Will Ray Allen and the Miami Heat keep up their hot streak in the playoffs? Photo Credit: Mark Runyon, Basketball Schedule
The good times are still rolling for the Miami Heat, who have won 27 games in a row and are nearly two months removed from their last loss on Feb. 1. Right now, the Heat are head and shoulders above the competition and are the obvious favorites going into the 2012-13 NBA playoffs. Still, in spite of the massive success the Heat are having, there is one potential concern: Are they peaking too early?
This might seem like a strange thought, but consider the fate of last year’s San Antonio Spurs. They ended the season hotter than anyone else. They won their final 10 regular-season games en route to clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. When the playoffs began, the Spurs’ massive success only continued. They quickly earned sweeps over both the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers and more importantly, they looked utterly unstoppable while doing it. It seemed inevitable that the Spurs would end up representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Then, they met the Oklahoma City Thunder and their title plans quickly went off the rails. The Spurs took the first two games and appeared to be on top of the world. But after the Thunder took Game 3 and handed the Spurs their first loss of the postseason, the series was completely turned on its head. The Spurs would never win again and suddenly what seemed like one of the best playoff runs of all time was over. The Spurs were unable to handle the adversity of losing and as a result, once a team gave them a real fight, they quickly folded.
So, could the same thing derail the Miami Heat come playoff team?
In theory, it makes sense; the Heat spent the first three months of the season playing well, but not quite as well as one might expect from a team that had LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and was coming off a championship season. Then, the streak began and they suddenly became unstoppable. So, it should follow that what goes up must come down, that the Heat are playing their best basketball now and when they face a real test in the playoffs, they won’t have any spare energy to rise to the occasion.
There’s just one problem with that; the Heat have the something the Spurs didn’t–a second gear. The Spurs are amazing to watch and it’s incredible how coach Gregg Popovich continues to put together great teams even as his top players continue to age. But the Spurs play at the same level all the time. As long as every player is healthy, they are going to giver you every thing they have for 48 minutes. The Heat, however, are talented enough that they don’t have to do this. They can lay low for a quarter or two before they turn on the jets and show opponents everything they have. At that point, they can quickly pull away from a close game, especially when they are playing a team that lacks a superstar like James or Wade. This means they can lull teams into a false sense of security, making it appear as though they have the advantage, when really they don’t stand a chance.
We saw a fine example of this in Game 4 of their series against the Indiana Pacers last spring. The Pacers led the series 2-1 and in the third quarter of Game 4, they clung to a small lead. It looked they just might go up 3-1, making it all but impossible for Miami to recover. Then, the Heat kicked it into overdrive. LeBron James took over the game and by the time it was over, he had put some of the most impressive numbers of his career with 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. The Pacers had a great team, but they had no one who could tame LeBron and no one who could stop the Heat from running away with the game once they reached their optimum level. Simply put, this team was built to succeed in the playoffs.
The Heat may not win the title, but it won’t be because they peaked at the wrong time. They have the elite personnel to keep that from being a problem. Teams like the Pacers will try to keep them off the scoreboard, while teams like the Knicks will try to match them with offensive firepower, but they’ll all have their work cut out for them. This team won’t go down easily, even if they’re playing better now than they will in the playoffs.