Six weeks short of the NBA Finals, we're in the trophy stage of the postseason. So you made it into the playoffs, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs. Congratulations. Here's a trophy for you.
And for you, Celtics. And Clippers. And everyone else in the playoffs not named the Miami Heat. Here's your trophy. Orange wedges will be passed out later. We're going to make some phone calls, too. No promises, but you might get your picture in the paper!
But you're not winning the NBA Finals. Not unless your name is the Miami Heat.
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That's not much of a risk, that prediction. Don't mock me for my faux-bravery, because I acknowledge there's nothing brave about predicting the Heat will win their second consecutive NBA title -- although the word "prediction" feels weak. The Heat will win the 2013 NBA title? That's not a prediction. That's a fact.
The only question worth addressing, honestly, is the matter of losses. Or loss. As in, will the Heat lose a game in the 2013 playoffs?
And my prediction: No.
That one's not a lock. Not a fact. But I stand by it. Feel good about. Wonder how anyone could confidently predict anything but a sweep for the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals and finals, and then the NBA Finals. Who will the Heat play in those rounds? Don't know. Don't care. Doesn't matter.
The Thunder were the only team that would have pushed the Heat -- and by pushed, I mean taken the NBA Finals to a fifth game, maybe a sixth -- but without Russell Westbrook they couldn't beat Miami once. Not that the Thunder will get the chance. If the Rockets don't eliminate Oklahoma City in the first round, someone else will in the next. The Thunder won't make it to the Western Conference Finals, which is too bad because the sweetest superstar in the league is Kevin Durant, and the most charming fan base in the league is at Oklahoma City, and the No. 1-seeded team in the West was sabotaged by the knee injury that sidelined Westbrook two games into the postseason.
What we've learned about the Thunder is that, minus Westbrook, they're not even the 2007 Cavaliers. Remember that team? Terrible, that team. Terrible, plus LeBron James. And terrible-plus-LeBron was a mathematical equation that equaled 50 wins in the regular season, then playoff victories against the Wizards, Nets and Pistons before the Cavaliers were run out of the NBA Finals by the Spurs in four games. (I predicted that sweep in 2007. See for yourself.)
The 2007 Cavaliers had LeBron, and he was good enough to carry the Cavs to the Finals. The Thunder have Kevin Durant, and he's not. Not with the way he's being used by coach Scott Brooks. The Thunder might not even get past the eighth-seeded Rockets after being staked to a 2-0 lead with Westbrook still on the court.
But enough about Durant and the Thunder. There's no need to pick on Durant -- he's the second-best player in the world, after all -- or pick apart a roster that was put together to support two great players (Durant and Westbrook), not one.
Nobody's beating the Heat in these playoffs, not even the Thunder at full strength. You remember what the Heat did late in the regular season, right? They won 27 consecutive games. This team is dominant, possibly the most dominant team in NBA history, although the 1972 Lakers -- who won 33 consecutive games, went 69-13 overall and won the NBA title -- might object.
But those Lakers -- with Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich in the starting lineup -- had to win three playoff series, not four as the Heat will have to do. And those Lakers lost three games, total, in those three series. Which is more losses, I'm positive, than the Heat will suffer this postseason.
Now don't take this too far. If I'm going to get into trouble, let me get into trouble with my words, not yours. I'm not saying the Heat have a shot at being the "best" team in NBA history. No way, no how. This Heat team wouldn't have beaten some of Magic's Lakers, or some of Bird's Celtics. It probably wouldn't have beaten those 1972 Lakers, though the 2013 Heat would have matched up well with Jordan's 1996 Bulls team that won 72 games.
This Heat team isn't the best team in NBA history ... just the most dominant. That's a compliment to the Heat, and an indictment of the 2013 NBA. Know why Magic's Lakers weren't the most dominant team in NBA history? Because of Bird's Celtics. And vice versa, and on down the line. The talent is spread today among 30 franchises -- there were 23 teams in 1987, when the Lakers beat the Celtics for the title -- which is why so many of us freaked out in 2010 when LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together.
This is what we feared. A Miami Heat team that is so good -- so much better than everyone else -- that the postseason would become the joke that this one is. The only mystery left: How much better is Miami than everyone else? No NBA champion has rampaged through the postseason undefeated, though the 2001 Lakers of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, and the 1983 76ers of Julius Erving and Moses Malone, came close with just one loss apiece. Jordan's Bulls went 15-2 in 1991, same as the 1999 Spurs of David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
That's where this is headed for the Heat -- a postseason run to rank among the most dominant ever. They're pretty damn good, and the rest of the league is pretty sad. Westbrook is out for the Thunder. The Lakers were swept by the Spurs without Kobe Bryant. The Celtics don't have Rajon Rondo. The Warriors have a hobbled David Lee. The Pacers without Danny Granger. The Bulls (still) without Derrick Rose.
The best, healthiest team is San Antonio, who were swept in two games this season by the Heat. That doesn't mean much, but this does: The Heat won the second game in March in San Antonio.
Without Dwyane Wade.
Or LeBron James.
But you keep playing these playoffs, Spurs. Same goes for everyone else not named the Miami Heat. When Miami has its championship parade, the rest of you can have a pizza party or something.