MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – Nearly ten months after the infamous “decision,” Miami Heat forward LeBron James and his teammates are set to start their NBA Finals pursuit of the 2010-2011 NBA Championship Tuesday night.
For the Heat, it’s been a season under the microscope like almost no other team in history has ever faced. From having ESPN dedicate an entire section to the team, to some of the most eye-opening comments ever written about an athlete’s decision to pursue a title, the Heat have dealt with it all.
Looking back at some of the comments about LeBron joining the Heat it doesn’t take long to see why King James is pushing so hard to win the NBA Championship this season. Here’s a few quotes from last year, courtesy of larrybrownsports.com.
“James goes to the Miami Heat, Cleveland goes into a basketball Hades, and LeBron’s legacy becomes that of a callous carpetbagger,” wrote Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
“The Big Two conceived this poorly constructed team. The Big Two gave in to their egos and assumed any group of stiffs would be enough support for the Big Three to compete against the NBA’s best teams,” wrote Jason Whitlock last year.
“Oh, and he (LeBron) can’t be Magic now. Or Bird. Or Michael. Or Isiah Thomas, Tim Duncan or Bill Russell or any NBA supernova who stuck around long enough to win championships for a town and its people,” wrote Washington Post columnist Mike Wise.
But perhaps no one has inspired LeBron like TNT analyst, and former NBA star Charles Barkley. From saying he was disappointed to calling the Heat a bunch of whiners; the Round Mound of Rebound has said it all about this year’s Heat team. He’s also endeared himself to Miami fans, as evidenced here.
With all of the negativity that’s been directed at the Heat from the media, and most especially from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, the team has still made it to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006.
For LeBron, he knew his decision would rub some people the wrong way; but he also understood that to get to the next level; he had to have better players around him.
“I know what this league is all about, about having multiple guys on the court that can dominate a game,” James said Monday. “With teaming up with these guys, I feel like we can compete for a lot of years to come. We’ve proven a lot of people wrong so far. We have a lot of work to do still.”
Now, the Dallas Mavericks stand in the way of the Heat and their goal of winning the NBA Championship. If you’re having déjà vu, there’s good reason since it’s a matchup of the 2005-2006 NBA Finals.
Nowitzki will be the main focal point of the Heat’s defense and will be the highlight of the Mavericks offense. Nowitzki is arguably having the best playoff series of any player in the NBA. He’s averaging 28.4 points per game, 7.5 rebounds, and 3 assists per game in the playoffs.
Nowitzki was especially lethal in the Conference Finals against Oklahoma City. He shot 56 percent from the field, 36 percent from 3-point land, and 97 percent from the free throw line in the Confernce Finals. He even went for 40 in Game 4 of the Conference Finals against the Thunder.
That’s the challenge that awaits the Heat’s defense, which to this point in the playoffs has been up to the challenge of shutting down some of the best players in the NBA. The Heat shut down a game 76ers team, eliminated the Big Three of the Boston Celtics, and disposed of the Bulls in just 5 games while completely shutting down league MVP Derrick Rose.
But Nowitzki is a different monster than the players the Heat have faced. He’s 7-feet tall and has one of the best jump shots in the NBA. He’s going to get his points, but the Heat has to slow him down some to hang with the Mavericks.
The Heat is likely to counter Nowitzki with a combination of Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony. Both players are long and can get physical with Nowitzki, while also having the foot speed to stay in front of him.
“You know, we’ve got a lot of flack this year, mostly because of myself. And we’ve tried to use that as motivation every day we get on the basketball court,” James said. “But just play the game of basketball. That’s all we can do is play the game of basketball at a high level. Play Miami Heat basketball.”
As good as Nowitzki has been, he’s not faced a team with a defense as good as the Heat. The Heat also has a few big weapons in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh the Mavericks have to deal with.
James and Wade will be asked to get to the free throw line by driving to the rim. So far in the playoffs, both James and Wade have done a great job pulling this off in the playoffs. Both players have been living at the free throw line and if the Mavericks choose to foul, they’ll have to do it carefully because Wade and James can win games at the line.
The key for Miami may be the play of Chris Bosh. He’s been deadly as a jump-shooter from between 15 and 20 feet in the playoffs. He scored 34 points twice against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals and is a matchup nightmare for the Mavericks.
“We are facing a very tough team, a very good team with a bunch of closers and leaders. And so we’ve got to just go from there and bring our best game,” Nowitzki said. “But we as players, we’re not really worried about who are the good guys or the bad guys, what the fans want. That’s not going to matter to us, anyhow.”
And while the Heat’s Big Three want that ring; they understand that the Mavs still feel like they have unfinished business against the Heat from the 2006 NBA Finals.
The Heat have faced it all this season. They’re 0-2 against the Mavericks in the regular season, but both of those losses came far before the Heat ever got on the same page and began playing like a team destined to win a championship.
Wade summed it up like this, “only thing I care about is winning. That’s all I care about. Whatever you guys (the media) want to decide to put me or talk about me, that’s where I’ll be. The biggest thing is to be a champion.”
Miami’s pursuit of that championship begins Tuesday night at 9 p.m. in the American Airlines Arena.
(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)