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The Reality For The Miami Heat

The Miami Heat will have to climb the long championship ladder yet again next year

Today, as expected, has been mostly about how the Miami Heat didn’t win an NBA Championship last night. LeBron and the Heat failed or choked or something like that.

In the spare moments of time left after all of that, someone points out that the Dallas Mavericks actually won and deservedly so. They were the better team; they hit more shots; they played better defense and played their best when the going got tough. Unfortunately, the U.S. majority will forget that more than they forget who Dallas beat.

The saying goes that no one ever remembers second place. That won’t be true this year, which is too bad.

With that being said, let’s talk some more about the Miami Heat!

OK, I’m not going to pile on. I don’t really care what was said last night. Let’s let it go, folks.

No, I want to be LeBron positive for a moment before I change my tune here.

The guy is going to win an NBA Championship at some point, probably more than one. He’s too good and his team is too good to keep coming up short as the years go by. What happened this week is probably just another case of how NBA stars reach the top of the mountain — there always seems to be valleys before the peaks. For the many who don’t want to see him succeed, there will come a time when they (we?) will have to deal with it and give him his due. It will happen.

But for those who want to keep fantasizing about how difficult it will be for the Heat to win an NBA title, well, you’re not wrong. Like every other team, they now have to start from square one again and set out on long road.

First, we’ve got the NBA’s impending lockout. Who knows if that carries over into the regular season — I think it will — and if the formation of a new collective bargaining agreement brings a hard salary cap, which would affect Miami’s chances to strengthen its on-court weaknesses. It would affect every team’s ability to improve, but for the sake of this argument, just limit it to how much it impacts the Heat. James, Wade and Bosh are due to make about $47.5 million next season. Last month, the league called for a $45 million hard cap.

Next, who knows when it will take place, but ascending teams will add some critical pieces through free agency. It’s not a strong class in 2011 — David West, Marc Gasol, Jason Richardson, Yao Ming are among the best it has to offer — but there undoubtedly are players who can help a team get over the top.

Then comes a hopefully full regular-season. Just in the Eastern Conference, I think the Knicks, 76ers and Pacers will be stronger, and all of those teams experienced what playoff basketball entails this year. The Bulls can still be formidable. The Celtics will be good, but nothing as special than what they’ve accomplished in the past handful of years. The Magic and Hawks also still loom, not an even match for Heat but possible thrones in the side.

Then comes another tough four rounds in the playoffs. This Heat team may have benefited from their struggles in this Finals series against the Mavericks. Maybe by the summer of 2012, the Heat will have realized how to pick their games up in the fourth quarter and play better team basketball. But that doesn’t mean the 2012 playoffs will be any easier. Everyone in the Eastern Conference will be gunning them just the same, looking at the huge bull’s-eye that remains on Heat’s back because they are still the team to beat.

If they reach the Finals again, Miami will have to face another viable threat such as the Thunder, Lakers or the Mavericks again.

No matter what they do in the regular season, save for winning 70 games, it won’t mean squat if the Heat don’t answer the questions that dogged them in these playoffs, specifically playing at their best in the fourth quarter. Oh, and speaking of questions, everything they do will still be dissected and put under a microscope for another season.

About a month ago, James said that when the Finals are over, that’s when he expects all of this widespread Heat hate to stop. I hope he understands it’s going to be the exact opposite of that. What happened this year has certainly not quelled LeBron’s critics. One complete season won’t significantly decrease the amount of ridiculous attention and ridicule this team receives — especially true for The Big 3 — for every misstep, flaw or defeat. Haters gonna hate, and if they hated the Miami Heat this year, they’ll be right back next year. Along with everything that happens on the court, this team will have to be ready for round two with the media and its absurd coverage on Miami matters, both meaningful and totally irrelevant.

It’s totally unfair, but it’s real and here to stay.

Don’t let LeBron fool you when he says that he doesn’t listen to all the criticism toward him in the press. This is the same man who said prior to Game 5 that he was up late at night, scouring the Internet for negative columns about him and his team to use as motivation. He knows the scrutiny is there, and I think he feels it.

To recap: Miami’s top competition will improve for next season through free agency and experience. The Heat will have to go through the grind of another season — and don’t forget that injuries are part of the game; nothing says James or Wade can’t suffer long-term physical damage at any moment. Then come the playoffs where the Heat will still be the league’s public enemy No. 1. And they’ll have to reach new levels of accomplishment with as much chatter going on in the background as there was in 2010-11.

There’s also another side to this: The Heat themselves can improve through the draft, free agency and experience. They too will get better, and a better Heat team in 2011 would have won an NBA championship. Perhaps they can put it all together in 2012. There will be plenty of obstacles in their way from November through June, and it’s going to be another king-size journey.

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