Not since the heyday of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the late 1990s has the NBA had a lightning-rod team like the 2011 Miami Heat, that one team that moves the sports fans VU meter of curiosity like the Jordan-led Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers of Dr. Julius Erving and Moses Malone in the ’80s, and the Wilt Chamberlain-led Los Angeles Lakers with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in the ’70s.
Those teams not only won, but everybody was talking about them. When they were on the road or at home, you could not get a ticket. The hotel lobbies were full of fans trying to get a glimpse.
Last Friday night, long after the Heat’s 111-92 win before a sellout crowd of 19,200 at Target Center in Minneapolis, hundreds of fans lined up around the Miami Heat team buses, guarded by gates and security. A couple of people were arrested, and mace was even used on some overzealous fans muscling to get as close as possible to the Heat’s big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
There are just a handful of regular-season games left. The playoffs are around the corner, and the playoff positioning is fierce, both east and west. In the Western Conference, the San Antoinio Spurs (58-19), Los Angeles Lakers (55-21), and Dallas Mavericks (53-24) are gearing up. In the Eastern Conference, Chicago (56-20), Miami (54-23), and Boston (53-23) are tussling to avoid each other.
Since back-to-back league MVP James and Bosh teamed up with Wade in South Beach, the league has been abuzz with expectations. Some thought the Heat would win 70 games; it has not been that easy. Everything takes time.
When James was asked by this reporter if the Heat are on schedule or ahead of schedule, he said, “We’re on schedule right now. We’re still trying to continue to get better. We have six games left, and we don’t want to waste the opportunity to continue to get better with our game. Offensively and defensively, trying to execute and work are habits, and we’ve been doing that, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Wade in 2006 won an NBA title playing with Shaquille O’Neal. The biggest difference playing with Shaq as opposed to playing with LeBron? Wade said, “Shaq was a post player, LeBron is a wing like me. We do a lot of things together, especially in transition or in the open floor. It’s just totally different when it comes to the start-up part of it.
“When Shaq came here, he brought a lot of attention to the Miami Heat. LeBron has brought a little more, so it’s similar in that way, in the stardom that they have brought to the team. But when it comes to playing, it’s totally different.”
Chis Bosh is the third superstar on this team. When asked if this has been all he anticipated, Bosh said, “It’s been a little more… A bunch of different things have come my way. We’re trying to build this team with the expectations on the journey that we’ve had, but all in all it’s been a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to more.”
In many ways the Heat are like a traveling marquee show with the anticipation and expectation. “To see it transpire from city to city is something else,” Bosh continued. “I get a lot of advice from different guys, and they say just enjoy it. I know a lot of people are not in this position. I just want to cherish it, have fun with it, and don’t take it for granted.”
Point differential is a key statistic over a season of 82 games in measuring a team’s championship potential. That’s points scored and points allowed. The NBA’s top teams are Chicago (7.3), Miami (7.0), Los Angeles (6.9), San Antonio (5.6), and Orlando (5.3). James is averaging 26.6, Wade is averaging 25.8, and Bosh is averaging 18.7; that’s an even 71.0 points a game.
When I asked Wade if this team is potentially the best he’s played on, he said, “Potentially, but the only thing that’s going to determine that is championships.” Playing with two All-Stars, James said, “I thought I would have to sacrifice a lot more coming into the season. But it really hurt my game; it hurt our team game.
“The same with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, but we’ve been just playing our game of late. The result has been [that] we’ve played some pretty good basketball. I think my shot attempts have gone down, but my game has not gone down at all. I think this has been one of the most efficient seasons I’ve had as an individual, and it’s helping our team win,” James said.
Fitz Notes & Quotes
Oklahoma City-Denver-Portland-Utah teams that compete with the Timberwolves in the Western Conference Northwest Division continue to own the Timberwolves. It’s disgraceful — the Timberwolves in the last two years are just 1-29 vs. division opponents.
Since 1981, only eight NBA teams have won Championships: Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, San Antonio, Houston, Detroit, Miami and Philadelphia. The Miami Heat are 1-1 vs. San Antonio, 2-0 vs. the back-to-back NBA Champion LA Lakers, 0-3 vs. Boston and 0-3 vs. Chicago.
Now that Wade has won his custody battle, he has his two sons with him full time. They actually travel with the team. His sons’ names are Zaire and Zion.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Larry welcomes reader responses to email@example.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.