The Knicks beat the Miami Heat Sunday night in a back-and-forth war that went down to the final minutes, and if nothing else, it was more proof that we should all take this "new" Knicks team seriously. As it turns out, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony replacing Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari is an upgrade.
'Course, right after that game I thought, "God, maybe the Knicks are for real!" But the I thought of the Heat and said to myself, "Wow, those guys are SO overrated." Taken all at once, it doesn't make much sense.
The Heat can't be overrated themselves and also proof that the Knicks and Bulls are underrated. If the Heat are good enough to be a benchmark for burgeoning powerhouses in New York and Chicago, then their struggles in some of these games are nothing more than a fluke. Right?
You would think... But for all the twisted logic of the Heat's relationship to the best teams in the NBA, it's not just a case of columnists and haters (and me, awkwardly in the middle of that spectrum) picking and choosing what to focus on. At the moment, the Heat really are in no-man's land.
They've proven they're elite, and when they win, they tend to look scary and win big and and remind everyone that like the Knicks upgrading from Gallo to Melo, the genius of D-Wade and LeBron should really be self-explanatory. Together, they're capable of blowing bad teams off the court, tearing off month-long win streaks, and overwhelming teams on the fast break. They literally go 94-feet in the blink of an eye.
On the other hand... They've dropped all three games against the Celtics, they've dropped two road games to Chicago, and they're just 2-6 in games decided by three points or less (with their two wins coming against the Pistons and Wizards). Against teams above .500, they're 14-14.
On paper and in real life, the Heat are either mind-boggling or surprisingly mediocre, and the better the team, the more likely it's the latter. So watching them against the Knicks Sunday night, it wasn't even a little bit surprising to see them blow the game.
Even now, they still have no identity in crunch time. Against a team with Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony as closers, does LeBron James really have the advantage? How many times does this have to happen before it stops being surprising?
[LeBron clanks game-tying three off the backboard]
Miami's been a benchmark for teams like Chicago and New York, and even the Celtics have used the Heat. By beating Miami, they've been able to show everyone they're still a force to be reckoned with in the East. All of which makes sense; we've seen that the Heat dominate the pretenders and struggle against contenders. By beating the Heat, teams like New York and Chicago prove legit as contenders. Boston proves they haven't lost a step.
But where on that spectrum do the Heat fall?
Starting on Thursday, they play the Magic, the Spurs, the Bulls, the Lakers, the Spurs again, and then the Thunder. Even with San Antonio losing Tony Parker, it'll be a brutal two weeks. And looking at Miami and looking ahead to the playoffs, it's probably the best benchmark yet for a team that's been scrutinized all year long, and still seems like a total mystery.
Really. It's been four months, and Miami's still giving away fourth quarter leads at home, still pretty much clueless in crunch time, and yet, they're still the title favorites in Vegas. So are the Miami Heat really title contenders, or has this been all hype?
We've been asking since July and despite plenty of ridiculous highlights, it's still an open question. But as we handicap the team that's been everyone else's benchmark this season, the next two weeks should give us the best barometer yet. "So, are the Heat overrated?" Stay tuned.