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Game 31 Preview: Miami Heat vs. Houston Rockets

OK, so everyone hates the Miami Heat. It's pretty much a fact. Everyone hates LeBron James for copping out. They hate Chris Bosh for not wanting to be "The Man" somewhere. They hate Pat Riley for orchestrating the whole mess. They hate Miami fans for doing nothing to deserve the team they have. They hate every other Heat player for playing on a frontrunner. And they hate LeBron some more just for good measure.

I get that, and I agree with most of it. However, I thought it would be fun to preempt the inevitable cascade of "Miami Hate" comments below, I would pretend to be a LeBron supporter and play devil's advocate. It's surprisingly easy when you think about it objectively. So, here goes.

It makes perfect sense that LeBron would want out of Cleveland. It was awesome that he got to play in front of his home state. The fans there loved him, but the fans of any team would love to have a guy like LeBron. Fans in Cleveland believed that they helped make LeBron the player he is today. Bullshit. Hard work and freakish athleticism did that. Do the fans make nifty passes in transition? No, it's all him. Sure, LeBron said he wanted to bring a championship to Cleveland. So does everyone else, including one Tracy McGrady.

As for the cop out. Did LeBron ever say he wanted to be the best player ever? We wanted him to go for it, but saying that you're "The King" or "The Chosen One" doesn't translate to "Best Player of All Time" in my book. Dude had every right to go play for rings. Don't we criticize players for going for money instead of rings all the time? So LeBron went for money and rings. Sounds like the right move to me. Sounds like the guy just wanted to win 'ships, get paid, and move on with his life. I'm pretty sure he's well within his rights.

But he could have won rings in Cleveland, you say? As my friend Andre from "The League" would say, "Child please!" No, he couldn't have won in Cleveland. Look at the talent around him. I know Dan Gilbert tried to get him a sidekick. He worked hard at it, but failed multiple times. Larry Hughes? Antawn Jamison? Old Shaq? Mo Williams? If you believe any of those guys could be real number twos on a championship team, I want what you're smoking. LeBron was surrounded by third- and fourth-options and various role players during his time in Cleveland. I would argue that you can't do that anymore in the NBA. Name the last NBA team to win an NBA title with just one top 20 player. You can't count any of the Spurs teams (Duncan+Robinson/Ginobili/Parker), the Lakers (Kobe+Pau/Shaq), the recent Celtics (three stars at the time with KG running the defense and Pierce owning the O; they now have Rondo+three). The Pistons peaked like crazy, and Rasheed, Chauncey, and Rip played like top 20 players in that series. The Bulls always had Pippen to go with Jordan, and Hakeem had Drexler the second time around. So, if you guessed the namesake of this blog back in 1994 as the answer you're right.

A lot has changed since 1994. I hit puberty (OK, that's debatable), we declared war on terrorism, we elected a black man as president, we made small phones that connect to the internet, people who have no right being famous became plastered everywhere, vampires are in vogue, I have started to despise all things vampire, Harry Potter happened, and Lee got that red goatee thing going (OK, I don't really know when that started).

Last but not least, the NBA has changed. Teams need an alpha male and a secondary star. There are specific qualities that the second guy has to have. He has to be able to be the best player on a team and take them places. He has to be willing to concede to the alpha dog. And he has to have a really balanced skill set. In almost all the cases above, the "second guy" was usually the leader of the defense or was an exceptional overall player who was just one tiny step away from being a top 10 or top 5 player. Could Michael Jordan have won LeBron's Cavs? Maybe, but it's highly unlikely. People seem to forget that MJ didn't start winning championships until his seventh season. The guy didn't just figure everything out on draft night.

So what that LeBron wanted to play with his boys? How cool would it be to play in the NBA with your best friends, especially if all three of you are elite talents? Pretty damn awesome, I'd say. That's the dream. It's like Entourage where all five guys are actors and don't have clashing egos.

And who cares if he announced his decision on public television? He made $3 million for the Boys and Girls Club of America, which is a damn fine institution and I won't hear otherwise. Would I be OK with looking like a jerk on TV if it meant that a great non-profit organization made that kind of money? You're damn right I would.

Oh, and LeBron's Nike commercial was incredible. The production value was stellar. Whether or not you hate LeBron, you have to admit that his commercial was fantastic and creative. I've watched it a ton of times.

I'll argue other points as they come up. Let me know what you think in the comments. Please try to explain your reasoning. I know everyone wants to say "LeBron is a dick" and just be done with it, but I'm challenging you to be more eloquent today. And before the hate starts, remember that I said I'm just playing devil's advocate here. Please don't tar and feather me and run me out of town. I like it here.

Let's check out the matchups...

Point Guard

Kyle Lowry/Aaron Brooks vs. Carlos Arroyo

Arroyo and Chalmers are the two-headed beast at point guard for the Heat. They have the easiest jobs in the NBA. They don't have to bring the ball up the court, no one guards them, and there's no pressure on them most of the time. It's a sweet gig.

Lowry and Brooks are better than both.

Edge: Rockets

Shooting Guard

Kevin Martin vs. Dwyane Wade

I'm always amazed about how Wade's first name is spelled. I just want to scream, "THE Y IS IN THE WRONG SPOT!"

I love K-Mart. You guys have to know that by now. My favorite Rocket changes constantly. Whoever makes a good play becomes my favorite guy until another makes one of his own. And it's usually K-Mart.

But even he isn't better than Dwayne (yeah, I spelled it differently!) Wade.

Edge: Heat

Small Forward

Shane Battier vs. LeBron James

Actually, Shane has a history of defending LeBron really well. He's the only player to hold him to 0 assists in a game. Artest didn't defend him as much as Battier in that game.

I don't think LeBron will kill us. That will be Wade's destiny. But LBJ still might do us dirty.

Edge: Heat

Power Forward

Luis Scola vs. Chris Bosh

I'm going to direct you to Mike's piece earlier this season about why he likes Scola over Bosh. I get that, but Bosh has been playing better of late. He's shooting 51% for the season, and 19/8 on this team ain't bad. For his career though, he plays slightly worse against the Rockets than against other teams.

However, Scola has better stats across the board in fewer minutes. And can someone figure out why his free throw percentage is so low?

Edge: Rockets


Chuck Hayes vs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Big Z starts, but Dampier will get a big share of the minutes here too. They're completely different. Whereas Z likes to shoot and pass, Dampier basically starts the game with four fouls and is only good for putbacks due to his size.

This is crazy. I can't believe I'm about to do this. I better get much love from TheChuckwagonisrolling and chuckhayesALLSTAR2010. The Heat are going to get to the rim at will, but here goes...

Edge: Rockets


Heat: Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, James Jones, Juwan Howard, Joel Anthony, Erick Dampier

Rockets: Lowry/Brooks, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, Brad Miller

Edge: Rockets. Not even close, especially since Miller is still working his way back into shape


Heat: Nobody

Rockets: Yao Ming out

Prediction: Rockets hang around until fourth quarter. Heat win by 12 due to a huge discrepancy in points in the paint and fast break points.

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