Remember when LeBron James made "The Decision"? Remember how when it was first revealed James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would all be teammates in Miami, the general consensus was that the Heat would win multiple championships as long as those three were together? Jeff Van Gundy said they would not lose consecutive games all season before they'd played a single game.
Well, maybe those predictions were all just a little early, but not exactly wrong. The Heat had a fine season in Year 1 of the Three Amigos, finishing as Eastern Conference Champions. But a disappointing loss to the Mavericks in the Finals left unfinished business. Right now, the team looks like it might never lose again.
Tuesday night in Indiana the Heat embarrassed the Pacers, 105-90, in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score would indicate. The Heat more or less doubled up on the Pacers through the middle of the second quarter when the score was 50-24, led by 29 at halftime, and coasted from there.
And here's the thing -- the Heat were playing their third game in three nights, the dreaded back-to-back-to-back, all three games on the road. Not only did they win all three, but they won them all by double digits. The league doesn't schedule back-to-back-to-backs in non-lockout seasons anymore, but they used to, and this is the first time since 1979 that a team has won three road games in three nights. It's the first time since 1970 that a team has won three straight by double digits. And continuing with the history lesson, the Heat matched the franchise's best ever start at 23-7.
Although the Pacers have now lost four straight, this is a team that was 17-10 coming into the game and harbors aspirations of competing in the Eastern Conference this season. But as they did to the Hawks in Atlanta on Sunday night, the Heat delivered a message to Indiana -- the road in the East leads through Miami. And oh, by the way, don't bother.
The Heat are simply firing on all cylinders right now. Their defense is absolutely stifling. The combination of length, athleticism and energy smothers every route to the basket, cuts off every passing lane and challenges every shot. A lot of it is talent, but there's also a lot of hard work going into Miami's success. On one play in the second quarter, James deflected a pass on one side of the floor, which then caromed off the rim into a Pacer player's hands, where James blocked the shot, and saved the block from going out of bounds on the other side of the floor. That's three plays on the ball across 50 feet of basketball court with a stop at the rim, all in about four seconds. When your superstar is exerting that kind of effort on defense, it's difficult for the rest of the team not to follow suit. The pressure defense then leads to transition offense, and no one is better on the break than James and Wade.
While things were clicking for Miami, nothing went right for Indiana, and at least one thing went particularly wrong -- leading scorer Danny Granger left the game in the second quarter after turning his ankle. Granger will likely miss the Pacers' game Wednesday night in Cleveland.
LeBron finished with 23 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals -- in 33 minutes; Wade had 16 in 24 minutes, and Bosh scored 13. But one reason Miami looks better this season than last is depth, as both Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller are healthy, while Shane Battier has been added to the mix. One pleasant surprise has been rookie point guard Norris Cole, who tied a career-high with 20 points in 30 minutes Tuesday night.
The Heat didn't quite take the NBA by storm last season -- but it's beginning to look like a case of better late than never.