Show of Hands: NBA analysts underestimated the Miami Heat all year long, but on June 20 they were celebrating a championship after defeating the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
Heat 1, Experts 0
By Steve Palopoli
WHEN the NBA season started, all the experts lined up to make their ridiculous I-have-yet-to-see-a-single-game-played-but-I-am-going-to-call-a-winner pick for this year's champion. Whatever, it's fun. Most all of them picked either the San Antonio Spurs or the Detroit Pistons. Those were the easy picks, the safe picks. And the totally wrong picks. Because here it is June 2006 and the Miami Heat have crushed the Dallas Mavericks in six games—four straight victories after being down 0-2—to claim the NBA championship. If this post-season has taught us one thing, it's that basketball is at its most entertaining when the so-called experts are totally confounded, stupefied and exposed for the way they cling to their prejudices and their obsession with being right. Go over to ESPN.com's series pages for the playoffs and check out how many of their staff's predictions were wrong this year. Fifty-four out of 75, that's how many, meaning they were right 28 percent of the time. By some cosmic coincidence, 28 percent is also what the Mavericks shot against the Heat in the finals. Despite the fact that surely no NBA team ever has or ever will win a championship shooting that terribly, many experts like ESPN's senior basketball writer Marc Stein for some reason chose to back the idiotic conspiracy theories of Mavs owner Mark Cuban. Now, that's low, considering how many times over the years Cuban has tried to blame his team's poor performance on bad refs. Yes, there is a plague of poor officiating in the NBA, but the funniest thing during the finals was to talk to regular fans about how despite Dallas' whining, they get more undeserved calls handed to them than any team in the league, period! (Ask Spurs fans about this sometime.) Too bad both Cuban and esteemed Coach of the Year Avery Johnson actually contributed to their team's downfall. Because here's the straight-up truth: any time an NBA team turns into a bunch of crybabies, they will lose. It used to happen every year to the Sacramento Kings. It happened this year to the Detroit Pistons (well, OK, 50 percent of that was Rasheed Wallace alone). And, yes, it happened to the Mavericks. Still, doubting the Heat was nothing new as far as Stein and other analysts were concerned: you'd have to have been out of your mind to pick the Pistons over the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals after seeing how Detroit played against Cleveland in the previous round. And yet, four out of five experts at ESPN.com picked Detroit. That's what I'm talking about. People like Stein—who unfairly badmouthed Miami all year and then tried to cover his ass by giving all the credit to Dwayne Wade when they won and calling their victory "the greatest comeback in NBA finals history" (whatever the hell that means; is it a comeback if you clinch the series after being up 3-2?)—were just too blinded by their own convictions to see why the Heat won the championship this year. It was partially because Wade is one of the best ever, yes. But not just because of him. Former one-man-acts like Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and even Shaquille O'Neal learned to play like a team. A team that played better than the Mavericks. A team that is far better than most talking heads will ever give them credit for.
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