As recently as a couple of weeks ago, the answer to that question was "pretty much everyone." The Heat had been hyped to the point of exasperation. All of America was sick and tired of hearing about LeBron James and his South Beach superteam — but at the same time, they all knew LeBron's grouping with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was going to be scary for years to come.
The hype was there for a reason.
It's taken two weeks for reality to set in — the Heat are mortals. They're a great team with three of the game's biggest stars in tow, but they're human, and they're going to have off nights, just like any other team in the history of organized basketball. For the longest time, that was the most difficult concept to grasp. Now it all seems so simple.
Two weeks ago, the Heat landed in Boston revered and more than a little feared. They hadn't yet played a game. Now they're home for a rematch with the Celtics on Thursday night in Miami, and they suddenly appear humbled. They've lost two of their last three, and at 5-3 on the season, they now sit fifth in the Eastern Conference standings — ironically 1/2 game behind the LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers.
We've already seen proof that the Heat are beatable. But if you want to know the exact reasons, then read on. There are plenty.
LeBron is still learning to defer. It makes sense that King James isn't king when it comes to Miami's scoring numbers. LeBron's a more versatile player than D-Wade — he's a better playmaker, a better defender, a better creator for his teammates. So Wade's role is to score, and LeBron's is to be a roving consultant to make the guys around him better. He's got the skill set to fit that role beautifully, but it hasn't quite clicked yet. LBJ has scored under 25 points in seven consecutive games since the Boston opener, one of the longest such streaks of his career, but he's still learning to do the other stuff. Keeping his turnovers down (he currently leads the NBA with 35) would be a nice first step.
Wade is still deferring a little too much. The Boston opener was an uphill battle all the way, but Miami's other two losses — on the road at New Orleans, and home against Utah — each ended the same way. They ended with Wade passing up the last shot and letting Eddie House take it instead. He missed both times with the game on the line.
Eventually, Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra will learn that no matter what the numbers say, Wade has to take it upon himself to make the big shot in crunch time. That's the responsibility that comes with captaining the superteam. He can't shy away from it.
Bosh doesn't know his role. This is the first time he's ever been the third option in his life. He wasn't the No. 3 guy in high school, he wasn't in college, and he certainly wasn't in Toronto. Bosh could always score during his seven years as a Raptor, that was no problem. But as the third banana, he needs to learn that it's not about putting the ball in the hole anymore. He's got to be an energy guy. He's got to crash the boards with more zeal than ever before, and he has to relish every chance he gets to guard a top-flight big man. It's a less glamorous job than he's used to, and in a lot of ways, it's a harder one. He's got to bear down and work.
The supporting cast doesn't fit. It just doesn't. Sorry. The center playing next to Miami's big three is Joel Anthony, who clogs up the lane and only makes life as a scorer more difficult for D-Wade. The first big man off the bench is Udonis Haslem, who's too small to guard opposing centers and thus is a horrible fit next to Bosh.
The "point guard" is Carlos Arroyo, but LeBron doesn't need a traditional point guard — rather than a straight-up distributor, he should have a guy next to him capable of hitting open jumpers (like he had in Cleveland, with Daniel Gibson). The one guy who could fill this role is Mario Chalmers, but Spoelstra hasn't trusted Chalmers enough to play him more than 29 minutes this season. There are a lot of awkward pieces being assembled around Miami's three kings, and it isn't working.
They can be beaten by explosive point guards. To any Celtics fan, the most obvious example is the 17-assist performance from Rajon Rondo in the C's season-opening win at the TD Garden. But here's an even better one: Chris Paul. CP3 went to work on the Heat last Friday to the tune of 13 points, 19 assists and five steals. He took over the game, and the Heat didn't have an answer for his speed, athleticism and playmaking abilities. Spoelstra might eventually toy with the idea of using LeBron or Wade against elite point guards when he needs to, but neither superstar sounds crazy about the idea.
They can be beaten by energetic big men. If you watched the Jazz take down the Heat in overtime on Tuesday night, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Paul Millsap killed the Heat by working his butt off to get open looks at the basket. He got plenty of them, shooting 19-for-28 to finish with 46 points, shattering his previous career high of 32. He also had nine rebounds. Kevin Love had a solid night for Minnesota last week as well, scoring 20 points on efficient 7-of-11 scoring against the Heat. You don't necessarily have to be big and long to beat the Heat down low, but if you outhustle them and make plays, they can be picked apart.
They can be beaten by the Celtics. It all comes down to this — the Celtics and Heat are gearing up to beat the tar out of each other this spring in the playoffs. Right now, the C's have the upper hand. They've got all the ingredients — an athletic point guard to pose matchup problems (Rondo), an energy guy that can kill them from the bench (Glen Davis) and a bunch of veterans that aren't fast or explosive, but can make plays when it matters (you know who they are).
The Celtics drew first blood on Oct. 26 when the old Big Three met the new trio, and these teams tangled for the first time.
Back then, the Heat had been anointed as basketball immortals before even taking the floor. But now they're beatable. And the Celtics know it.
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