“I’ve always had a bull’s-eye on my chest,” James said recently. “It’s always been, ‘I can't wait until we play the Cavs, so I can go against LeBron.’ Or, ‘I can't wait until we play the Heat, against LeBron.’ Or, ‘I can't wait until we play St. Vincent-St. Mary’s.’ I've never been that guy that can sneak up on somebody. I've never been him.”
The Los Angeles Lakers had won the championship in 2010 but the Heat became the team to beat the moment James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh announced their union in that infamous free agent signing party, in which the trio danced onstage and James spoke of winning multiple titles.
After being humbled by Dallas in its first season together, Miami defeated Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals last June, and while James might not see much difference in the effort from the opposition, his teammates certainly do.
“Even though we was a target in 2010 just because we came together, being a champion is something totally different,” said Wade, who won his first ring playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal in 2006. “I’ve been there before. It’s helped us deal with the spotlight that comes with it and what people expect, but when it comes to the competition, this year is different than any year we’re going to experience.”
The Heat (12-3) has won six in a row and is tied with the Memphis for the NBA’s best record, but hasn’t necessarily been dominant with just four double-digit wins and an average point differential of 5.1, which ranks sixth in the league.
Miami’s three losses are to the Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Clippers and New York – teams that sit atop their respective divisions. But it has had several close calls at home, needing late rallies to hold of Cleveland (playing without injured point guard Kyrie Irving) and San Antonio (playing without Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green), and overtime to defeat Milwaukee.
“You can know something is coming, but when you’re in it, it’s like, man it doesn’t make it any easier,” Bosh said. “I love it. It’s a culmination of everything that kind of makes this perfect brew of difficulty. But everybody went through it that has won a championship and we’re not safe from that. We just have to answer the challenge every night.”
The Wizards (1-13) — whom the Heat play on Tuesday at Verizon Center — have the league’s worst record, don’t have John Wall, and Nene is still easing his way back into the fold after missing three months with a foot injury. But Miami has already learned that any opponent is capable of doing the unexpected — especially against the Heat.