LeBron James, Miami Heat Fulfilling Vision of How Team Can Perform in Playoffs


LeBron James, Miami Heat Fulfilling Vision of How Team Can Perform in PlayoffsThis was the blueprint for the Miami Heat.

(Oops, wait. Is that word — "blueprint" — now trademarked by the Brooklyn Nets, seeing as they are being billed as the basketball extension of Jay-Z's empire? Hopefully, they don't have a problem with me using it in reference to the Heat, since LeBron James and J Hova are supposedly buds.)

Anyway, Game 2 of the Heat's opening-round playoff series against the Knicks on Monday illustrated exactly how the team constructed by general manager Pat Riley is supposed to operate. Dwyane Wade went to the cup at will. Chris Bosh scored in a variety of ways, got to the free throw line and demonstrated his excellent passing skills. Once again, James was transcendent, and once again, he will get next to no credit for it.

All those things happen regularly for Miami, though. The less predictable parts (or shall we say, the reasonable doubts) were Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and Shane Battier knocking down open shots, doing those sort of Terry Porter, Matt Bullard, Rick Fox-type things that every champion needs.

If the Heat play at the level they did in the first two games of this series, James is not long for the nation's doghouse. This team would not just make it to the NBA Finals, it would blow the doors off the weakened Eastern Conference and have a week to admire its handiwork while whoever is left in the West battles through the end of the conference Finals.

In the minutely small sample size of two games, the Heat scored an absurd 117 points per 100 possessions and held the Knicks to 93 points per 100 possessions. They made up for so-so rebounding by capitalizing on New York's lack of a playoff-caliber point guard, forcing 40 turnovers, keyed by James' six steals. You can't knock the hustle.

Everyone is aware of what James did in the series opener, and although he was not quite the same scorer (or flopper) on Monday, he did all of the other things that bring to mind both the offensive versatility of Magic Johnson and the defensive intimidation of Dikembe Mutombo. James had nine assists and seven rebounds to accompany his 19 points, and he exerted his will over the game every bit as much as Wade, who scored 25 points on 11-for-18 shooting, or Carmelo Anthony, who scored a game-high 30 points while predictably taking a game-high 26 shots.

Battier and Miller, who were brought to Miami to provide veteran savvy and 3-point shooting, have been prevented from bringing the latter due to injuries and flat-out ineffectiveness. They combined to shoot 6-for-10 from deep on Monday, and the gimpy Miller even added four boards and four assists. Chalmers had 13 points, but most importantly, he had six assists and only committed two turnovers.

The scariest thing of all might be that the Heat are having so much success despite not playing at a truly unsustainable level defensively. (Their offensive numbers are destined to come back to the middle of the bell curve eventually. Aren't they?) The Heat could let up two or three more points per 100 possessions and be in the realm of the Bulls' and Celtics' defenses during the regular season, and merely an adequate offense would then make them the title contender. Add an explosive attack that includes two of the best players in the game, and that contender becomes a runaway favorite.

Two games do not make a champion or even a series. As they used to say on the NBA on NBC, it is not officially a playoff series until a road team wins a game. Up next are two games in New York, where the suntanned skin of South Beach sitting courtside will be replaced with the tangerine hue from the tanning beds. (The hair will be just as unforgiveable.) The Knicks went 22-11 at Madison Square Garden this season despite a roster in constant flux, and the MSG crowd's cheers and jeers may be enough to preclude another 33-point beatdown.

The way the Heat played in the first two games, though, it is hard to see even the homeward-bound Knicks mustering much resistance. In James' second postseason in Miami, the Heat are showing that they may have gotten through their hard knock life and are coming of age.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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