Anybody else think the most amazing thing about the NBA playoffs so far is how perfectly they’re falling for the Heat?
Since last week, it seems every day a new box of playoff happiness lands at the Biscayne Boulevard door. The Heat, as the No. 2 seed, gets Charlotte, a team that can’t come to the table with the Heat unless it’s serving something. Then, the schedule — the weary Heat gets two days off after Game 1, two days off after Game 2 and could be up 3-0 by the time the games start coming every other day.
“I like the rest, especially when you win,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “When you lose, you want to get right back in as soon as possible. When you lose, you don’t like those two days in between because there’s too much time to think about it. But I think right now, we’ve been playing a lot of basketball so we’re never going to look the wrong way at some rest. We’re going to take it but we’re going to be professionals about it.”
As the Heat awaited the first course of Charlotte, Atlanta gutted No. 1 seed Indiana in Game 1 on Saturday, meaning the struggling Pacers won’t promenade into Round 2 if they get there at all. Sunday, the Heat not only beat Charlotte (again) but saw the Bobcats’ main weapon, center Al Jefferson, sustain a foot injury. Jefferson’s questionable for Game 2 and beyond.
Few teams stop Jefferson, least of all the Heat. The night LeBron James shot up Charlotte for 61, Jefferson and his old school post game hit halftime on pace for 52. The Heat lead forced Charlotte to go away from Jefferson, particularly in the fourth quarter when the Bobcats needed threes to stay in the game. Still, he finished with 38 points on 75.0 percent shooting from the field and 19 rebounds.
So, the Heat gets another two weeks of tuning their 4-year-old machine that’s showing age the way even a fine race car would. The lineup tinkering continues with impunity. Wade can keep sliding back into the flow. Chris Bosh can finish pondering whatever he’s pondering during those pointless, reboundless quarters. James can sit. Mario Chalmers can heal.
The aging process slows. The Heat’s Big 3, each member in his 11th NBA season, ran this obstacle course, three consecutive times. That’s not counting the international games each has played.
“One playoff game equals three to five games of the regular season,” Wade said.
Meanwhile, every other playoff team must gird its loins.
You hear about the violence in the playoffs of the 1980s through the mid-1990s … please. I went from preteen to adult in that era. Yes, play was rougher, mainly because the NBA permitted it without suffering major damage to anybody making serious bread.
(The first thing that strikes me watching replayed telecasts from that era is how slight and slow the players look compared to today’s NBA. Throw some of those clotheslines and bodyslams today and somebody who sells a lot of tickets and TV gets very hurt. That gets into the league and owners’ wallets, which gets tolerated for about six seconds before hammers come down.)
But, the NBA’s top teams shot through the first round the way the era’s video game geeks swept through the first round of Galaga. The board got cleared quickly, often without a loss. Also, it was best-of-5, not best-of-7. That extra game can be important.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel isn’t tinkering with lineups to gain data, he’s changing players to survive. They’re squeezing out pork tenderloins up in Indy the way Chicago squeezes points out of its never-promised-you-a-Derek-Rose lineup. That’s what leaves the Bulls vulnerable to Washington.
Over in the West, No. 2 seed Oklahoma City is metaphorically as long and lithe as star Kevin Durant’s physique, making it vulnerable to Memphis’ body-punching style. The No. 3 Clippers must duck and dunk the Golden State snipers. Even West No. 1 San Antonio went into the final quarter of Game 1 against Dallas tied.
Toronto and Brooklyn should go seven games as should Portland and Houston. All four slot into that echelon below “contender,” usually defined at “team nobody wants to play.”
It’s all about matchups.
So far, the matchups and circumstances all favor the Heat.