What took the New York Yankees a hundred years of over-spending to accomplish, took the Heat mere minutes. LeBron James' nationally televised announcement that he would bring his "talents to South Beach" instantly demonized the team. They were the Evil Empire of the NBA.
Then there was that weird arrival by the "new Big Three" in Miami, where LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh danced around together on stage for way too long.
And it only got worse when the season began. D-Wade pulled a hammy, Miami lost badly in its opener to the Celtics – with calls to fire Erik Spoelstra beginning at halftime. The Heat then lost eight of their first 17 games, LeBron got his feelings hurt and had his cronies throw his head coach under the bus.
It looked ugly, and America (outside of South Florida) was loving it.
The Heat are overrated. LeBron and Wade can't co-exist. Spoelstra has no control over his stars.
And don't get me wrong, to an extent, all those criticisms were true and largely still are. The Heat still don?t have a center (sorry, Joel Anthony, but 6-foot-9 isn?t tall enough to start on most college teams), their point guard, Carlos Arroyo, is averaging just two assists a game, and their best bench player is probably James Jones.
Thing is, those are shortcomings that team president Pat Riley figured would be negated by his three superstars. Keep LeBron, Wade or Bosh on the floor with the second unit (as Boston does with Ray Allen or Paul Pierce) and they should be able to keep the ship afloat.
So why, after a 9-8 start, has that theory suddenly begun to work?
Because Dwyane Wade decided to get selfish.
After averaging 22.4 points a game over Miami?s 9-8 start, Wade has dropped 27.4 per during the current winning streak. He's logging two more field goal attempts per outing (and hitting them with greater efficiency), more free throws, more turnovers, more rebounds — he is taking over the team, whether LeBron likes it or not.
And as a result, the Heat haven't just won nine in a row. They are destroying teams, becoming just the sixth team ever to win nine consecutive by 10 points or more.
It makes sense. James is a guy who can help the team in a number of ways. Wade is a scorer who wants the ball in his hands.
But I'd be getting ahead of myself if I said all this proves the Heat weren't overrated. After all, most of the opponents throughout that stretch weren't very noteworthy. Of the nine teams faced, just two (Utah and Atlanta) are serious contenders. And by my count, only two of them (Utah and Milwaukee) boast true centers — one of Miami's Achilles' heels.
Upcoming games against Dallas and Los Angeles will test just how far Miami has come.
There are, more importantly, two other very real concerns:
1. Can Wade, who has yet to play a full season in seven years of NBA play, stay healthy?
2. How will the Heat, namely LeBron, respond when the chips are down again?
Will they revert to name-calling and back-door accusations about their coach? Or can they be mentally tough in the face of adversity? The answer will go a long way in determining just how over- or underrated this team really is.