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Heat can be beat and LeBron knows it

Image: LeBron James of the Miami Heat (© Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Getting nervous, LeBron?
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Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock writes about the sports world from every angle, including those other writers can't imagine or muster courage to address. His columns are humorous, thought-provoking, agenda-free, honest and unpredictable. E-mail him, follow his Twitter or become a fan of Jason Whitlock on Facebook.

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LeBron James’ overreaction to the media-ginned “just another team” controversy strikes me as Miami Heat vulnerability.

Dan Le Batard’s whining about the New York Knicks losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals strikes me as Miami Heat vulnerability.

Dwyane Wade’s sore knee strikes me as Miami Heat vulnerability. So does the sloppy, referee-assisted way the Heat disposed of the M.A.S.H. unit disguised as the Chicago Bulls.

The Miami Heat are vulnerable. They can be beaten. These NBA playoffs are not a Heat coronation.

As a lifelong Indiana Pacers fan, I promised myself I was going to stay negative and humble throughout the playoffs. I learned a lesson earlier in the season.

Midway through the regular season, with Paul George ascending to legitimate All-Star and Danny Granger scheduled to return at any moment, I got overly excited, nicknamed the Pacers the “Baby Dragons” and all but predicted the Pacers would upset the Heat in the postseason.

Granger came back. His knee never felt right, and he returned to the sideline. George and the Pacers slumped for a bit. I shut my mouth, quit calling Indianapolis radio shows and avoided discussing the Pacers on my Twitter feed. The Pacers rallied. They finished the regular season strong and now here they are in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat.

Should I stay negative and humble? Probably. Will I? Probably not.

There’s one reason to invest your happiness in rooting for a team: It justifies $h*t talking. You suffer in silence. You succeed with DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” blaring in the background.

I never went nowhere
They sayin’ Whitlock’s back
Blame it on that Granger injury
The ‘hood call it Whitlock smack

Look, I’m not saying the Pacers are going to beat the Heat in this series. I’m saying the Heat are vulnerable, and they know it. LeBron knows it. That’s why he’s pretending Pacers coach Frank Vogel disrespected the Heat by not calling Miami just another team. LeBron is looking for an emotional edge because he knows Miami’s physical edge is much less pronounced with Wade needing milk of the poppy (Game of Thrones reference) to play on two legs. Miami Heat media propagandist Dan Le Batard senses the Heat’s vulnerability. He whined on Twitter over the weekend about his disappointment the Heat wouldn’t get to face the fraudulent Knicks.

It’s not just Wade’s health that makes the Heat vulnerable.

Erik Spoelstra is not an elite coach. I’m sorry. He’s not. Anyone who watched the Bulls battle Miami over five games recognized the coaching advantage Chicago held over the Heat.

I don’t have to pretend Spoelstra is the second coming of Phil Jackson. He’s a solid coach. But he does not give the Heat any kind of strategic or emotional advantage. Spoelstra is the Miami coach so that Pat Riley can control the team and James and Wade can run isolation plays in the final minutes of close games without anyone objecting.

Is Frank Vogel as good as Tom Thibodeau? No. But Vogel is better than Spoelstra.

If the Pacers can stay close into the fourth quarter, Vogel will handle the last four minutes of every game better than Spoelstra. That’s because the matchup will be Vogel vs. LeBron.

 

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James reminds me of Peyton Manning, another once-in-a-generation talent who is too bright for his own good. Manning has served as his own head coach and offensive coordinator throughout much of his NFL career. It has bitten him in the ass at playoff time. Manning can’t outthink the NFL’s best defensive coaching minds in the postseason. He’s inferior to Tom Brady in the postseason because he’s never accepted the kind of coaching help Brady receives from Bill Belichick and the New England coaching staff.

In the NBA, the great players have regularly partnered with great coaches. Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson. Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Pat Riley. Red Auerbach and Bill Russell. Isiah Thomas and Chuck Daly. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich.

Spoelstra is a poor man’s Bill Fitch and/or K.C. Jones, the coaches who guided Larry Bird to his three NBA titles.

In all likelihood, the Pacers don’t have enough depth to beat the Heat. Indiana’s bench is abysmal. But if the refs let the Pacers play physical — not dirty — Roy Hibbert’s rim protection could force James and Wade to the perimeter and open the door for a series upset.

Any game decided by four points or less, I like the Pacers. I don’t see James punking the Pacers the way he did a year ago. Let’s hope Lance Stephenson doesn’t re-enact Danny Granger’s false-bravado, $h*t-talking spasm that provoked King James into morphing into King Kong.

The Pacers should leave the $h*t talking to their delusional fans!

Tagged: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Danny Granger

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