The Miami Heat finally left the starting gate for the 2014 NBA season on Thursday night. Pardon their tardiness, but the methodology of winning c’hips has become old hat to The Big Three at this point.
With nothing to prove and a legacy of limits to push, the Heat don’t acknowledge “meaningful” November games or early season statement romps. Always serious, I doubt they start really taking things personally until March.
But just as Brooklyn used an opening night victory over Miami as a symbol of their come-up, media heads were instigating the Heat and touting Thursday night’s Clippers battle as a possible NBA Finals Preview.
America got a look at the new, high-flying Doc Rivers-led Clippers, who were coming off a 137-118 demolition of the rising Houston Rockets but managed to somehow fall to Orlando the night before.
In the end, it was the same old Heat. They chilled for the first three quarters and turned it up on this latest crew of pretenders in the fourth. Miami was able to win, even with an ailing LBJ balling in second gear. James spent part of the game with a wrap on his back, which he said locked up on him after diving for a loose ball in the first quarter.
Thanks to Wade, King James’ setback didn’t affect the outcome. Wade highlighted the Heat’s 102-97 victory with a throwback, 29-point, seven assist performance that had cats singing the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme song.
''Everyone said he was done,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the Associated Press. ''Go figure.''
The Clippers had a 56-52 halftime lead and after a Blake Griffin three to set off the third-quarter, Miami bum rushed LA with 15 points in the next 15 minutes. Possessing that killer switch, working the new guys and getting the bench in gear for the stretch-run seems to be Miami’s focus so far. Now that they know the sky isn’t falling after a 1-2 start, the focus turns to the player who holds the destiny of this team in his battle-scarred body.
All Wade has been hearing since late last season is that he’s reaching the end. They say his body is too beat up and his skills are diminishing. This was supposed to be the season that LBJ had to take up even more of the offensive burden because Wade was going to be a shell of his former self.
All that criticism seemed to do was give Wade more incentive to go bulldog for c’hip No. 4.
“I know I can play basketball,” Wade said to CBS in Miami. “I know when I’m healthy what I can do.”
It’s still early in the season, and Wade’s achy 31-year-old knees are feeling 25 right now, but it was dope seeing him terminate suckers again. Son had the whole repertoire clicking. He was airing jumpers, dipping and diving to the cup and throwing precision passes out of the post for scores. Seeing their back court Hercules move without pain and with conviction is only a positive sign for Miami and a frightening signal to their opposition.
Wade scored 11 of his 29 numbers in that decisive fourth quarter to pick up the slack for LBJ (18 points). Wade made 13 of 22 shots, none more important than the swooping layup Wade hit off a feed from Bosh with about 4:00 left in the fourth-quarter. The bucket gave the Heat a 10-point cushion before holding off the Clippers in the final minutes.
Moving forward, the Clippers' ultimate fate will be determined by their defensive effort. We already know these cats can run-n-gun and drop 100 with Whoopi Goldberg coaching.
Entering Thursday’s game, the Clippers led the NBA with a 113.2 ppg game scoring average, but they rank dead last in points per game allowed (109.6). That formula is defeatist like rolling up Kush in a napkin.
CP3 & Co. are yet to grasp Rivers’ grit and dirt, unrelenting defensive philosophy—a staple of his Celtics mini-dynasty. More than anything, D is what the Clippers have to shore up over the next 76 games. Oh one more thing…CP3 can’t ass-out and score five points against the World Champs ever again either. He’s got be nothing but classic in these matchups.
Maybe the Clippers will fare better late in the season when the young legs of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan run 50-yard hardwood sprints against the tiring legs of Miami’s wily veterans.
It’s possible Doc Rivers will impose his defensive will on LA and by the 50-game mark they could be giving equal effort on both sides of the rock.
Speculation is abundant, but the one given is that if Wade is Wade, nobody is beating Miami. The Heat have won 51 of their last 57 games when Wade scores at least 20 points, going back to June 2012. He’s seriously flexing on cats again and has scored at least 20 points in four consecutive games for the first time since last March.
That’s just foul news for any of the Heat’s ambitious underlings. If Wade is serving sucker sandwiches and LBJ’s back doesn’t do a Larry Bird on him, then Miami has no foreseeable weakness and no real impediment from another NBA title.