Why the Miami Heat are not going to win the NBA championship (the Knicks aren’t going to win either)

I was talking with a few of my friends about basketball. A couple were perplexed at the Miami Heat and its mediocre performance. Before you know it, I had written a long e-mail about the NBA and how to win. Here’s the e-mail:

First of all, I think the jury is very much out on the Miami Heat. It is clear that the Miami Heat can beat up lesser teams. It is not clear that they can compete with legitimate contenders. I know I’ve mentioned this before and I know that a couple of my friends and I have discussed this at length but the NBA is a different kind of sport. It is not like golf or tennis or football or even baseball. Basketball is about poetry. It is like jazz. It is about working within a structure while being able to improvise and know what your teammates are going to do on the court. Turnovers, especially in the playoffs, are deadly. Ask Oklahoma, who had an opportunity to beat the Lakers, but just kept turning the ball over down the stretch.

There’s a formula to winning in the NBA (Think Chicago Bulls). If you can get six or seven players to understand their roles, you can be NBA champions. You need to have the superstar. This is the Michael Jordan of your team. He is the one who wants the ball within the last five minutes of a close game. He has to be able to either make a shot or get fouled and make the free throws down the stretch. This is imperative. This is why the Dallas Mavericks have come close but can’t get over the hump. They do not have a superstar who has that one move and scores down the stretch. They have tried to make Dirk the star. He isn’t. He will resort to that fadeaway jump shot when he is pressured. He’s unable to draw a foul. He makes a shot somewhere around 51 – 52% of the time. That is not gonna cut it. You need points 90% of the time when the game slows down within the last 5 min.

The second player that you need is a Scottie Pippen type player. This is an extremely versatile player and probably the hardest player in the NBA to find. This player must have ball handling skills, must be able to crash the back boards and on occasion pour in 20 or 30 points. This guy is like the Energizer Bunny. He’s the one on the floor scrapping for the loose balls.

The third player that you need is the long bomber. This is the guy who was standing at the three point arc and is waiting for the superstar to kick the ball out to him when the defense collapses on the superstar. This guy is key. He has to drain that wide-open three time after time. Usually, this guy is the ballhandling guard but not always. This is one of the positions that San Antonio has had trouble consistently filling. They have had Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry… Filling this position at various times in the last 15 years. Remember that the Chicago Bulls had BJ Armstrong, Ron Harper and Steve Kerr.

You need a rebounding, defensive machine. This guy is the enforcer. He is known for his defense and toughness. This guy has to get 10-15 boards per game. He clears the boards then makes the quick outlet pass to the superstar or ballhandling guard and you’re off to the races.

The Chicago Bulls are the purest example of this formula. The Los Angeles Lakers have used this formula. Even the Miami Heat used this formula when they won their NBA championship several years back.

If there’s one thing that everyone can learn from the Dallas Mavericks, it is that the NBA plays two different seasons. The regular season you can win with wide-open basketball and no defense. If you put five shooters on the floor, you can dominate. Unfortunately, the game changes in the postseason. The game is about defense. The game is about possessions. The game is about scoring when you must. Shooters can run cold. You cannot have a cold spell in the playoffs and expect to win. The Dallas Mavericks, and the Phoenix Suns, have played some of the most wide-open basketball we’ve seen in the last 40 years. Their consistently rank high in their conference and win their divisions. But they also consistently flame out in the playoffs because they ain’t got the formula to win in the playoffs.

This brings me to the Miami Heat. We all know that DeWayne Wade is a superstar in this league. We all know that he can do what is necessary to win. The only question is his durability. He tends to get hurt. Using the formula that I set out above, where does Lebron James fit in? This is key. He can be a Scottie Pippen type player but will he take that subordinate role? So far, the answer is no. Where is Chris Bosh gonna fit in? It would seem to me that he would be the Scottie Pippen type player. This is the problem that the Miami Heat has with their big three. Can they share the roles adequately enough so that they can dominate? Look at the big three in San Antonio. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. These guys have been playing together for so long that they’ve been able to switch roles from time to time and sometimes in the middle of the game. Sure, Tim Duncan is always the rebounder but he is also the scorer. Sometimes, Tony Parker is the superstar and he gets the ball at the end of the game. It is their ability to continually improvise and switch roles that really makes them a remarkable team.

I don’t have any time to talk about the New York Knicks. I haven’t seen their games. Carmelo Anthony suffers from the Dirk Nowitzki syndrome as far as I can tell. He does not have that one move down the stretch where he can score or get fouled. Amar’e Stoudemire has the same problem. At best, it’s going to take the Knicks a year to learn to play together. I don’t think the New York fans are going to give them a year. Their coach is going to have to be great and great now in order to get his players to play at the level of the fan’s expectations.

My two cents. More tomorrow on how current teams fit into my formula.

4 Responses

  1. Very thorough analysis. (You brought up BJ Armstrong!) While I am a Miami Big 3 fan, I also knew it could go either way. A good team has players who know their role and when to switch it up and do what it takes to win…as a team. I believe Orlando Magic during the Shaq and Penny Hardaway era was a good team too.

  2. the Orlando Magic were really close. Shaq needed to shoot better down the stretch in order to be the superstar. On the other hand, Penny Hardaway, an absolutely sensational guard/forward, need to have that one move where he would get fouled and go to the line. Surprisingly, his free-throw percentage was in the mid-70s. In order to be a true superstar, your free-throw percentage needs to be in the upper 80s and lower 90s (think Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and of course the great Michael Jordan).

    I am by no means giving up on the Miami Heat. They have the talent to win. The question is will they learn to play together. Are they going to take the time to learn how each other plays the game? The way I see it, it is really up to Lebron James and Chris Bosh. These are the guys that have the talent to crash the boards and to do the intangibles. If Lebron and Chris can step up their games, not from a shooting standpoint but instead,from a rebounding and scrappy standpoint and from a defensive standpoint, the Miami Heat have an opportunity to challenge the Celtics for supremacy in the East.

    Thanks for your comments

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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