There’s no doubt that the Miami Heat are still the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Their power was on full display on Sunday in Toronto when they ran away from the Raptors in the second half and more specifically the fourth quarter. Miami has all the elements of a title team (skill, chemistry and experience) but they also have one ingredient that is usually a help, except in cases where it is used in too heavy a dose and that is confidence. Some look at the abundance of confidence and say it borders on arrogance, but hey, if you can back it up, nobody can argue.
Now that Miami, with the Big Three in tow, has won its title the pressure is off.
The Heat know what it takes to win and are well aware that they can win which provides the team and its star players with a much different attitude. There has been a shift from the question “Can we do it?” to a statement of “We know we can do it.” But the Heat have to guard against overconfidence.
Are they disrespecting the regular season and their opponents?
With the best record in the East, the answer is surely no.
But the eye test also tells you that knowing the grind of an 82-game season and what lies ahead in the playoffs, there isn’t maximum effort being expended consistently. Miami is flirting with disaster if they continue to use spurts in games to break them open then pull back on the throttle versus playing at a consistent level for the entire contest. No question, as written here, they are still the team to beat in the East but playing the role of a sprinter in the 100-metre heats during a marathon NBA schedule can fuel inconsistencies in performance.
The attitude of, “we’re OK, we got this,” in close games is a good one to possess. It does however become problematic after cruising or coasting through a game and giving the opposition the confidence it can win. That mindset of the players also makes it difficult on coaches that know and understand how games tenuously hang in the balance on one or two plays, a suspect whistle from an official or old-fashioned lady luck that does not play favourites. Let’s face it, coaches have a difficult time getting players attention and having them heed the warnings if the team continually turns it on only when they need to but still keeps producing victories. What happens if on some important occasion, they just can’t find that gear?
It doesn’t hurt that the Heat have the best player in the game in LeBron James and a supporting cast that is littered with all-star talent, like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who can fill the role of go-to player if needed. With James leading the charge, the Heat outscored the Raptors in the second half 56-35 holding Toronto to 11-of-37 (29.7 per cent) from the field. Chris Bosh led Miami in the second-half scoring 22 of his 28 points with 13 of them coming in the final frame. Yep, point made.
But the true test will come for the Miami Heat in April, May and, hopefully for them, June, when they set out to try and win a second consecutive NBA title against quality playoff opponents. During the interim however the Heat can’t fall into the trap of playing hard for only selective periods in games. It’s a recipe for disaster later in the season and the more Miami adds to it the greater the possibility that it could leave a bad taste in the mouths at the wrong time.