Miami Heat fans cheered across the world as the team welcomed Lebron James last season. They also applauded as the Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls during the Eastern Conference Finals. Then embarrassment clouded the Heat franchise as the team was demolished by the Dallas Mavericks’ championship. James’ woeful play in the Finals left ESPN critics declaring that the “Heat can’t finish close games.”
The current, lockout-shortened season has resurfaced 2010-11 playoff sentiments. A third of the season in, Lebron James is now averaging 29.7 points per game, three points more than last season. Nonetheless, the injury-ridden Chicago Bulls are currently leading the east. The Bulls even won a number of games last month without its toe-injured star guard, Derrick Rose. Suspense built as the two teams faced-off on January 29th. Derrick Rose carried the Bulls on his back throughout the game until he missed two free throws and a jumper in final seconds. The question became whether the Chicago Bulls will learn to ‘finish close games.’
Rip Hamilton was supposed to be the answer. Hamilton, a 12-year veteran of the NBA, signed as a free agent to the Bulls 11 days before the start of their season. He has been acclaimed for leading Detroit to its 2004 championship. He assimilated quickly into the Bulls team and was crucial to a number of the team’s victories this season. However, Hamilton currently plays on a limited basis with groin and thigh injuries. His team has maintained its ascension without him on an every-other-game basis.
In the west, the Oklahoma City Thunder is dominant. D.C.’s own Kevin Durant has not disappointed Thunder fans after losing to the Mavericks in last year’s playoffs. The Mavericks have taken a beating at Durant’s hand 3 out of the 4 games between pre-season and regular season. Few NBA spectators doubt that Oklahoma City will win the Western conference this time around.
Unfortunately, we will not preview any action between the Thunder and Heat or Bulls for almost 2 months. The Thunder had an even record with both teams last year, so the mind has to wonder whether the rivalry in the east will make a difference in this year’s Finals.
James has another forty-two games to make a difference in his new city. Or else, Miami will have to get comfortable with its five-year-old championship ring. Hopefully Miami’s other fingers do not get lonely.
The season is up for grabs at this point. Chicago may get a seventh ring, Miami a second, or Oklahoma City its first. Many teams are trailing closely behind the Bulls’ league this early in the season. Only one thing is for certain: the Washington Wizards will remain the butt of every nation’s capital joke this year.