It’s time for LeBron to rescue the Heat
This, Miami Heat, is what it looks like when all the spin, the glass-half-full, the it’s-us-against-them-so-they-must-be-jealous talk comes to a screeching halt.
This is what it looks like when the truth blankets you like a bad dream you can’t shake off, when the greatness you just know you’re destined for becomes not a Yellow Brick Road to scoot along but a hard slog – a battle – you might not be able to surmount.
This, Miami Heat, is reality.
And unless LeBron James puts what he wants completely behind him in order to give his team what it needs, this could be reality for a long time.
That’s what Jordan or Magic would do immediately, now, yesterday.
“We understand that this is who we’ve got,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday night. “And we have to be active participants right now in our own rescue.”
Spoelstra is talking about LeBron James, about looking inside the locker room for solutions.
The Miami Heat are beat up. They are too small and not tough enough. The soul and guts of their team, Udonis Haslem, is out for months.
LeBron James is a superstar with a track record of that not being enough. And of not doing enough.
Chris Bosh is a superstar in a role that might allow him to hit his numbers (finally) but might also make him the wrong piece in a stumbling machine.
The injury gods have looked down on this team (from fate or hubris or just bad luck, it is hard to say) and touched not just Haslem but Mike Miller and, for the preseason and again in recent days, Dwyane Wade).
And there’s still a very long season to go.
Oh, and they just lost to the now 6-6 Indiana Pacers in a 93-77 beat down at home.
The Miami Heat, The Team That Would Win 72, is now 8-6.
“We’re lacking two things,” LeBron said after the game. “Having fun and a little bit of swagger.”
They’re missing a lot more than that.
The players will say – certainly LeBron will say – no one expected this to be easy.
Most of America saw the look on LeBron’s face as he announced to where his talents were being shipped off and heard the words “winning for multiple years.”
As in winning championships.
Many more saw Bosh roar with pride as he surrounded himself on a stage with LeBron and Wade.
Most of America thought, like the Big Three certainly did, that this team would roar through the league and take no prisoners.
Now they are the prisoners – of bad luck, of the hype and hope they built up and sold, of LeBron James’ nagging inability to do what he must. Perhaps they are foremost prisoner of a league happy to devour the joy from the supposed South Beach juggernaut.
Kobe Bryant must be laughing. Paul Pierce must be cracking jokes with friends about the next tweet he should send for the benefit of the two-time-reigning most valuable player.
Daniel Gilbert? Hell, the man could be so overjoyed with a sense of righteous hilarity he’s penning another crazy, all-caps screed right now.
For the Heat, the issue is what to do about it.
Start with LeBron.
Start with the King, the Chosen One, the person who can actually fix this.
Right now, he needs to choose his team. Which means choosing to sacrifice what he prefers for what the Heat need right now – a power forward, a rebounding and playmaking force in the low post.
Rebound. Battle. Rebound more. Pass up long jumpers. Rebound more. Battle. Knock people to the ground if need be. Rebound again.
Use that incredible body God gave you, that pride you’ve so willfully flashed again and again, and the speed and power and beauty of your game to rebound, over and over.
Entering Monday night’s game, LeBron had been out-rebounded by Wade.
Though maybe it’s understandable. Wade has a ring. Wade is a leader – not a scorer, not a prodigy, not a chosen one (though he is surely some of those things, too) but first and foremost a leader.
On Monday, that leader seemed ailed – perhaps by his wrist – on a night in which he shot 1 of 13 and scored three points.
When one leader goes down, another must step up. That’s why LeBron and Wade are co-stars, Nos. 1 and 2 in the Big Three.
Be that, LeBron. Be it now, with Haslem down, with Miller down, with the team toward the bottom in the league in rebounding, with Wade struggling.
Only two people can fix this roster. One is Pat Riley, and that is if – and in the NBA it’s a huge if – he can pull off a trade to plug the glaring holes in a team with little toughness or, right now, much heart.
The other person?
It’s LeBron James.
History says only he can make himself do what he must. History also says that’s not so likely.
But he can do it, if he chooses to.
Because history says this, too: In Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Magic Johnson played all five positions. His stat line? 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists.
Fifteen rebounds, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sat out that game. Five positions.
That’s leadership. No, it’s more. That is true greatness. And LeBron has it in him, if he reaches down and decides to let it out.
Jordan? The man did what was necessary. Scored, of course. But rebounded. Defended. Passed. Harangued. Fought through illness and weakness.
Those two men had something in common that LeBron doesn’t. They were coached by legends. Dean Smith (legend), Jud Heathcote (mini-legend) and Pat Riley and Phil Jackson (at the time, legends in waiting).
Legends teach talent many things. How to be selfless. How to see the game on another level. And, so, how to win.
Before the game, LeBron was asked about playing the four position. The need for this was obvious. The team is soft and needs bodies down low.
The King said all the right words about needing to do better and being willing to play whatever role he must, but he looked like he’d just choked on something bitter.
His game needs to be about more than stats. He can do this by battling, and by leading by example.
As the game went on, LeBron retreated further and further from the basket. He took jumper after jumper, missing many. He was 6 of 14. He got his 25 points. He got five assists.
And he had five rebounds — only one in the second half.
There’s more. The Heat made 14 more free throws than the Pacers. They held Indiana to 41 percent field-goal shooting. Winning should not have been a problem.
Yet with two minutes to go in the game, AmericanAirlines Arena had mostly emptied. The ending was already written.
The number of people conjured a high school game crowd, just like one of LeBron’s from his Akron days.
Where, then, it was enough to be a star, show up, not learn, not worry about the intangibles of leadership – about adjustment, focus, compromise and the searing need to win that drove Magic to play five positions in one game and drove Jordan to be what he had to be in every moment he was on the floor.
Those guys, on a night like this, would have at least thrown themselves into trying to giving their teams what they needed.
This isn’t high school anymore. This is the National Basketball Association. The difference shows.
Not in talent. The Chosen One is still the most talented player on the floor, as he always has been and might always be.
He needs to be more, to do more.
He can play power forward and fix this roster. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, unlike his one-time Cleveland teammate, is rising to be as much as he can. He had 12 points and eight rebounds Monday, and he fought — and fought — to be more down low.
It’s LeBron or Riley. One can change on the floor, the other can change who plays on the floor (FOXSports.com learned Monday night the Heat offered Erick Dampier a one-year contract which he plans to sign Tuesday, a solid move but not a game changer).
Riley might make more moves. In this league, that can take time.
For LeBron, the moment must be now. Today. That means not just rebounding, but sounding the battle cry for the rest of his team by going into the paint and being a warrior.
They know. They know LeBron would rather shoot from the outside, play point-forward, handle the ball.
Which is why LeBron changing for his team will send a very powerful message.
Listen up, LeBron. See and hear what’s happening around you.
“We have to be active participants right now in our own rescue,” Spoelstra had said.
The head coach – like all those folks booing in a largely empty arena as the clock ticked to 0:00 – was really talking to the King.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter.