5:23 PM EDT, April 24, 2013
March Madness has given way to April Anxiety.
Can anyone beat the Miami Heat?
No this is not a trick question. Just a very disconcerting one if you happen to be a fan of the other teams chasing the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy.
Expect the Heat to hoist it up sometime in early June, whenever the long grind ends. Resistance is futile, boys and girls.
I know this isn't exactly a gutsy call on my part. Anything can happen in the wacky world of sports, including a bunch of gutsy American kids taking down the evil Russian hockey empire in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
They called that one the Miracle on Ice.
Beating the Heat would be the equivalent of the Shock on SoBe.
Even if that South Beach reference is a bit off geographically, every compass points to the Heat's invincibility against all the great pretenders.
Gambling odds vary, but the Heat are a prohibitive favorite to win another title with odds ranging from 1-2 to 2-3. True to expectations, they have breezed to victories in the first round and hold a 2-0 series lead against the Milwaukee Bucks going into Game 3 Thursday night.
Beyond the numbers, I get a sense that the world isn't nearly as indignant with the Big Three/Big Bully theme that was so pervasive since the Heat put together what some termed an Axis of Evil in 2010.
There was the obvious emotional rush of envy -- fueled by Miami's arrogance -- the first season. Many fans cheered when they got their comeuppance against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. Then came the redemption of LeBron James last season, when he finally was able to bury all those jokes about his tenacity (Q: "Why can't LeBron James shop at the dollar store? A: "Because he only has 3 quarters!").
Redemption has now given way to resignation. Resistance is futile. Or is it?
"You have to take away their transition because it's a deadly transition," said Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose team has played the Heat as tough as anybody in the league over the last few seasons.
"If you turn the ball over with LeBron on the floor, [Dwyane] Wade on the floor, it's a gift to them. That's how great they are in the open court. That's the only way you can beat them is taking away those points and making them score in half court."
Doc and the Celtics put the original Big Three together in the summer of 2007. They won one title, but it's the misses many fans will remember. An injury to Kevin Garnett left them exposed in 2009, when they lost to the Orlando Magic in the second round in a seven-game series. The following year, big man Kendrick Perkins went out with a knee injury in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7.
Then came the Heat.
The Celtics pushed the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and despite losing Rajon Rondo, were considered somewhat of a sentimental sleeper to rise up from their No. 7 seed and beat the Heat this go-round. Nope. Down 0-2 to the New York Knicks, the C's are toast.
But so are the Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or whichever team is left rolling out basketballs in a month.
Nobody can beat the Heat, short of some huge mental freefall. Try getting some odds in Vegas on that prop bet.
"You can't fear them," Rivers said. "If you want any chance you have to take them out of transition. If they get in transition there's no chance you're going to beat them. They're just too athletic."
Have fun playing for second place, everybody.
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