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For crying out loud, Heat fizzle before our eyes

by | CBSSports.com Columnist

My, but don’t people hate everything the Miami Heat stand for these days?

The same people who fell in love with the concept of the '70s supergroup, the Justice League of America and the All-Star Game as a form of entertainment loved the Heat five months ago. Three great players in one team. Who couldn’t see the pure incandescence of that?

I mean, other than the Jerry West-Wilt Chamberlain-Elgin Baylor Lakers, that is?

But with their latest freefall, their horrible clutch stats (they are essentially Chris Dudley free throws inside 10 seconds of winnable games) and now crying in the locker room as broadcast by their doe-eyed head coach -- well, the street vernacular is killing the Heat right now, and no, disrespect is not close to the right word.

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People who loved the Heat now hate them, because they turned out to be what their critics said they would be when the team was formed in the Fortress of Solitude -- a delicious, filling, non-nutritious donut with no middle.

And now, with Spoelstra saying that "tears were shed" after they hurled up an entire cat's worth of hairballs against Chicago on Sunday, they are also being portrayed as candypants pretenders.

Somewhere, Derrick Rose and his sharpened MVP's teeth are laughing.

The idea that the Heat concept as originally hatched by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James is a failure remains premature. The roster was incomplete the day they came up with the idea and sold it to Pat Riley, and it is incomplete now. Udonis Haslem may end up being the team MVP by not playing a single second.

But the NBA respects a level of tough-mindedness that the game's balletic aspects obscure. If Michael Jordan ever needed a second job during his years in Chicago, it would have been as a Mob button man. And he would have loved his work.

The Heat, though, now find themselves in the worst possible place for a contender -- dismissed as having little spine and no heart. They suddenly find themselves regarded as some sort of amped-up version of the Atlanta Hawks, and whether that is actually true, perception is a king-hell bitch.

Erik Spoelstra said 'tears were shed' after Miami's loss to Chicago. (Getty Images)  
Erik Spoelstra said 'tears were shed' after Miami's loss to Chicago. (Getty Images)  
And why did it go wrong? Because the math stunk from the start. It isn't the three great players that make a great team. It is also the two grunt-workers, and the spot-up three-baller, and the 10-12-14-minute role guys. It isn't three great players that do big things -- it’s having only three non-functional players on the roster.

And Wade and James and the ethereal Chris Bosh can't be the other six guys no matter how much they try.

People bought in because the NBA has whored itself out as a star's league for so long now that people forgot that every great act has roadies who load and unload the truck. Every great band has the bass player in the corner. It's greatness and depth that wins, and there are no shortcuts to that.

Spoelstra has been pilloried for not being Phil Jackson, but it was clear when the roster was constructed that it could not be coached effectively. Well, maybe that's a bit strong. It was clear when Haslem went down that it could not be coached effectively. Spoelstra may not be a great coach, but he wasn't going to be proving his mettle with this group. This team was a rudimentary workers-state without anyone remembering that most jobs worth doing take more workers.

So now they are mocked for being lousy finishers, for blinking too easily when the lights get bright, and now for clinical and humiliating weakness.

But there is way out for the Heat, and it is in the swiftness with which they were dismissed. Two weeks ago, the Lakers were being dismissed, too. And the Celtics, and the Bulls, and the Spurs and Mavericks and Thunder, too. The extraordinary demands of the spout-now-think-later 21st century world, the 24/7/52/365 blab cycle demands that every day be a new crisis, or a new affirmation of competitive nobility and aesthetic purity.

In other words, we hate patience more than we hate contemplation. We have such very tiny attention spans for the length of an NBA season that even Pavlov's dog thinks we have ADHD. If the Heat win their next three games, they will be declared cured, whether they are or not. Spine is defined in April and May, and while nobody in their right mind can think the Heat will do so when it matters most right now, things change swiftly in the short-attention-span theatre of the NBA.

That said, the Knicks and 76ers are fighting like hell to see who gets to play the Heat and avoid the Bulls in the first round. Nobody saw that coming five months ago when D-Wade and Bron-Bron met to make what looks at this moment like the Justin Bieber of NBA teams.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com


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