Are The Miami Heat Built For Crunch Time? It May Not Matter

BOSTON, MA - MAY 09: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat is congratulated by teammates Chris Bosh #1 and Mario Chalmers #15 after James drew the foul in the second half against the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 9, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 98-90 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Miami Heat are one win away from ending the Celtics dynasty, and looking like the favorites to win the NBA Title in 2011. Have they figured out crunch time? Probably not, but it may not matter. Plus: gambling fairy tales, Derby dreams, soccer nightmares, Kanye and Jay-Z, and remembering Tractor Traylor. Talking Points is a daily series that highlights some of the best stories in sports (and elsewhere). Read the archives here.

With Wednesday night's matchup vs. the Celtics, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat have a chance to put one, final nail in the coffin we've been saving for Boston's dynasty, and move a step closer to the throne, themselves. For LeBron and the Heat, this is serious progress.

But as far they've come, we still haven't seen them thrive in crunch time. If anything, we've seen them struggle just like they did in the regular season. Even in their Game 4 win--as close as games get--they needed A) A three-pointer from LeBron B) one of those obnoxious crab dribbles on the way to a lay-up that only LeBron can get away with and C) A lucky tip-in from Chris Bosh.

It's not to say that luck means their victory counts less, but just to clarify. We still haven't seen Miami answer the biggest question mark that's haunted them all season--in crunch time, it's still pretty much a mess for Miami. There's still no identity when things get close and it comes down to halfcourt offense. When Miami needs a bucket, it's a choice between 'Bron or Wade driving and looking for a foul, or pulling up for a contested perimeter jump shot. That's still a problem.

But Dan le Batard explains the loophole in all this:

The odds – the numbers, the facts – are against Miami making the important shot even though Miami has not one but two players anybody would want with the basketball in that situation. The solution? It is odd but the Heat, about as great as a flawed team can ever be, can actually win the championship without ever making that shot.

All you have to do is not be in that situation at the end.

And that is how a team that struggles in close games could end up winning an NBA title.

If it's hard to wrap your head around that concept, then don't worry, I'm in the same boat. It still seems blasphemous to call Miami the best "team" in the NBA when they looked fatally flawed in close games against other good teams. But lit goes back to something I wrote after Game 2:

Miami could struggle in crunch time, but can Boston even get there? Before this series began, one of my friends said, "Miami basically has to 5 out of 7 because you know they'll blow at least one game in crunch time." It's a good point, because we still have no reason to trust Miami in the final minute of a close game. But given all the factors above, do we have any reason to think Boston can get that far in 4 of the next 5 games?

Now, here we are. Miami may not be the invincible freight train of awesomeness that some people imagined this past summer. They're definitely mortal, and if they can't be counted on in close games, it's hard to really call them great. But who's beating them in the East? What team can hang with the Heat in 4 of 7 games? There's just too much talent.

That's the problem for people that hate the Heat. After all homerism from people in Miami and skepticism elsewhere, there's a chance everyone could be right. The Heat may not capable of pulling out close games thanks to cold-blooded execution late in the game. They may not be "great."

But they're so good, they might just win regardless.

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The Blackjack Player That Single-Handedly Killed The Tropicana. This is the downside of building your business around high-stakes gambling. From Atlantic City:

Tropicana Casino and Resort's big-stakes table games strategy backfired in April, with one high roller taking the property for a record haul of $5.8 million. 

"We ran very unlucky," lamented Mark Giannantonio, Tropicana's outgoing chief executive officer. "We had the single-largest winner in our history," Giannantonio said. "If it hadn't been for bad luck at the tables, we would have had a good month."

Tropicana's table-games revenue plummeted 54 percent in April to $3.2 million. In April 2010, the casino took in $7 million at the gaming tables, meaning that the lucky blackjack player single-handedly ruined Tropicana's results this year.

First of all, has there ever been a better for an Atlantic City gambling magnate than "Mark Giannantonio"? And second, can you imagine being the blackjack player who single-handedly turned a casino's profit into a loss? The guy literally took down the house, all by himself.

It's stuff like that inspires the rest of us every time we hit a casino. Not because we think we're gonna come out on top, but because it's good to know it can be done. Sometimes, people go after the Casinos and win big.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go lose $500 betting on the NBA Playoffs.

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See How Hard We're Trying To Jinx Miami With That Header? Getting desperate here...

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The Tragedy Of Brian Shaw. ESPN's Arash Markazi has a wonderful story about Brian Shaw, Phil Jackson's presumed successor in Los Angeles, and the family tragedy that haunts him to this day. It's a pretty intense, emotional read, and worth a good 15 minutes.

But aside from the story itself, who knew Brian Shaw was around for all this?

He was with the Boston Celtics in Larry Bird's final days with the team. He was with the Golden State Warriors when Latrell Sprewell choked P.J. Carlesimo. He hit a then-NBA record 10 3-pointers with the Miami Heat. He was there to put his arm around Allen Iverson during one of Iverson's first run-ins with Larry Brown in Philadelphia. And he was there to lob alley-oops to Shaquille O'Neal with the Orlando Magic and later the Los Angeles Lakers en route to four trips to the NBA Finals and three titles.

So Brian Shaw's the Kevin Bacon of the modern-day NBA, basically. The more you know...

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One Last Word About The Kentucky Derby. I've always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby, just because it seems like one of those things that every sports fan should experience at least once. But the experience would be roughly 1,000,000 times cooler if you went with John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, and DeMarcus Cousins, and just watched them interact with the rest of the Derbygoers all afternoon.

For instance, via Ziller, here's a photo of DeMarcus Cousins, Kate Upton, and some awkward-looking white dude. I could be that awkward-looking white dude! And here's John Wall, looking fresh-to-death and earning mad hipster street cred (with the glasses) at the same time.

Anyway, at some point in my lifetime, I hope I'm cool enough to join them at the Derby. 'Course, at some point in my life, I hope John Wall takes the Wizards back to the playoffs, making a Derby trip impossible. For now, though, I'll focus on reality and work on getting the invite next year.

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If This Shaq Statue Becomes Reality it's immediately the coolest athlete statue in the world.

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When Relegation Mirrors Life. How often do we say that it'd be cool if American sports adopted the relegation system that English soccer has? It would be, of course. But there are two sides to that coin. For the people getting relegated, it's pretty soul-crushing.

Here's a window into the experience from a football (read: soccer) fan perspective:

Unfortunately, beyond temporarily attempting to numb your malaise in mild narcotic palliatives, there is little you can do to rid yourself of hope’s battered, sunken wreck that now lies anchored and inert in the base of your gut.

As human beings, most of us are wired to strive to progress in our personal and professional lives. Football mirrors our meritocracy, so this only works out for so many people or teams. The majority stoically settles for stasis – mid-table safety may not be ideal but we’ll plod along in the hope that something better might develop. But if people or teams must shift upwards (and they must), some of us have to shift down to accommodate them. That inevitability doesn’t make setbacks any easier to take. Even when you haven’t won for ten games and are poised for the drop, it still hits you hard. Like when you’ve been expecting your girlfriend to give you the axe for months, but when it actually happens you still can’t quite believe she can really live without you (but she can, and she does, just like League Two will happily survive without Lincoln City).

Just imagine if that'd happened to Cavs fans this year, too. And you know that if America ever did adopt relegation, Cleveland or Detroit would be the first cities to have all four major sports teams relegated at the same time. When you think of it like that, maybe it's best we don't do things that way.

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Kanye West and Jay-Z performed at the New York City Museum of Modern Art last night. If you're like me, you were watching Bulls-Hawks while this happened, so... Yeah, their life is cooler.

(photo via MoMA)

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Finally, RIP Tractor Traylor. His legacy in the NBA was being part of maybe the most lopsided draft-day trade in league history, but his legacy to basketball fans will always be this:

And this picture, which might be the coolest photo of any basketball player, ever.

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