It was built around the same three men – the same three superstars, if you will – and under the same young coach who take the court still now.
It went to the NBA Finals, just as it did a year ago, just as it most likely will this spring, as well.
It’s history of the most recent variety, but to study it is to almost believe that it happened a decade ago, to a different group, in a different world.
The it in question, of course, is the Miami Heat, a team that during the past 18 months has gradually shed nearly every notion of drama, save the drama, of course, of greatness. The Heat are the best team in the NBA, just as they may have been in recent seasons, but they’re somehow different. This year, they’ve evolved; they are, in a sense, boring.
Two years ago, they were just the opposite, in the worst possible way. Just look back at a sampling of headlines from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal during the 2010-11 season.
There’s the drama of struggling: “Heat Ends Its Anguish By Edging the Lakers” (New York Times, 3/11/11), “Tears Shed By the Heat As the Skid Reaches 4” (NYT, 3/7/11), “These Days, Everyone Can Stand the Heat” (Wall Street Journal, 2/5/11), “Heat Has Been Off, And Pressure Is On” (NYT, 12/1/10).
There’s drama in the form of jabs at the big three: “Miami’s Big Three Stumble Along” (NYT, 11/13/10), “This Time, Heat Stars Live Up to Name” (NYT, 5/10/11).
There’s drama in the team’s utter inability to focus: “The Heat Is Not Yet on the Same Page in an Edited Playbook” (NYT, 10/31/10).
There’s drama in the barbs upon barbs upon barbs aimed at LeBron James: “James and His Coach Deny a Rift” (NYT, 11/30/10), “The Great LeBron James Pile-On” (WSJ, 6/14/11).
They didn’t live up to expectations. LeBron wasn’t a closer. Eric Spoelstra wasn’t the right coach. Cleveland was cheated. The drama went on and on (and on and on). They won, eventually, but they won in spite of it. They won because it was disappearing.
Chew on this one, now: In the past 15 years, the most boring of teams, the Spurs, has won four championships. No team save the Lakers, who have five, has won more in that time frame. In fact, San Antonio hasn’t missed the playoffs since 1997.
The Spurs are also the least dramatic team in the league. There’s rarely, if ever, any upheaval, except of course when Gregg Popovich decides to send his players home from Miami, and that’s drama born of boring pragmatism, after all. (So can it even count?) Things in San Antonio are pretty humdrum. Win, win, win, win. Cease to age. Never fight, squabble, complain. Win some more.
That, this year, seems to be the Heat’s new M.O., and it’s working. The conversation is centered upon their growth, how they’re one of the rare teams to win a championship and then improve upon that. It’s about a 27-game winning streak, second-best in NBA history, LeBron’s versatility, the ability to play small and succeed. There’s not a shred of drama, infighting or finger-pointing.
Leave that to the Lakers, and even the Clippers lately, sometimes the Thunder, too. Kobe and company have the market cornered on drama this season, and though they may still wrangle themselves a playoff berth, they aren’t going anywhere. They’re too volatile, too divided, too much like the Heat of 2011, but with less talent and more age.
The Spurs and Heat, on the surface, don’t have much in common besides their greatness. The coaches couldn’t be more different, nor could the stars or the markets or the systems. But now, finally, they share the same hint of perfect monotony, of entertainment derived almost solely from basketball devoid of the trappings of celebrity.
That, in part, is why the Heat will win a second consecutive championship this season. It will be thrilling, no doubt, if utterly expected.
Celebration of the week
Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman earned his 1,000th win Saturday night in Minneapolis, when his team defeated the Pistons, 95-93. Adelman’s injured team hasn’t caught a break this season, and he admitted in the weeks leading up to the win that he assumed it would have come much sooner. To compound that, the coach missed much of the month of January to tend to his ailing wife, Mary Kay, whose health has since improved and who was present Saturday night.
The game Saturday came down to the wire – fitting for this year’s Minnesota team – but Adelman’s son, David, a player development coach for Minnesota, made sure his mother made it down to the court in time for the celebration. When given the microphone after the game and asked what it meant for his wife to be present, the coach didn’t mince words: “She had to be here. … It’s just really special. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.”
The Jazz: Utah currently holds the advantage over the Lakers in the race for the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed after defeating Golden State, 97-90, on Sunday night. If the Jazz go 2-2 to end the season (against the Timberwolves twice, Thunder and Grizzlies), the Lakers will have to go 4-1 (against the Hornets, Warriors, Spurs, Blazers and Rockets) to clinch the eighth seed.
The Clippers: Sure, they clinched their first division title and a season sweep of the Lakers on Sunday, and the rumors of internal squabbles might be little more than rumors – but the Lakers are hardly a big win, even with their improved play, and rumors of internal discord are nearly as bad as actual internal discord. The Clippers are being bogged down by murmurs of Stan Van Gundy replacing Vinny Del Negro, with meaningless debates about whether they should hang a division championship banner, with attacks on Chris Paul’s leadership. All such lines of conversation are not only unnecessary but also pointless. Del Negro will lead the team through the playoffs. The division banner matters not at all. Paul is an elite point guard and a coveted player in the league. If the Clippers want to do something besides set internal records for a franchise typically among the dregs of the league, they need to get rid of the distractions.
Best of the week
Team: The Knicks, who beat the Thunder, 125-120, on Sunday to win their 12th straight game. Suddenly all that talk of a month ago about how New York has been a .500 team since its hot start sounds a lot less relevant, and with the Knicks’ 6-2 record against the league’s three .700 or better teams, there’s at least a glimmer of hope for a playoff run despite the shortcomings that have been the focus for much of the past three months.
Player: Carmelo Anthony, who has been the driving force behind this Knicks’ hot stretch. He’s averaging 32.7 points over the 11 games of the winning streak in which he’s played, and this week, he scored 50, 40, 41 and then 36 points for an average of 41.8 on 60.9 percent shooting. Oh, and those 50 points came against the Heat and the 36 against the Thunder.
Worst of the week
Team: The Trail Blazers, who have lost eight straight games sit at 11 games under .500. Nicolas Batum is injured, to boot, and Portland’s midseason hopes that its solid record might not be a fluke have been utterly dashed.
Player: Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday, who went 2-of-24 on Wednesday night, following up that performance with a 3-of-14 performance. The 76ers guard shot a league-worst 21.8 percent on the week, averaging just 10.7 points.
3-14: The Lakers’ record against the best teams in the Western Conference this season after they lost to the Clippers on Sunday. That certainly doesn’t bode well for the playoffs, even after they pulled out a big win over the Grizzlies on Friday.
43 years: The Clippers won their first division title in 43 seasons of existence on Sunday. They did so by sweeping the season series with the Lakers, which they hadn’t done since 1974-75, when they played in Buffalo as the Braves.
15-assist game, 50-point game, same season: Golden State’s Stephen Curry became the second player in Warriors history to log a 15-assist game and a 50-point game in the same season on Friday, when he had 15 assists against the Suns. Rick Barry is the only other Warrior to do so; he had a 64-point game and a 16-assist game in 1973-74.
What we heard
“Our playoff hopes went down the drain, and now it seems like we’re just trying to get to the end of the season.”
– Portland point guard Damian Lillard after his team lost to Houston on Friday, 116-98, and fell to 10 games below .500
“She had to be a part of it. I told her I had to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that. She’s been there all the years. When you go through a job like this and the situations, we’ve moved and raised six kids and everything else. If it wasn’t for her, I could have never done it. That’s why I’m really glad we did it here.”
– Rick Adelman on his wife’s role in his journey to 1,000 wins. Mary Kay Adelman suffered from seizures earlier this winter but has since stabilized, and it’s really hard to fully explain how touching the scene was at the Target Center on Saturday night other than to say that mostly everyone was crying.
“I ain’t watching s***. They should be watching me.”
– Kobe Bryant, when asked if he’d be watching the Final Four.
Boston at Miami, 7:30 p.m. ET Friday: Because these matchups are always fun, even the last one, when the Celtics seemed assured to end the Heat’s winning streak at 22 before utterly blowing it. Even so, with the Ray Allen-Kevin Garnett cold war and Boston’s somewhat unusual success against Miami, it’s impossible not to predict a good game.