Posted: 8:48 p.m. Friday, April 26, 2013
By Andrew Tobolowsky
So people are pretty sure the Heat are going to win, huh?
I didn't really think the Thunder could beat the Heat. I think they, unfortunately, fell prey to the current school of economic tilting at windmills (there's something out there, I know it!), rather than the traditional (and Heat-approved!) method of having more good players than anyone else, when they didn't keep James Harden. So the news that Westbrook is down for the foreseeable didn't change much for me.
The Lakers cratering obviously changed some things, and I don't think there's any question the Heat are the best team in the NBA. But, they aren't definitely going to win.
First of all because no one is definitely going to do anything. In the modern world of social media-media, emphasis is often displayed through certainty. It's a kind of Last Action Hero thing, a little swagger. It's fine.
2nd is an underappreciated but truly vital component of NBA life---matchups. . Mavs fans know this PRETTY well from the disastrous 2007 playoffs, but we tend to think in terms of seeds much more so than in those terms. It seems pretty likely that there are variances of schedule, style of play, and seasonal injuries that have enough to do with seeding that objective truth is not necessarily found there.
It seems like the Heat, having won something like 40 of their last 42, don't have to worry about matchups since they're beating anybody, but this isn't strictly speaking true.They're not beating everyone. They are not beating, for example, the New York Knicks, who they have played four times this season and lost to three times, two of those times with LeBron, Bosh and Wade all playing--by 6 and by 20 points respectively. In one of those two, Carmelo didn't even play. It doesn't mean anything--but, you know, it doesn't mean nothing.
They're also 1-2 against the Indiana Pacers. Which, combined with the nature of a lot of those teams they beat on that win streak of theirs, has to be a little troubling. From the beginning of March, you'd have to say that they had 4 impressive wins, against the Spurs (2 points), Grizz (7 points), Pacers (14!) and Knicks (6). The rest of the lineup--Minny, Orlando, Philly, Atlanta, Philly, Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte, Chicago, New Orleans, just to lay out the rest of March, with more Bobcats, Bucks and 76ers to come--did not impress.
Manti Te'o, to use a topical reference you might recall, looked like the best player in NCAA right until he played the best team in the NCAA. Matchups matter.
Am I suggesting the Heat aren't the best team in the NBA, possibly by a bit? Of course not. But is it reasonable to not feel supremely confident in the face of a 2-5 record against their nearest Eastern competitors? Absolutely. Even if their 5-0 record against the Spurs and Thunder might tell a different story.
Speaking of the Spurs, they walked this seemingly indomitable route themselves just last year. They not only went 34-3 for a stretch there, 10 of those were actual playoff games. That's right---they won 10 straight playoff games, I'm sure you'll remember. But off they went.
In all probability, the Heat are going to win because no one is close to as good as LeBron is this year. He was the number four scorer in the NBA this year, shooting nearly five percentage points better than anybody in the top 18, and that's including a "lackluster" October--his 53% in March was just him taking a nap between the 64% of February and the 69% of April (granted, in only 4 games). And he was the runner-up for DPOY.
But you never do know, do you?