People can’t wait to proclaim the Heat as dead, and then they go do something like own the Lakers down the stretch of a tight game. For about the third time this year, people started bagging relentlessly on Miami, as they went on a 5-game losing streak from last Sunday until yesterday’s W over LA. During that stretch, people had fun with Crying-gate, Can’t Finish-gate, Weak Out of The Gate-gate and whatever else, and then they end it against the league’s hottest team. Not only that, it was against a team that’s a true contender and that is loaded in the frontcourt, the Heat’s obvious weak spot.
So before we go on a rant about it only being one game, keep in mind that losing streak was against 5 playoff teams, 3 of which have a strong chance of getting to the Finals, and three of the games came right down to the end. And even after all that, they’re still 44-21. And if you look at the rest of their schedule, it’s not hard to imagine them going 15-2 to close things out. They have the Spurs at home on Monday, Boston at home on April 10, and nothing else that will scare fans. I’m not saying they will or should close that strong, but it’s not hard to imagine. Much like when they went 21-1 (2-point loss to Dallas was the lone blemish) after starting 9-8.
They’re still the only club in the top-6 in both Offense and Defense. They’re still the only club with two players who are unquestionably among the game’s best 5. Plus they’ll get Udonis Haslem back shortly before playoffs. Remember him? Their fourth-most important player who has only played 13 games - who provides lots of defensive energy and intelligent play on the offensive end. I know their woes against top-end clubs have been written about at length all during the year, but if there’s one club that’s likely to still be evolving from now until the playoffs and who will get better by adding an injured player, it’s Miami. I don’t know how well they’ll do in the playoffs, but I do know too many people have already counted them out.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?
This is a questionable one because they’re both great players, but you have to wonder why the Thunder look nothing like a contender while containing two All-Stars and a really good supporting cast. Even with Durant and Westbrook scoring 51 points a game between them—plus 12 rebounds, 11 assists, and 3 steals—the team is languishing in clearly-not-a-contender-but-a-little-better-than-all-those-really-inconsistent-and-distracted-clubs-with-no-chance zone. Is anyone that impressed that a team with two players as good as Durant and Westbrook and almost no meaningful injuries is just a handful of games ahead of teams with uber-up-and-down seasons like Denver, Portland, New Orleans, Memphis, Phoenix, and Utah? Their supporting cast is full of a ton of glue guys and role players most contenders would be perfectly happy with (Jeff Green – gone to contender Boston, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Eric Maynor, James Harden, Nenad Krstic – gone to contender Boston, Nick Collison, and now Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins), so you can’t blame them.
If you can’t blame injuries or a supporting cast that’s every bit as good as one found on most of the top teams, then you gotta wonder what their two leaders might not be doing to win more games. Even with a very good 40-23 record, Oklahoma City has a hard time stringing together meaningful amounts of victories, and they have yet to win more than 5 in a row this year. Against contenders like Chicago, Dallas, LAL, Orlando, Miami, Boston, and SanAn, Durant is plagued either by low scoring percentages (38% in 2 games vs. Chi, 36% in 2 games vs. LA, 35% in 1 game vs. Mia) or bad turnover numbers (more turnovers than assists against all of them except SAS [even] and Dal [4.0 to 3.7]). Similar story for Westbrook, who has shot anywhere from poorly to below-average against all seven except for LA, and has some unreasonably high turnover amounts in many of these games (7 and 8 in his two games against Boston, for example). As flashy and fun to watch as these two players are, I’m not sure they’re as good as most people think at making their club good. If they were, you’d expect their last good victory to be more recent than two months ago against Orlando, and for the Thunder to actually look like a contender, which they don’t.