On the NBA: Running Past Platitudes

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I sincerely don’t think I’ve ever heard a preseason press conference in which an NBA head coach doesn’t mention that his team’s “going to run this year”; no matter how patently false this may be, no matter how little you believe Doug Collins or Nate McMillan or Larry Brown, we all ooh and aah in false anticipation, hoping that this will be the one year when every team just decides to fling the playbook to the wind (oh, and Mr. Collins’ would take one hell of a heave) and start flying. That this never comes to pass is immaterial because we’ll all nod, smile and hope the next year in the exact same manner, even if there’s a new guy on the sidelines lying to us about how fast his team will be. But why the hell don’t they just run? Obviously, personnel reasons to be the most prominent explanation for most coach’s preternatural inclination to slow that ball down and reconsider this whole “speed” business, but what if a team seems almost intrinsically built to give chase to the fast break, begging the viewer to ponder the dominance of every easy open-court bucket, only calmed by the completely nonsensical reluctance that this team shows to running? That team was the Miami Heat, that frustrating coach was Eric Spoelstra, and that era is over.

Too often in the 10-11 season did Miami find itself applying common sense to a team that didn’t really make any. Playbooks reigned over play, patience over power, execution over exuberance. What this team had done in its construction, brilliantly risk everything to try something dangerous, innovative and eventually genius, it had completely counteracted in its first year of play. LeBron James, always labeled a wing while his style had negated the relevance of that term as applied to him a million times over, found himself lingering on the wing, idly watching pick-and-rolls develop while waiting to step into a open three-point shot, a waste akin to making James Joyce stop digressing from the main idea or featuring Stevie Wonder on a song to diddle away on a harmonica. Making James and Wade look rudderless effectively left Spoelstra to act the same part on the bench, his parted, greased hair and oversized suit making him seem like a kid dressing up as his dad for work, if the kid’s father were Pat Riley. The entire enterprise of the 2010-11 Miami Heat felt flawed in nature, a forced obsession with syntax when a little bit of free-form poetry was so obviously needed. Apparently it took some weird peyote trips with some gnarly shamans to do the trick, but Miami has finally transformed into the rancorous, fuel-injection-leaking chimera of an offense that it always terrified the NBA into thinking it could be.

Oh, and how glorious has the Heat’s descent into madness been. Even minus the hand-tap, double-lobbed alley-oops and wrap-around, behind-the-back feeds to a thundering Chris Bosh (yes, I just described that guy as “thundering”), the Heat look to be the NBA’s only team that’s high-powered offense will not come at the risk of losing its trapping, eye-poppingly violent defense; in fact, in another preseason coach cliche, the defense of the men in red actually seems to be powering the freak show that they pull on the other end, exemplified by the bone-crushing blocks that Dywane Wade has been handing Ray Allen and Dirk Nowitzki that are inevitably turning into layups or something more inconceivably brutal at Miami’s rim. So little that has succeeded for Miami’s offense has looked premeditated, and I say this not to denigrate the job Spoelstra’s done but to bolster it, to note that instead of shoving all of the talent he had into frustrating positional roles, he’s unleashed their most horrifying, Earth-devouring weapon: unconventionality. Yes, LeBron is a point guard shaped like a big man with breakneck speed and unlimited range; allowing him to function as all of those roles simultaneously rather than one per quarter or game or play means that all of the craziness that it takes simply to explain his game becomes all of the raw nonsense that no defense comes equipped to handle.

Maybe it’s ridiculous to be patting a team that seems almost predestined to win a ring on its back for finally using its limitless skill in a way that actually reflects the grandness of it all, but after seeing the routs handed to Boston and Dallas in the last three days, one can’t help but feel the need to give his or her compliments to the chef.

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