the transition game. To say a team is "good in transition" is misleading, maybe even back-handed. NBA teams, if they get out and run, can come away with a bucket more often than not. James (calling him by his surname means we're being serious about the sport) and Wade are unusually adept at, well, getting two points when they're racing ahead of backpedaling defenders. For one, they are fast as shit; for two, either is a threat to take it coast-to-coast with little resistance; and for three, there really is no telling which maneuver they might pull off to shred anyone who happens to make their way down the floor.
What's really at issue is how often a team gets out in transition. Everybody would like to run, and once the break is on, rules and laws dissolve, and all sorts of ordinary players can make history. James Harden did it last night. Getting out in transition — being a team that actually gets to run at will, rather than doing so when the opportunity presents itself — is an art. It was the secret of the Celtics dynasty, and why Bill Russell's defense was so much more than just preventing the enemy from scoring. It's what Steve Nash still does better than anyone. And increasingly, it's become a hallmark of the Heat. Granted, we're going off wins against Golden State and Sacramento, but even against similar competition earlier in the season, Miami didn't scorch the floor in quite the same way. It's like the Heat have realized that, until their half-court philosophy finally crystallizes, this is the best way to show the world their incredible talents.
After the Utah win, there was a flurry of quotes from James and Wade explaining how, no longer deferring to each other, they had learned to co-exist happily. I had high hopes for the Heat in the half-court; I still believe that ultimately, they will have to figure out something totally awesome and innovative to make it work (see Zach Lowe's discussion of their mini-triangles, which is platonically distinct from the Triangle). Those quotes said, at least to me, "We've just decided to take turns without it looking like we're taking turns, because we aren't making any conscious decision to take turns." However, you have to wonder if the Heat's rosy assessment didn't have something to do with their ability to run more often. It makes everyone feel good and is proof of progress. And since you don't need a point guard, or point-whatever, to do it, it allows the team to overlook one of its several glaring weaknesses. The more the Heat can get James and Wade out on the break, the closer to invincible they seem. Whether that's a solution, or a distraction, remains to be seen.
But hey, with the NBA in the midst of a new competitive Golden Age this Monday, and one defined by entertaining play, no less, I'm not going to argue. The fate of the Heat's soul means far less to me than whether or not their inevitable wins come without exacting a pound of my flesh.
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.