The Miami Vice Will Be Lifted
I don't want to overreact after one game but . . . I can't help it. That performance by the Miami Heat last night was absolutely wretched. The players got their championship rings, then got rung up by 42 points. Ri. Di. Cu. Lous. Now, I'll admit, the Chicago Bulls are much improved, but that made absolutely no sense to come out and get smoked 108-66 at home, on national television, on ring night.
Just because of what I saw in that performance, I'm going to go out on a limb - okay, maybe not a big one here - and say that the Washington Wizards will finally snap their 16-game losing streak to the Heat this season. The streak is over. The Wiz kids might even win two games against Miami. The Miami Vice will be lifted - no, this has nothing to do with that awful movie adaptation starring Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell -- and here's the main reason why: The Heat, and its veteran (some would say really old) roster don't give a lick about the regular season. Miami will take nights off, regardless of the foe or the circumstances. How else do you explain getting embarrassed like that last night?
Winning that ring was probably the worst thing that could happen to Pat Riley. He can't really stress the importance of having a sense of urgency because they already learned that you only need to play hard between April and June. All of the other months are meaningless, if for nothing else than playoff seeding. The Heat will play hard enough to win the division - and that's it. No more and no less. I remember talking to Shaquille O'Neal about their sluggish start last season, he said something like, "as long as we get one of those top four seeds, homecourt advantage, that's all that matters." That might be the theme for the Heat once again.
I certainly didn't expect Miami not to show up on opening night. The Heat had animated player introductions, exciting pyrotechnics, and each player marched up to David Stern and accepted his ring. The players danced in the huddle as they checked out the new bling. Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton were flashing those gold monstrosities and giggling. Then, Mourning grabbed the mic and said the Heat was going to do it again.
But about 20 minutes into watching the game, I kept screaming, "The Heat stinks!" My wife, who is from South Florida and loves everything that has to do with Dwyane Wade or Shaq, begged me to stop bashing her boys, but. . .I couldn't help it. Before the first half was over, I kept thinking to myself: This is the team that I picked to win the Eastern Conference? I'm not ready to jump ship completely but it certainly made me believe that Riley is greatest motivator in history, because that group had no business beating the Dallas Mavericks last season. None.
I hate to say it, but Shaq is really on his last legs. I'm sure Ben Wallace had a lot to do with how bad he looked, but he cannot blame the new ball for missing 7 of 10 shots. He cannot blame the new ball for the shot Bulls rookie Tyrus Thomas sent the opposite direction. He definitely cannot blame the new ball for having no lift when Wade tried to throw him a lob. Shaq has yet to adjust to these new rules about contact for big men. He's picking up ticky-tack fouls too quickly to be effective. I can remember a sportswriting friend of mine telling me that because of Shaq's size, his decline will be rapid. I think we are witnessing it right now. He is about to set new career lows in just about every category for the second year in the row. And, the Heat will look more and more like Wade and The Way Past Their Primes this season.
I picked the Heat to beat Dallas last season based mostly on my heart than my head. Miami won because Wade played with an extraterrestrial edge, so I felt pretty smart. I don't feel so smart this morning because I realized that I really slept on the Bulls. I saw them in the preseason against San Antonio and thought: These guys are going to be pretty good but I couldn't pull myself to pick them over Detroit or Cleveland. I'm not saying I'll switch my rankings so quickly, but they are better and deeper than advertised.
And, Ben Wallace doesn't look weird at all in that uniform. You know how sometimes you have that initial shock seeing someone in a different uniform? Like when Vince was traded to New Jersey or when Chris Webber was traded to Philadelphia. That wasn't the case with Wallace. He fits in perfectly. I also really love the aggression and energy of the rook Thomas. That kid will make a highlight or two this season. He might dunk on somebody every game this season.
Maybe the loss to Chicago will wake up the Heat. Maybe not. I just know the Wizards will get one - maybe two - this year.
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