Three straight losses? Are you serious?
They are the two most physically talented players in the league.
One plays center and could someday be ranked among the greats, one plays somewhere with the talent and style resting between Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
One is The King. The other is Superman.
Both have had a nagging problem: They have at times failed, in their transition from high-school star to NBA player, to bring a winner’s edge and seriousness to their jobs.
Dwight Howard has worked hard on that this season – that sense of purpose, of this being a job and not a joyride – and it showed Wednesday in Orlando’s 104-95 win over the Heat in which the big man had 24 points and 18 rebounds.
LeBron James has tried, too. Or he did. But things got hard, early, and he went back to the wrong place, the “it needs to be fun” mindset.
That theme has recurred all week as LeBron has simultaneously indicated he’s not real happy in Miami and, by the way, all that lack of fun is cramping his team’s play.
No, LeBron. It doesn’t need to be fun, not now, not yet. Jordan had fun when he lifted the trophy and let the tears flow. Magic had fun when he beat Bird and the Celtics.
It needs to be serious. It needs to be intense. It needs to be now. It needs, every moment of every game, to be the way it was for your team in the second half of Orlando’s 105-95 win: A battle.
Let’s skip back to last year, when James couldn’t deliver in the playoffs. There was talk he’d quit or choked. That same year, Howard struggled in the playoffs, too, and there was talk he lacked the focus and seriousness of his station.
Now, the Heat are 8-7. The Magic are 10-4. And despite a much better Heat effort Wednesday night, it’s clear a sense of urgency beats, in the NBA, a sense of glee.
“We did a great job finishing the game out and we had to fight very hard,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Obviously they have an unbelievable amount of talent and I thought we fought very hard.”
That’s Stan nodding, twice, to the merits of fighting and zero times to the merits of having fun.
The thing is, much of the Heat got it Wednesday. Chris Bosh was aggressive in the second half, and Wade tried to will his team to a win, and the Heat had for the first time in games a real edge.
What they needed was LeBron James, in that string of energy and effort, to close.
To make the final quarter all about business.
He didn’t. He had five points, zero rebounds and one assist during that stretch of time that separates the wheat from the chaff in this league.
Was he having fun? Who cares?
Losing isn’t fun, and the Heat haven’t been having much, and that’s something coach Erik Spoelstra keyed in on before the game.
“It wasn’t that fun the last two games,” he said. “Really, when you’re not winning or playing at an efficient, productive level, it’s not supposed to be fun. What I’m stressing to the guys is I want them to play with passion … (when we do that and play together) it is fun. And the results usually happen after that.”
Spoelstra was right. What they should have instead of fun – what they did have for long glimpses Wednesday – is a driven need to be better.
Most of them had that in the second half. Most.
Despite how close the game became, there was a softness and lack of purpose early and often stretching through the first half.
It’s clear, now, that James scoring 20 points or more, Bosh hitting jumpers and Wade getting hot are not enough.
What is? What is the solution?
Many things. A roster fix. Playing the way they did in the second half all game, all the time, every night.
A LeBron adjusting to his team’s needs rather than his own.
And the furthest things from fun – a dead-eyed craving to play with hellacious energy and urgency.
For this to be about grit and guts, not guffaws and good times.
Howard seems to be learning that lesson.
It’s yet another LeBron needs to pick up soon.