Friendly circumstance and the other-worldly level of play achieved by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have combined to afford the Heat an unusual luxury as the NBA Eastern Conference finals commence here Monday night versus Boston.
The luxury is patience, a word normally at odds with the right-now, no-tomorrow demands of the playoffs.
That would be continued patience in dealing with Chris Bosh’s injury, added time for him to fully heal. That would be not feeling the pressured need to rush him back into the fray perhaps before he is fully ready.
This luxury would not exist today but for the fortunate confluence of two major factors:
• James and Wade. Individually and especially in tandem, they are playing the best basketball we have seen in their two seasons together. They combined for 197 points the past three games of the last playoff series, the Dynamic Two-Oh! crushing the Pacers and the city of Indianapolis. That both superstars are playing at their highest level together erases or at least greatly eases any imperative to hurry Bosh back. Those missing 18 points (Bosh’s average) would seem glaring if LeBron and D-Wade had not lifted their already top-level games to make up the difference. And it hasn’t just been scoring. James’ 65 rebounds against Indiana were his most ever in a playoff series. As beaten Pacer Paul George said, “They miss [Bosh], but they didn’t play like they missed him”
• The next opponent. This factor would have been magnified even more had it been Philadelphia, which Miami has thoroughly dominated with 11 wins in the past 12 meetings, because the 76ers prefer small ball and do not have any big men who are special. But Boston, though Kevin Garnett remains a force inside, is a team the Heat should be able to beat sans Bosh. The same could not have been said with anywhere close to the certainty if the Eastern finals opponent had been a healthy Chicago — the matchup anticipated all season as nearly inevitable until Derrick Rose’s knee injury ruined the top-seeded Bulls.
Bosh sustained his abdominal strain on May 13 (Mother’s Day) when rising for a dunk late in Game 1 of the Pacers series. That injury, like a pulled hamstring, can take from a few days to several weeks to heal, and also is a condition that can easily be aggravated if one comes back too soon. So caution is the way to go, even though patience is a lot to ask in the postseason — particularly Miami and its championship-or-bust pressure in this Year 2 of the Big 3.
The Heat has shied from talking much about life without Bosh because, as coach Erik Spoelstra says, “This is a no-excuses season, and we’re a no-excuses team.”
The coach on Saturday said, “He’s doing a little bit more, but it’s still indefinite. For our mental state of health, I love you Chris, but our preparation is without him.”
Bosh is as vague as the team about his return.
“I do have a chance to play again [this postseason],” is all Bosh could tell ESPN.com a few days ago. “That’s the light at the end of the tunnel for me. That keeps me going every day.”
Looming over everything is this reality:
Miami proved it could beat Indiana without Bosh.
Miami thinks it can beat Boston without him, if necessary.
The concern is that Miami can get to the NBA Finals without Bosh but perhaps not beat San Antonio or Oklahoma City — both star-powered and offensively potent — without him.
Then, Miami would need Bosh, every point, every rebound, every inch of height and wingspan and all of that defense.
The Heat isn’t saying it publicly because it would appear presumptuous, but a team official told us the internal long-range goal with Bosh’s recovery has been to have him ready for the NBA Finals, with anything sooner a bonus.
Only if the Heat was in unexpected jeopardy of losing the conference finals might an appearance in this series be likely. Or, perhaps, if Miami is in command, Bosh might return for the final game of the Boston series so he can readjust to playoff game pace and so the Heat can readjust to having him back — all with the Finals in mind.
The feeling Miami should beat Boston without Bosh might seem an insult to the Celtics, especially considering their 3-1 record against . Miami this season. The last meeting featured reserves for both teams, though, and in two earlier Celtics wins guard Rajon Rondo went wild. Defending Rondo in this series figures as an even bigger key than limiting Garnett in Bosh’s continuing absence.
Boston brings experience and the emotional desperation of an aging team on its final run together. Boston also brings stout defense to help offset a deteriorated offense.
But the fact is the fifth-seeded Celtics are old, not particularly healthy right now (Paul Pierce is hobbled and Ray Allen is a limping ghost of himself) and without the athleticism to run with Miami. Also, the injury absence of sparkplug guard Avery Bradley is a big one for Boston.
The Celtics needed seven games to survive a Philadelphia team without much offensive punch.
Now here comes Miami, with an offensive punch that is of the knockout variety as long as James and Wade are playing like they are.
Meantime Chris Bosh remains offstage, gingerly on a stationary bike, slowly mending — the now-invisible key to everything.
“We need Chris,” says Wade unequivocally.
They didn’t in the last series.
They might not in this one.
But they will to be champions.