x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

'Big Three' turn up the heat

The Miami Heat are no longer long shots for the title as LeBron James and Co are coming good at the right time.

LeBron James, centre, celebrates with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh after Miami Heat defeated the Washington Wizards on Saturday.
LeBron James, centre, celebrates with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh after Miami Heat defeated the Washington Wizards on Saturday.

Miami are no longer long shots for the title as James and Co are coming good at the right time, writes Mike Tierney

History has blessed us with a striking list of Big Threes, none more renowned than Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, dominant for decades in the car sales standings.

Unless it was Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, world leaders whose conferences - precursors to today's "players-only" meetings - helped restore Europe in the wake of the Second World War.

Or the Big Three of economics - Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes - whose ideas shaped public policy that probably had something to do with the NBA average salary reaching US$5 million (Dh18.35m).

There is golf's terrific trio of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

And Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, who could team up with a pair of 98-pound weaklings and still kick five-on-five tail.

The Big Three label is not chosen by those who bear it. It is conferred upon them for greatness accomplished or, in the case of the Miami Heat's holier-than-thou trinity, anticipated.

By the time LeBron James had taken his talents to South Beach, he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were tattooed with "Big Three." (Not literally, James having pretty much run out of epidermal vacancy.)

Expectations became outrageously high, fuelled in part by James's think-before-he-speaks manner.

At a rally for fans, he counted up to seven the number of NBA titles the Heat might amass. The projected wins total for the regular season was a through-the-roof 64.5 (Hey, it was computer-generated; they deal in fractions.) in an 82-game season.

Well, yesterday morning, America awakened to headlines that began: "Heat lose 14th in a row …" OK, we left off the rest. "… to the Mavericks."

Against the league, the Heat have lost just one in a row. Before that, they won 12 straight, all but two by double-digit margins. The Mavs (twice) are the only team to have beaten them in the past four weeks.

So the Big Three - who were a Big Easy for opponents during a 9-8 start - have been clicking since a players-only meeting that led to a remarkable result: not a single Heat member tweeted about it.

The most common view, among fans, of Miami's 21-9 record is mild disappointment. Quite the contrary, it is admirable.

Imagine three hilarious comedians teaming up for a tour. Each could slay the audience with his own material, but the highest potential sum of these parts results from one cracking a few jokes, then setting up his partners to deliver theirs. The process would have to evolve over many nights.

Early on, the Heat were hesitant to run on offence, preferring to set up in the half-court so the three could get their proper amount of touches.

Then, a light went on. Aware of how difficult they were to defend when pushing the pace, they shifted into fast-break mode, which generated better shots. Meanwhile, the defence, which takes time to congeal with any reconstituted team, became downright stifling. During their winning streak, no opponent hit 100. Three were stuck in the 70s, three more in the 80s.

What else have we learned? That, amazingly, we had not learned everything about James.

Boos inspire him to excel. He got an elephant's earful in Cleveland, of course, and in New York, where haughty Knicks fans were insulted that James did not take his talents to Rockaway Beach.

He smoked the Cavs with 38 points, a season high, in 30 minutes as the Heat won by 28. (Contrast that to 21 points in 39 minutes for the rematch in kinder, gentler Miami.)

He triple-doubled the Knicks with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, Miami breezing by 24.

We know he has not big-footed his way into Pat Riley's office and asked the silver-haired one to take over for Eric Spoelstra, the guy with the worst million-dollar job in America. (Heat win title, players get credit; Heat fall short, coach gets blamed.)

We know his new $9m residence has nearly enough bathrooms (eight-and-a-half) to assign each teammate his own shower at slumber parties.

No thanks to gagging media coverage of James, we know his stylist gives him the Italian playboy look and that a LeBron look-a-like is clearing crockery at a Miami restaurant. Too, we have learned this about this, or any, Big Three: The NBA may be chiefly about its individual standouts, but you do not just round up a bunch of the brightest, roll out the ball and expect them to win immediately.

The Orlando Magic, worried sick over a slump, detonated their roster over the weekend and imported three former all-stars - Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu.

They unveiled their new team on Monday in Atlanta against a team gasping from its fourth game (each followed by a plane trip) in five days.

Final score: Hawks 91, Magic 81.

The Heat may not reach their 64.5 wins, but they will contend for a championship if …

Dallas have fine-tuned a zone defence that reduces offensive options, forcing Miami into long-range shots, not their speciality.

For the Big Three to beat this or any other zone and win one title (or seven), they must start by sinking a big three (point shot) every now and then.