A long lockout is expected this summer, at least in part, because most owners are demanding new collective bargaining rules to make it difficult for teams to replicate the Miami model. Under pressure, James and the Heat have thrived when it matters most.
Miami finished the regular season 15-3. Combined with its playoff mark, the Heat is 27-6 since March 10.
The Heat overcame the Celtics’ veteran know-how and the young Bulls’ defensive toughness. With each step, James has elevated to a higher level, and one more obstacle remains.
Dallas will be Miami’s biggest challenge.
Dirk Nowitzki has dazzled with his shooting, leading the Mavericks to a 12-3 postseason record. Dallas swept the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers in the West semifinals, removing Bryant’s name from the current Jordan discussion.
Nowitzki was as important to Dallas’s victory over Oklahoma City in the conference championship series as James was to the Heat advancing past the Bulls. Savvy veteran Jason Kidd is one of the greatest point guards in league history. Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic are three of the best three-point shooters to ever play.
They are not, however, James and Wade.
Wade was selected the Finals most valuable player after the Heat overcame an 0-2 deficit against Dallas to win the 2005-06 NBA title.
He averaged 34.7 points against a Mavericks team that wasn’t as good defensively as this bunch, but Wade’s support system is better now, too.
James is only 26 and Bosh is 27. At 29, Wade is the eldest member of the trio.
With so much young star-power, Miami’s window is wide open. And to the disappointment of its opponents, it may remain in that position for a long, long time.