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COLUMN

NBA playoffs a prelude to Heat coronation

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For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Miami has the one ingredient (LeBron) that sets it apart

Saturday, May 4, 2013 - 1:19 am

These NBA playoffs already feel like a matter of when, not if, the Miami Heat will win a second straight title.

Every team other than the Heat has at least one major flaw besides the obvious one of not having LeBron James wearing their uniform.

The Heat's dismantling of the Milwaukee Bucks was predictable and routine. The scarier part for the rest of the league can be seen in black and white: 41-2. That's the Heat's record over its last 43 games. Now tell me how any team, any time, is going to win four of seven against them in the playoffs?

Miami is a juggernaut and budding dynasty along the lines of the Michael Jordan Bulls and the Magic Johnson Lakers, if not quite the Bill Russell Celtics. No one will ever match the Russell Celtics' run of titles.

James is the best player in the game, by a sizable margin, and anyone who denies it is blind or purposely obstinate.

People like to compare him to Jordan, but that comparison is way too limiting.

He has some Jordan in him, sure, with his ability to defy gravity and score from anywhere. But he also has Magic skills at directing an offense and Larry Bird skills at no-look touch passing. He's physically as strong as Karl Malone. NFL tight ends envy his strength.

Above all, no player in the NBA can match him for making his team better. Outside of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, super players in their own right, the Heat have a serviceable group of players who are elevated simply by playing alongside James.

Ray Allen is a great shooter, but old. Shane Battier is a great team player and crafty defender. Chris Andersen is Dennis Rodman 2.0. Throw in Mario Chalmers, etc., and it's a nice blend of talent that underrated coach Erik Spoelstra juggles for ego-feeding playing time.

Who wouldn't want to play with James? He draws attention but, instead of forcing shots like Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony, he orchestrates buckets. He seems just as happy seeing Allen hit a three or Andersen tattoo a dunk as he does nailing a jumper or twisting for an acrobatic inside shot.

I've watched the Heat as often as any team in the NBA this season and their power reaches beyond points, rebounds, assists and other statistics. They have a sense that they own the last eight minutes of every fourth quarter, no matter the score when it reaches that point. There's a reason why they won 27 straight games, an incredible number in the cross-country grind of the NBA.

Who will challenge them during these playoffs? The Eastern Conference contenders all have flaws. The Knicks sputtered before taking down the ancient Celtics duo of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Pacers look like contenders at home, pretenders on the road. The Bulls are sick if resilient. The Nets might be the best of the non-Heat teams in the East. Do they have a way to slow – forget stopping – James more than one or two games in a series? Don't see it.

The Western Conference, once presumed to belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder, changed drastically when Russell Westbrook went down. It's possible someone other than the San Antonio Spurs can emerge from the West. Maybe even the Golden State Warriors, who play the Spurs next and have the ascending superstar in Steph Curry. “Ascending” tends to mean not there yet, which is where I see the Warriors.

The Spurs are old and cranky and, to many people, boring. Yes, Tony Parker can bring some highlight-style scoring. Yes, Tim Duncan still hits that bank shot. And of course Gregg Popovich coaches like he's done it a few times.

Put James on the Spurs and the Spurs would be the NBA favorites. Put James on the Warriors, same thing. Actually, put James on (insert playoff-caliber team here) and you've got a favorite.

Enjoy the NBA playoffs. There will be some thrilling finishes, some astounding individual play and some memorable moments.

Spoiler alert: The Heat ends up winning it all again. The only suspense is whether they'll lose a game or two along the way.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com