We have never experienced as a community or fandom anything quite like what we are in the middle of with the Miami Heat right now. Mere success? Forget that. Not good enough. This is about an expectation of excellence. This is about an assumption of dominance. Here, with this team, right now, greatness is the starting point, and from there the biggest words in sports are in play. “Dynasty.” “Legendary.” “Legacy.”
Tuesday night inside the bayside arena the new NBA season will begin with great ceremony, with the raising of the championship banner won last season.
Soaring up into the rafters, along with that banner, will go expectations for this team in Year 3 of the Big 3 era. Except that there is no roof on those expectations. No ceiling. Nothing to contain them.
League of its own
Fully appreciate the tier occupied by the Heat by contrasting how South Florida’s other professional teams scramble and claw to merely make the playoffs, and usually fail. The Dolphins have made it once in the past 10 seasons, the Marlins twice in their 20-year history, and the Panthers once in the past 11 seasons.
The Heat is so good you start with the playoffs — an ESPN computer analysis puts the chance of that at 99.5 percent, which seems low to me — and pretty much fast-forward to the NBA Finals. That same computer has Miami’s likelihood to repeat at 31.8 percent, more than double the next best, Oklahoma City is 14.2 percent.
If there is such thing as the boredom of excellence, it is Heat fans wading through an 82-game regular season and through the perfunctory early playoff rounds, waiting for the inevitable. It’s like sitting through a droning lecture waiting for the recess bell. Here, the season starts in the Eastern Conference finals, right?
In the annual NBA general managers poll out this week, 70 percent of the GMs predicted another Heat championship, triple the 23 percent support for the Lakers — who added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and still are seen as big underdogs.
The Dolphins, not even in their 1970s Super Bowl heydays, never entered a season as favorites to this degree.
Twenty-nine of 30 GMs had Miami winning the East, and only the rule about not voting for their own team kept it from being unanimous. (The lone rule-abiding charity vote went to Boston).
Those same GMs, 67 percent of them, had LeBron James winning another MVP award, more than double the 30 percent support for OKC’s Kevin Durant.
The Heat is so good that a third consecutive trip to the Finals, and a clear favorite’s role there, likely will require nothing more than good health. This is no small thing, considering that Dwyane Wade is coming off knee surgery, Chris Bosh’s abdominal issues last playoffs and considering the injury histories of Ray Allen and Mike Miller.
But it speaks of the Heat’s dominance that any caution about this team or this season always begins with injuries and the fate and luck that steer them.
Nothing would suck the sound out of the Heat’s home arena or seismically and instantly alter the NBA landscape like the sight of LeBron writhing in pain on the court, but, save for that, the parade to June seems a clear path.
What’s scary is that the Heat is so good and got better, adding sharpshooters Allen and Rashard Lewis.