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.
Note: Bethlehem Shoals is taking the next couple of columns off because of a scheduling conflict. Filling in for him is Eric Freeman, a FreeDarko regular and one of the authors of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History.
Results: Hornets 96, Heat 93; Heat 101, Nets 89
Since Decision Day on July 8, NBA observers and fans have wondered who would take the last shot for the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have both controlled crunch time throughout their careers, and both would gladly take on the same role for the Heat. No matter how many times LeBron and others said in the media that South Beach belongs to Wade, the last shot will define whose team this really is.
We got our answer Friday against the Hornets. It was Eddie House. Hopefully one of you made some money off it by picking "the field" in a Vegas prop bet.
The scene, if you missed it: Down three points with seven seconds remaining, the Heat inbounded to Wade near the top of the key, who passed to House coming off a screen on the left wing. House, who had missed all six of his three-point attempts and made only two of eight shots up until that point, saw his shot clank off the rim and into the hands of the Hornets.
It was a huge letdown, and not only because neither Wade nor James had a direct impact on the game's final play. By most appearances, Erik Spoelstra drew up this play for House, deciding to let the fate of his team rest in the hands of a career backup with a reputation for being extremely streaky.
Yet the choice was largely in keeping with the Heat's approach to this season after nearly two weeks of play. Although Miami owned the summer after putting three stars on the same stage, they've been more than willing to let the contributions of their role players determine their quality on any given night. With defenses keying on James and Wade, the stars seem fine with passing off to players like House, Udonis Haslem, James Jones, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas for open 15-footers. (This group seems to include Bosh more and more with each passing game. When not a team's focal point, he doesn't appear to be much more than a very tall jump shooter.)
This strategy is fairly normal — after all, the Lakers have relied on contributions from Ron Artest, Derek Fisher, and Andrew Bynum to win the last two championships. It's still disappointing, though. As Shoals has said several times already in this space, the Heat hold our gaze because they promise something we've never seen before on a basketball court. They're playing like past champions have instead of creating their own style. Hopefully it's only a testing period and not a sign of things to come.
Enough about style for now — let's talk about results. This was the second loss for the Heat, and altogether a more shocking one than the season opener against Boston. While the Celtics took the Lakers to seven games last June, the Hornets are a recovering lottery team with a star in Chris Paul who has hinted he may want to create his own superteam, perhaps in New York. Plus, the Heat didn't have a near-teamwide meltdown as they did in Boston.
It would be a cliche to say this game was a sign that a single homegrown star can do more than a bunch of mercenaries playing for their own egos. That's bullshit, of course. What this game really proved is that Paul — whose Hornets are now one of two remaining undefeated teams at 6-0 — is still the best point guard in the league and capable of defeating presumably superior teams on the strength of his own brilliance. His final line: 13 points, 19 assists, and five steals. In case you forget, the Celtics beat the Heat largely because of Rajon Rondo's own domination. This week, Miami faces Utah's Deron Williams (Tuesday) and Rondo again (Thursday). Along with Paul, those are the three best point guards in the league. It's too early to say the Heat have a hole in their defense, but if they get eaten up by Williams and Rondo, we may have a legitimate trend.
Oh yeah, the Heat had another game this weekend against the Nets at home. After an easy win in New Jersey last week, Miami entered as a giant favorite, but for a half the Nets looked like strong competition, trailing by only four at the half. But the Heat turned it into a laugher within minutes of the restart, opening up a 19-point margin by the end of the quarter to make the fourth a formality. It was also the first time the triumvirate all scored 20 points in the same game, although it seemed less like a milestone than a byproduct of facing an inferior squad for 48 minutes.
The game played by a script we'll see performed throughout the year. At the start, Wade and James seemed happy to defer to their teammates and pick their spots to score. Then, in the second half, they overpowered a lottery team in a rush of dominance. The win was so expected that it risked becoming professional rather than exciting. This is just what great players do when they punch the clock.
Except James and Wade every so often make you bite your own hat out of pure, ecstatic joy. Here's a highlight from the game-deciding third-quarter run:
If this diary sometimes sounds as if it's complaining about a team that's played only seven games, that's because we know that plays like this one are possible. So far, Dwyane and Lebron have had a hard time playing off each other in their half-court sets. But when they get out on the break, there's always the possibility that they'll rewrite the rules of the game.
It's why the Heat remain appointment television even though they look for now like a very good team rather than a transcendent one. And it's why I'll keep coming back for as long as it takes them to make dunks like this a regular occurrence.
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.
Eric Freeman is a writer and editor from San Francisco. He is a FreeDarko regular and one of the authors of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. His work has also appeared on SportingNews.com, FanHouse, and The Awl. Follow him on Twitter.