The Heat are unstoppable, and still hungry - NBC Sports

The Heat are unstoppable, and still hungry
When you're champ, everybody guns for you, but Miami has flipped that dynamic
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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade celebrate during their victory over the 76ers on Friday.
March 11, 2013, 2:03 pm

Boredom is an occupational hazard for defending NBA champions. Training camp, exhibition games, an 82-game regular season, travel, media . it can all combine to produce yawns in guys who just survived that gauntlet a year ago and now are under pressure to do it again.

The Heat right now is a prohibitive favorite to repeat. If it does, Miami will be unlike the last team to repeat as NBA champions, the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, before that, you have to go back to the Lakers' team that won three straight from 2000 through 2002 to find the previous repeaters.

What was distinctive about the 2009-10 Lakers was their listlessness. They slogged through a 57-25 regular season, well below their record the previous year of 65-17, when they finished with an NBA Finals rout of the Orlando Magic. The 2009-10 team was often lethargic and mystifyingly flat. It managed to flip the proverbial switch, and it hung on to beat the Boston Celtics in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals to complete the repeat.

This Miami Heat team takes more pride in its work than that team did. This Heat assemblage is more competitive and hungrier. It is less satisfied and not complacent at all.

This isn't just some team putting together a hot streak, like the Los Angeles Clippers did earlier this season when they won 17 in a row. This is a group under enormous scrutiny that is trying to accomplish one of the most difficult feats in sports: repeating as champions.

When you are champions, everybody is gunning for you. Yet somehow, the Heat has flipped that dynamic and put targets on everybody else. That is truly remarkable, no matter what number this streak ends at.

Does Tony Gonzalez really want to come back?
NFL training camps aren't like regular camps. There is no canoeing, no potato sack races, no singing around the campfire. They usually consist of extensive physical exertion in the heat, sleeping in dorms, and having to listen to the occasional tone-deaf rookie sing his fight song in the cafeteria.

No wonder most players would love to skip training camp.

Reports say Tony Gonzalez is willing to postpone retirement and return to the Atlanta Falcons for one final season, provided the team agrees to pay him $7 million and let him skip most or all of training camp. I get it. Training camp is drudgery. What NFL player wouldn't love to fast-forward to Sundays during the regular season?

Yet $7 million is $7 million. That's a nice gig. You get to play football for a living, you pocket a monstrous paycheck, and all you have to do is endure a few weeks of practices and scrimmages before the season begins. Is that so much to ask?

Gonzalez by all accounts is a great guy. He's also a great football player. So his personal integrity and his standing in the game are unassailable.

But sometimes even the princes among us can lose perspective. This is one of those times. I can understand if Gonzalez wants to limit his preseason workload in order to protect his body. He's a veteran. He can't be as reckless as a 23-year-old.

If he wants to make a cushy job even cushier, though, I think he should take a step back and reconsider if he really has the desire to play anymore. When someone wants to do less than the minimum required, it's a sign he's less than enthused.

Rivera's end is also end of the current Yankees
Mariano Rivera's departure at the end of this coming 2013 baseball season won't just signal the end of a magnificent career. It will be the end of an era. And that's fitting.

The Yankees are old and crumbling. Alex Rodriguez is a physical mess, and who knows if he'll ever play again. Derek Jeter is not long for the majors. Ditto for Andy Pettitte. Jorge Posada is already gone.

Rivera is a walking monument to the Yankees' modern dominance, when they won five World Series titles from 1996 to 2009. He is arguably the greatest closer ever. He is also the personification of class. In a period of baseball history marred by scandal over the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Rivera remained above the dirt.

The Yankees as a club weren't always so lucky. The team is practically a New York tabloid unto itself. The gaudy salaries, the clubhouse strife, the failure of certain stars to come through under pressure, the occasional turmoil in upper management.

Rivera came to represent excellence at the same time his team came to represent excess. That's no easy trick. Here's hoping Rivera finishes with a season to remember.

Crean's words won't go away easily
Indiana coach Tom Crean said this after his Hoosiers beat Michigan, 72-71, on Sunday and he had a heated exchange with Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer, a former Indiana assistant: ""On the way to the plane, I talked to him on the telephone. We discussed a couple of things and I apologized. In retrospect, I wish I had never addressed anything after the heat of battle in a game, but I did and we move on. End of story."

Actually, Tom, no. It's more like the beginning of a story.

This weekend the Big Ten will hold its conference tournament, the last rush of competition before the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Indiana, which won the regular-season conference title outright for the first time in 20 years, is seeded No. 1 and will play the winner of No. 8 Illinois and No. 9 Minnesota.

If the Hoosiers win that one, they advance to play the winner of No. 5 Michigan and No. 12 Penn State. Likely it will be the Wolverines.

This 2012-13 college basketball season has had some excellent games, but not too many plot lines. Part of that is because there aren't one or two truly great teams, just a lot of good ones.

When Crean dropped the "You helped wreck our program" bomb, he inadvertently spiced things up. Now a nation of casual hoop fans will sit up and salivate for any chance at an Indiana-Michigan matchup, both this weekend and, less likely, in the NCAA tournament. People are going to want to know if there are lingering tensions, and if the apology is one of those that is given out when a coach wants a story to end.

End of story? That's wishful thinking on Crean's part.

A game of pepper:

  • Oakland A's outfielder Michael Taylor sliced his finger the other day when he went to throw away his gum and accidentally hit a light fixture. In retrospect, he probably should have hit the cutoff man.
  • Nice brawl the other day between Mexico and Canada at the World Baseball Classic. It was one of the rare North American disputes where the United States played the role of Switzerland.
  • The only difference between D.B. Cooper and Andrew Bynum is that we're pretty sure Bynum got away with all the money.
  • News item: Afghan president Hamid Karzai accused the U.S. and the Taliban of working together. Reaction: This sounds like a job for Dennis Rodman.
  • Percy Harvin to Seattle? Can't wait to see him run patterns in practice against Richard Sherman. I hope Harvin's new deal comes with earplugs.
  • The part of the conclave I'm not looking forward to is the swimsuit competition.

Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44