The Miami Heat welcomed the Portland Trail Blazers to town on Tuesday, and after 48 minutes and a fifth straight loss for the Heat, much of the talk centers on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and what's wrong with Miami. But let's not forget Portland.
Yes, if we want to focus on Miami, Tuesday night was more proof that their struggles are real, and five games into a stretch of games that was supposed to be a litmus lest for the Heat's legitimacy, Miami's 0-5. Let's see... Over the past 10 days or so, they've proven themselves clueless in the clutch, toothless in the face of toughness, and now, even Chris Webber is questioning their mental approach, which is sort of like having Andy Dick question someone's masculinity. So, yeah: Things have gotten bad.
Tuesday, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James combined for 69 points, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists, but the rest of the Heat gave them nothing, and while "We Want Riley" chants rained down throughout the fourth quarter, the game was never really close. And to some degree, that's on 'Bron and Wade. Superstars are supposed to make role players better, not irrelevant. But that's only part of the problem.
If people are going to talk about "What's Wrong With The Miami Heat?" then here's the simplest answer: they're not having fun right now. It's one of those cliched observations that can't really be quantified, but you know it when you see it. And Tuesday night, you saw it.
Mainly because Portland is at the polar opposite of the spectrum. Nate McMillan signed a lucrative contract extension on Tuesday, and nobody in the league deserves it more. Despite all kinds of adversity and every excuse in the world, the Blazers haven't quit, and at this point, Nate's got them looking like one of the toughest teams in the West.
They have scary size on defense, and for the first time in his entire career, Gerald Wallace finds himself in a situation that makes sense. With Charlotte, he was asked to be the superstar that made everything else work. With Portland, he's less the straw that stirs the drink, and more like the salt around the glass' rim. Hasn't this always been his basketball destiny?
On a good team, he's great. On a bad team, he's not good enough. But he's finally found a good team in Portland, and next to Lamarcus Aldridge, Nicholas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Brandon Roy, Wallace's chaotic energy garnishes what Portland does well without taking anything away. So watching the Blazers last night, you got the feeling we were seeing something special coming together.
The offense goes through Aldridge, who's suddenly one of the best big men in the league. Then there's Andre Miller methodically running the point, with Batum and Matthews quietly coming through on the perimeter, and guarding stars on the other end. Off the bench, you have Wallace, and then Brandon Roy, the superstar that'll probably never be the same after his injuries, but who might just be reborn as a spot-up shooter orbiting around Aldridge. Throw in Marcus Camby's contributions on the glass and on defense and... Does this sound like a team you'd want to play in the playoffs?
They're not quite a juggernaut, but there's enough in play with the Blazers to make you wonder what's possible in the playoffs. Their size makes them intriguing, and on offense, they've got enough weapons to hurt in a hundred different ways. One night it's Aldridge, the next it's Wesley Matthews, then Gerald Wallace, and maybe even Brandon Roy. Or like Tuesday night in Miami, when it was all of them, and you could see the Blazers blueprint come together looking better than ever. Maybe that's just their best case scenario, and we shouldn't read too much into it. But maybe it's the sign of a team coming together at the perfect time.
Either way, Tuesday we got to see a team that actually likes playing together, clearly believes in themselves, and after a nightmarish stretch earlier this year, we saw a coach that's finally found a formula that's successful. It was refreshing to watch, and it'll be fun to see what comes next.
'Course, watching the other team on Tuesday, you just wonder if Miami will ever get there...