Heat good enough ... for now - NBC Sports

Heat good enough ... for now
Miami not playing at championship level, but it won't matter before April
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By their own admission, LeBron and company don't like doing things the easy way.
January 31, 2013, 8:01 pm

The first chapter with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh ended with Finals failure in 2011, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle pointing to how his championship team won playing the right way.

The second chapter produced that long-awaited title for LeBron, but only after desperate playoff struggles against the Pacers and Celtics, playing from behind in the final three rounds of the playoffs.

And now? And now this is a team producing the bare minimum required to stay atop the not-so-impressive East, a road record more befitting a lower seed than the defending NBA champions.

If not for the Lakers and the soap-opera diversion they have created, the focus very well might have remained on James, Wade and Bosh, a team initially viewed as capable of the levels of the Jordan Bulls but instead one that has come off as something closer to Hakeem's championship Rockets, good enough when they need to be good enough.

The thing is, they don't care.

Oh, they still can rise to the moment, be it Christmas Day against Oklahoma City, late-night spectacle at Staples against the Lakers, or in the house that Jay-Z built.

But ask them about playing at a regular-season pace behind that of the first two seasons of their first collaboration and there is a collective shrug, save from coach Erik Spoelstra, who, in his own Riley-like way, at least has to create the impression that each game must be approached as a crusade.

"I think we're in a good position right now," LeBron insisted as the Heat opened the second half of their schedule. "I mean, at times throughout the first half, we could have played better. At times, I thought we couldn't get any better, because we were playing so high.

"For the most part, we had more ups than downs. We're not where we want to be, and that's a good thing. We shouldn't want to peak during the midway point."

The motivation of previous seasons is somewhat gone, at least internally, amid championship validation.

Bosh, in fact, wonders why anyone would doubt a team that proved up to the ultimate moment last season.

"It's just kind of weird," he said, "because if we were any other team, any other year, it would be A-plus ... great, we're in first place in the East. But because we're ourselves, we expect better. The only thing that we're expecting is a championship.

"So, with that said, we have to get better in pretty much every area. We have to clean up a lot of things, and that's going to come with time."

"If we had more consistency on the road, we would probably have more of a cushion," Spoelstra acknowledged. "We probably would be knocking on the door of the best record in the league.

"We haven't got to that point yet. That's one of the areas of focus in the second half."

Yet to have focus, there has to be motivation. And that has proven fleeting, even a pair of 20-point blowout losses at the hands of the rival Knicks failing to sound an alarm.

It's almost as if the Heat are waiting for the Knicks to finally push to the top spot in the East, waiting for Derrick Rose to legitimize the Bulls as a threat, waiting for Danny Granger to return to the Pacers, waiting for the Celtics to show whether they can persevere in the absence of Rajon Rondo.

But every now and then, the motivation arrives, and something fierce is unleashed.

That proved to be the case in Brooklyn, when Reggie Evans became the first player to challenge the Heat's 2012 title as tainted because of the lockout-shortened 66-game 2011-12 schedule.

That's when LeBron looked like MVP LeBron, when the Heat looked as unstoppable as over those final four games of the Finals against the Thunder.

"No one knows what it takes unless you've done it," James said, as engaged in his answer as he was in his beat down of the Nets and Evans. "You can't sit here and judge and talk about a team winning a championship unless you've been through it and actually done it. He hasn't done it."

And yet, two days earlier, the Heat couldn't find a way past a Celtics team lacking Rondo.

"Do we ever like it easy around here? No," James acknowledged. "Nothing is easy for us.

"Nothing has ever come easy for us in the three years we've been together. And we don't like it that way. I don't know why."

But he does. Because when the first title came nine seasons into his career, it felt all the more satisfying. To merely breeze through the regular season seemingly would fail to validate in the way James, Wade and Bosh have come to accept validation.

Grudgingly, they may have to accept the conference's top seed for the first time since they came together. But even then, their nature will be to make it treacherous, to create adversity to be overcome, as they did amid Bosh's playoff absence last season.

Dominance seems to bore them. Ultimate success is all that matters. And that means the only true measure will come in late April and then May and June.

For now, they'll pick and choose their moments, while making sure that the naysayers, the Reggie Evanses, are kept in their place.

"We're fine," Wade said.

And they are. Because for now, at least in the East, good is more than good enough.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter.



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