Philadelphia, PA – To most NBA fans, Miami is the big time.
But Miami, at least in the real world, isn't as "big time" as you might imagine. According to the Nielsen Company, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale television market is only the 16th largest in the country, one spot ahead of Denver and well behind places like Houston and Detroit, never mind New York, LA and Chicago.
Meanwhile Forbes just labeled Miami as the "most miserable city" in all of America, citing the housing crisis that has devastated the city with 47 percent of homeowners sitting on underwater mortgages. I'm not sure that measuring stick is worthy of Scientific America but foreclosures, according to Forbes, have been rampant with 364,000 properties in the area entering the process since 2008.
To outsiders that only think about the glitz and glamour of Miami Beach or still can picture Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas screaming across the bay in a speedboat, that's probably a surprise.
Which got me thinking, maybe the city's basketball team has some smoke and mirrors to it also.
When Miami raced out to a 5-0 start this season one national observer made the ridiculous comment that "this team might win 60" in the lockout-shortened 66- game season. Math is about to prove that pundit a liar unless LeBron and Company rattle off 43 straight to end the season.
If you take a step back and look at things objectively, even after an impressive 99-79 win against upstart Philadelphia, you'll see the Heat for what they really are, a very good team with three great individual players that struggle to play together at times.
Listening to Erik Spoelstra before the game, I couldn't help but be reminded of Lou Holtz, the ex-Notre Dame coach that would talk up every team he was playing whether it was No. 1 Miami or the Little Sisters of the Poor.
"They have as many athletes as we do," the Heat coach said when talking about the Sixers, "maybe more."
In truth, Miami is a horrible matchup problem for the Sixers and has now beaten them nine straight times. While Philadelphia does have a lot of athletes, they simply don't have the skill and perhaps more importantly the length of Miami's big three, making this an untenable matchup for the 76ers.
In fact, if styles make fights -- the Sixers are Marvis Frazier to the Heat's Mike Tyson. Philly lost by 20 points tonight after losing by 21 at Miami on Jan. 21. The team's other five losses are by a combined 24 points.
In the end, Miami probably does deserve its spot as the favorite to win an NBA title. But to call that a foregone conclusion or expect some kind of dynasty in South Florida is more than a stretch.
The Heat certainly have the game's best individual player in James, who took over things tonight late in the third quarter and finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, but as great as "The King" is, we're nine years into his career and it's time to admit he's never going to have the killer instinct of a big-time closer like a Michael Jordan or Larry Bird.
"I've watched him play without Dwyane Wade and he's a totally different player," Charles Barkley, a guy who knows a thing or two about being a superstar, said when talking about James. "I'm going to challenge him to play like that all the time. He's the best player in the world but for some reason, when Dwyane is on the court, he takes a back seat."
Wade, remains the best "Robin" in today's NBA but his reckless style has already taken a toll and the nagging injuries seem to pop up with greater regularity each and every season. Meanwhile, Chris Bosh has upped his game during his sophomore season in Miami but he's still not the type of intimidating force you need at the defensive end for a team with no true center.
After "Miami Thrice" the talent on Spoelstra's club drops off the table.
"The Heat are not that deep of a team," former NBA GM Steve Kerr recently said, "but the ability of LeBron and Wade to take over games on their own allows Miami to offset various loses throughout the lineup."
It's hard to argue with Kerr. Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers have developed into nice NBA role players that bring young legs and energy to the dance but ask yourself how many other NBA could afford to start them?
Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem add veteran leadership and toughness but both players have seen their better days, while Mike Miller is an excellent pure shooter and a key cog as a weak-side threat off the double team but he's also as one-dimensional as they come and Pat Riley gave serious thoughts to amnestying him.
The rest of Riley's roster is filled with players that could just as easily be featured in a D-League media guide with the possible exception of rookie guard Norris Cole, who has flashed an upside with impressive quickness.
"When you have guys that can dominate the game like those three (James, Wade and Bosh) can it doesn't allow other players to get into the flow of the game," former player and current analyst Greg Anthony said. "It's important that they figure out balance."
It's not like this is the first time three great players have toiled together. Magic had Kareem and James Worthy for a good part of his run in Hollywood but there was still room for borderline stars like Norm Nixon, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper.
"When you watch Miami, they play with arrogance," Anthony continued. "They feel like they can turn it on and off like a light switch and win a game whenever they want. That lack of intensity is one of the reasons why, at times, they struggle."
On Friday, they were able to turn it on. With the game deadlocked at 61 late in the third quarter, Thaddeus Young blew a bunny at the basket and James decided that it was time to take over. First he drilled a 20-foot step back jumper and followed that with a man's offensive rebound and a finger roll to end the third quarter scoring
Less than nine minutes later Philadelphia was down by 23 and looking for the locomotive that just ran them down.
You saw that arrogance bite the Heat, however, 48 hours earlier in Milwaukee when Miami raced out to a 40-23 lead after the opening 12 minutes. James made 8-of-9 shots from the floor in the first quarter of that one, including going 3-for-3 from beyond the arc as the Heat shot 82.4 percent in the opening frame and made all five of their three-pointers.
Satiated, the Heat took their foot off the gas and Brandon Jennings came back to bite them. In fact, it got so bad that Miami didn't get any closer than eight points over the final 4 1/2 minutes of regulation.
The Heat are a good, at times great team, but they're also a flawed bunch that leaves the door ajar for a host of other NBA contenders.
Friday they were at the best with LeBron running the show next to Wade with Bosh alongside Miller and Haslem up front.
"It's been a long time coming." James said when talking about that lineup. "We've played that lineup a few times in the postseason last year but it wasn't healthy. It's great to have that lineup out there now that we're healthy, and me and D-Wade are able to handle the ball.
"That's what it's about, just camaraderie and teamwork."
If only it were about that every night.