Back in 1988, I loathed the Lakers and Pistons so fervidly that I could barely stomach the Finals. I skipped the first five games, then begrudgingly watched the last two. Once I realized during Game 7 that it was impossible to root against two teams at once, I started rooting for the L.A. Forum to blow up. Didn’t happen. Only the following June (their Finals rematch) did I learn a valuable lesson: If you hate both teams, just wager on the over/under of the game. Gambling solves everything.
Fast-forward 23 years. I still hate the Lakers. I don’t hate the MoHeatos, but there’s nothing more perversely fun than watching them blow games after how this summer was handled. Thursday night, I realized that Lakers-Heat games turn me into a bizarro version of the mother from “The Good Son.” In other words, I don’t know which kid to drop faster.
To be honest, I assumed the Heat would make the decision easy by caving like they always do. They were closing in on the dreaded Point of No Return: five straight losses, some finger pointing, some crying, som- wait, players cried? Yup. Players cried. Or so the coach said. With the Lakers coming to town, with a TNT audience watching, with Kobe looking to avenge a Christmas Day shellacking, with Bosh slowly turning into Pvt. Pyle, with Miami’s crunch-time woes worsening to the point that I kept waiting for them to sign Karl Malone it just seemed like the perfect time to break out a running diary.
4 p.m. (PST) — We’re coming to you live from the Man Cave! I’m joined by some Goldfish S’Mores, to be broken out at halftime. TNT starts its telecast with a montage of Miami missed shots, which reminds me of something: You know your season isn’t going as planned when TNT starts its broadcast with a montage of your missed shots.
4:02 — Kenny and Chuck mock this week’s Wade/LeBron self-pity party. “You brought all this stuff on yourself,” Chuck says during a lively rant that wasn’t quite as good as C-Webb’s takedown on Tuesday. “Quit whining and bitching like a little girl.” Hey, I’m insulted by that! My daughter is almost 6, and she’s never whined like these Miami guys! Take it back, Chuck.
4:06 — During a montage of ugly LeBron shots, Barkley rips LeBron’s patented end-of-the-game move (when he careers left, tries to draw a foul and ends up slamming a left-handed layup against the backboard) as that “left-handed leaning thing.” Not nearly descriptive enough — it’s more like the “83-year-old driver inexplicably veering into a crowded sidewalk and sending pedestrians scattering” shot.
4:10 — Good graphic: Since the ’04 season, Kobe is shooting 35 percent (22-for-63) on go-ahead shots in the final 30 seconds. LeBron and Wade? Twenty-seven percent (29-for-107). Off that point, reader Nick in Honolulu writes, “The problem with LeBron at the end of games — he does not have a go-to move. All great players have a move or a spot on the floor that if they can get to it, it’s cash. Ducking your head and driving to the hole is not a move.” Look, LeBron doesn’t have time during the summer to develop a go-to move — he has a production company to run! It takes work to be a global icon, Nick.
4:13 — LeBron: “This isn’t rock bottom for us. Crazy thing is, we could lose every game from now on and still make the playoffs. And once you get into the playoffs, everybody’s record is 0-0. So this isn’t rock bottom.” Yup, rock bottom will be losing to the Knicks in Round 1, capped off by a series-ending Game 6 in MSG when Carmelo drops 44 and the crowd chants “Over-rated! Over-rated!” for the entire second half. Technically, he’s right.
4:15 — Two programming notes before tipoff
1. We have “Los Lakers”playing “El Heat” as part of Miami’s “Noche Latino” initiative. Hey Miami, tal vez como parte de la iniciativa para sus fans podrian aparecer por incio de partido. Cambiar su campana ventilada como “Fan Up” a “Show Up.”
2. If I write that a Miami player is “crying to the refs,” please assume that I’m using the metaphorical version of the phrase and that nobody is actually crying. Don’t want you to get confused.
4:22 — Kobe scores the first 10 Lakers points (4-for-4 shooting). There’s a reason the Lakers were favored in this game — nobody is better at kicking a team when it’s down than Kobe Bean Bryant. And I mean that as a compliment. I swear.
4:24 — A two-handed dunk in traffic from Bosh, followed by a chest pump and a scream. He’s either in playoff form or “dancing in mid-July in front of a packed arena with no game scheduled” form. I can’t decide.
By the way, I’m torn on Bosh’s season: He’s not getting enough touches (28.7 usage rate last season, 23.2 this season), but that doesn’t excuse his embarrassing rebounding numbers (eight a game). A great basketball player would say, “All right, we’re good for points, how else can I help us?”and start crashing the boards and filling every conceivable hole. A good basketball player says, “I’m not getting enough touches” and accepts his fate. I’m fine with Bosh being a good basketball player, but he wants to be paid like a great one. You can’t have it both ways.
4:27 — That reminds me, I would fine LeBron $10,000 every time he took a 3-pointer with a hand in his face. Unacceptable. He has just enough Wilt Chamberlain in him that it’s starting to make me nervous. (We might never get there with him. TV timeout, Lakers leading 16-13.)
4:30 — Our first shot of a somber Pat Riley in the stands. You get the feeling he wakes up in the middle of the night, gets up, makes himself some tea, then thinks about what he should have done instead of spending $109 million on Bosh and $48 million on Mike Miller and Joel Anthony. I should have passed on Bosh and gotten Scola for half the money. I should have passed on Miller and kept Dorell Wright for one-third. I could have given the leftover money to Ray Felton, then kept Beasley, then signed one more rebounder. DAMN IT ALL!!!!!!!!
4:30 — LeBron grabs a rebound, dribbles half the court and passes ahead to a confused Erick Dampier. I’ll let you guess how the rest of the play turned out.
Quick tangent: Miami’s biggest problem is Matt Maloney Syndrome. If you remember, Houston should have made the 1997 Finals with Hakeem, Barkley and Drexler (with Mario Elie, Kevin Willis and Eddie Johnson as its role players), but Brent Price blew out his knee that season, so the Rockets were stuck with Matt Maloney, a rookie point guard from Penn who got undressed by John Stockton in the Western finals. They couldn’t survive Maloney’s subpar play. Erick Dampier, Juwan Howard, Mike Bibby, Eddie House, Mario Chalmers, James Jones, Zydrunas Ilgauskas they’re a Collective Matt Maloney, basically.
4:32 — Put it this way: You could pull 1997 Juwan Howard out of a time machine, throw him on the court right now and he still couldn’t defend Pau Gasol.
4:35 — Back in August, if I told you that a March Lakers-Heat game would feature a three-minute discussion about crying in the locker room, wouldn’t your reaction have been, “My God, Kobe finally broke Bynum!”
4:41 — After a dubious foul on Chalmers, we hear a fan scream “DONAGHY!” at one of the referees. I don’t think that one’s going away — it’s the go-to referee insult for now and the foreseeable future. Regardless, kudos to “Hey ref, bend over and use your good eye!” for a phenomenal 45-year run from 1963-2008.
4:43 — I was shocked that Mike Bibby is only 32; then I remembered that he died three years ago. Technically, he’s 35.
4:44 — You know it’s still the first quarter because Miller just drained a 3. That’s followed by a Lakers miss and a one-handed buzzer-beater by LeBron. Nice play. After one: Miami 30, L.A. 27. Good flow in that quarter.
4:48 — Five million viewers just now: “Hey, I forgot Conan was on TBS!”
4:48 — I’m going to answer Phil Jackson’s questions from Craig Sager (instead of Phil answering them)
Sager: “When a team is struggling like Miami, how important is it to play with them early and not let them gain confidence?”
Me: “That’s a poorly phrased question. Either I can answer it by repeating your question and saying, ‘It’s very important,’ or I can claim that it’s not important, which would make me sound like I just suffered a head injury. You’re 0 for 1.”
Sager: “They’ve hit four 3s, you have to do something defensively, go out there on the perimeter more?”
Me: “No, I thought we’d just keep letting them make ’em. Is this over yet?”
4:51 — Odom, Gasol and Bynum might get into a fistfight before the end of this game over who gets to post up Bosh and Ilgauskas. Miami 32, Lakers 31.
4:54 — I caught myself getting excited for 0.0003 seconds when Kobe made his last 3 (he has 15). Does that mean I’m rooting for the Lakers? So I’m more partial to historical meltdowns than lifelong hatred?
4:54 — Just rationalized it. I’m a writer. Writers gravitate toward stories. There’s no better story than Miami continuing to lose right?
5:00 — Miller drains another 3, then gets an offensive rebound putback AND THE FOUL! That reminds me, if you told me I had to bet on one Heat player who cried in the locker room Sunday — if I won, I got $50,000, and if I lost, I had to watch all eight seasons of “Two and a Half Men” in a row without sleep — I’d pick Miller.
5:07 — You know what makes my skin crawl? Miami’s announcer saying “Kuh-kuh-kuh-kuh-kuh-risssssssssssssssssssssssss BOSH!” after every Bosh field goal. Thank God we don’t have to hear it in the last five minutes of a game. Uh-oh, my snark levels are dangerously high right now. Might have to take my snark-aid medication.
5:10 — Could someone tell Andrew Bynum that this game is on national TV? And that it counts in the standings? I think he thinks it’s a scrimmage. Meanwhile, Derek Fisher is playing so poorly that LeBron and Wade keep mistakenly thinking he’s one of their crappy teammates. Perplexing Lakers performance. I thought they’d have the eye of the tiger.
5:13 — Just posted this on Facebook: “I’m watching this Lakers-Heat game the same way I’d watch a gang fight between Princeton kids and Duke kids.” I could have easily tweeted that, as well, which has been a real problem for me: I don’t know how to juggle shots between Twitter and Facebook. Basically, social media have turned me into Erik Spoelstra.
5:16 — Sixteen points for Bosh. Gotta hand it to him, he played well. Our halftime score: Miami 55, Lakers 53. “It’s just me being more assertive,” Bosh tells Sager at halftime. It’s always fun when $109 million isn’t enough to persuade someone to be consistently assertive. No wonder we’re having a lockout.
5:23 — Did you know they make Goldfish S’mores? And that they’re delicious?
5:34 — I know every conceivable joke has been made about MJ’s Hitler mustache in the Hanes commercial, but here’s one more thought: How long do you think the Hanes people (A) discreetly tried to talk him into shaving it on the set; (B) investigated the costs to digitally remove it; and (C) debated about whether to run the ads at all? My combined over/under for those three actions is 220.5 hours.
5:36 — When I start dyeing my hair, I’m going to Mike Fratello and Marv Albert’s guy. And by the way, we’re about two weeks away.
5:42 — My favorite Miami e-mail (non-crying), from Scott in Chicago: “I’ve watched the Heat ‘Welcome Party’ video about 10 times. The only reason I keep watching is because I am POSITIVE the next time I watch it, glass is going to shatter and Stone Cold Steve Austin is going to run out, give Wade and Bosh the Stone Cold Stunner and then have a minute-long staredown with James until finally he gives him the double bird, the stunner and covers him for the three count. Am I the only person who is 100 percent convinced this should have happened?”
5:44 — An amalgam of every commercial we’ve seen during this game: A video game about an energy drink that blows up a city and causes an Armageddon.
5:46 — Can you tell that the second half started a few minutes ago, that it was boring, and that I’m procrastinating? Not much to report other than Wade and LeBron are a combined 7-for-23 right now. The first wave of “In three weeks, Carmelo and Amare already have better chemistry than LeBron and Wade!” e-mails are already trickling into my mailbox from delirious Knicks fans. I guess this means they’re over losing Mozgov?
5:55 — After the Lakers score nine straight, Miami rallies back with a Wade jumper and a LeBron fast-break 3. Gotta say, it’s hard not to see Phil Jackson and the MoHeatos on the same court without wondering what would happen if Jackson took over Miami and installed the Triangle. Wouldn’t that be the ideal Wade-LeBron-Bosh offense, or am I crazy? Right now, Miami looks as if it’s running Team USA’s 2004 Olympic offense, which I affectionately called “The Poop Sandwich.” Lakers by two.
5:59 — After a missed Bibby 3-pointer, Fratello says, “That’s what Bibby has to do, he has to be able to make those 3s when he’s gonna take them.” I would hope so — I literally can’t think of one other thing Mike Bibby can do. He’s Bernie Lomax with 25-foot range.
(Note: You know what Miami is missing? The Irrational Confidence Guy — the guy who isn’t one of the team’s best players, but he’ll have stretches in which he THINKS he is. I like those guys. It can go one of two ways: Either you have your Sam Cassell Late In His Career type, or your Eddie House/James Posey/2008 microwave guys. Vernon Maxwell was the best Irrational Confidence Guy ever — he had so much irrational confidence that his Houston teams fed off it. Feels like Miami needs someone like that.)
6:02 — LeBron beats the quarter buzzer with another jumper. Is there a way to splice all of LeBron’s buzzer-beaters in the first three quarters of games to make it seem as though he’s clutch? Let’s work on that. Our score after three: Los Lakers 70, El Heat 68.
6:04 — Oh no, Robert De Niro is in Bradley Cooper’s “What if a pill could give you everything?” movie. Good Lord. On my podcast this week , Adam Carolla suggested that we should start taking back Oscars for bad performances the same way the Heisman committee took back Reggie Bush’s Heisman. I love this idea. Shouldn’t De Niro have to give back one of his Oscars for his past 10 years of movies? It’s only fair, right? At the very least, we should reclaim his best supporting actor Oscar.
6:06 — As we head into the biggest quarter of Miami’s season, I’m going to answer Craig Sager’s questions for Spoelstra
Craig Sager: “Do you have to take better care of the ball to win this?”
Me: “I disagree, we want to take WORSE care of the ball. The key to us winning will be how badly we can handle the ball.”
Sager: “Everybody is waiting to see what Miami will do in the fourth quarter, if it comes down to the final shot, what play will you draw?”
Me: “A play in which LeBron throws the basketball against your face as hard as he can.”
6:09 — Odom (not enough minutes tonight) misses a driving hook, but Bynum (11 second-half rebounds after Jackson apparently cussed him out) tips in the layup. Lakers by four. This game is starting to feel a little playoffy.
6:11 — You wouldn’t know this unless you lived in Los Angeles or were a deranged NBA fan, but the Lakers’ bench has quietly fallen apart: Steve Blake went into a shooting funk, Shannon Brown tailed off, Matt Barnes can’t stay healthy I can’t believe I’m saying this, but they might actually miss Sasha Vujacic and his hairnet. I’d be much more biting about this if my own team didn’t have Carlos Arroyo, Sasha Pavlovic and Troy Murphy actually, let’s move on. Fast.
6:13 — Pass the formaldehyde! Mike Bibby just made two 3s. Remember that moment.
6:17 — Odom rebounds his own miss and lays it in, followed by a shot of Khloe Kardashian clapping. I’m now rooting for Miami. No, seriously. Lakers by one.
6:18 — Bosh gets an easy layup off a pretty LeBron pass. Much to my surprise, Miami looks better with Bibby out there. It’s always funny when “he can dribble and shoot 3s and that’s it” represents a massive upgrade at a starting spot for an NBA contender.
6:21 — Another great pass by LeBron leads to Bosh getting fouled for two shots. So much for the Lakers’ bench — Jackson is forced to bring Kobe back right now. (Note: Add Steve Blake to the list of point guards who were ruined by the Triangle.) Bosh makes both freebies. Miami 80, Lakers 77.
6:25 — LeBron bricks the “83-year-old man veering into pedestrians” lefty shot, then Wade misses a wide-open 3. Gasol makes them pay with a jumper. Tied at 80, 5:45 to go. LeBron and Wade combined: 11-for-33. Who’s stepping up? Should we watch Miami’s 2010 Summer Welcome Party for inspiration? I think so. Ladies and gentlemen, the three kings!!!!
6:28 — Miami comes out of a timeout and gets a 15-foot turnaround by Ilgauskas. Brick. Is Spoelstra trying to get fired in time to join ESPN’s 2011 playoff coverage?
6:30 — Interesting sequence: Artest misses a gruesome turnaround; Wade goes coast-to-coast; Gasol makes a reverse layup; Wade gets an easy layup because Kobe and Gasol screw up their high-screen defense on Wade and Bosh; Kobe (missed his last seven shots) sinks a 3; then — and pay attention on this one — Miami isolated Bosh at the top of the key so he can beat Gasol off the dribble for a layup (which he does). I support that play even if it meant that the league’s most talented player (LeBron) stood in the corner watching it — total waste of his talents, but whatever, that ship has sailed, he made his bed. Miami by one.
6:32 — Kobe from 28 bang. Underbite face. Tie game. Then, a crucial sequence: Bynum deflects a Bosh jumper; at the other end, Wade strips Kobe and gets LeBron a fast-break dunk. Four-point swing. Miami by two, under two to play, timeout, Lakers. Maybe Spoelstra hypnotized the Heat players to think the fourth quarter was really the third.
6:36 — Miami smartly doubles Kobe, so Artest takes advantage of Miami’s new defense, “Please Ron, Shoot, We’re Begging You” by obliging with a 20-foot brick that Miami knocks out of bounds. The good news? That brick didn’t kill one of the ball boys. (Note: I love how Artest is torturing Lakers fans this season — they owe him for the putback that saved the Phoenix series, and they owe him for the backbreaking 3 in Game 7 of the Finals. Now it’s payback time: a year of watching him make terrifying decisions at the worst possible times.) Blessed with a second chance, Kobe air-balls a 3 to Artest who blows the layup. Wow. Even more incredible, I just screamed, “Come on!” Am I really rooting for the Lakers tonight? I guess I am. It’s better for the 2011 Celtics if Miami falls apart like the “Jay Leno Show” did. It just is.
And as I’m sorting out my emotions, Wade makes the Lakers pay by fooling them on another high screen — this time, right as James was coming over from the right, Wade saw Kobe anticipating the pick and exploded left layup! Miami by four, 46 seconds to go. We knew Gasol was iffy defensively, especially when lured 25 feet from the hoop but Kobe getting worked in crunch time like this? And shut down on the other end. Wow.
6:39 — Kobe loses control of a pass, doinks it out of bounds and pretends he got fouled. Nope. After a Miami turnover, Kobe bricks a 30-footer. Game time. Awful game for him. And apparently, he agrees: An hour later, he’s seen shooting jumpers in the same darkened arena. Say what you want about Kobe, but he gives a crap.
Our final: Miami 94, Lakers 88. Since the Lakers shot 6-for-24 in the fourth quarter, I’m giving the entire Lakers team the MVP of this game. Just kidding. Borrowing hockey’s “three stars of the game” concept (which should be done after every NBA game), here are my three stars
No. 3 star: Mike Bibby for making those two momentum-swinger 3s despite having a cocktail fork sticking out of his back.
No. 2 star: Dwyane Wade for taking over down the stretch. Hey, someone had to. Best player on the court those last five minutes.
No. 1 star: Chris Bosh — tallied 24 points and nine rebounds and sufficiently freaked out the Lakers on those high screens. He’s still not worth $109 million, but at least he fought off a week of “You know what Miami’s nickname should be? ‘Two and a Half Men'” jokes.
Will we ever forgive the MoHeatos? They might spend the rest of their lives paying for “The Decision,” their “Welcome Party” (which, thankfully, lives on YouTube for eternity), and LeBron’s prediction of “six or seven titles.” Americans love when false arrogance comes back to kick someone in the teeth. Heck, that’s what created our country in the first place: In 1774, the British easily could have been LeBron, Wade and Bosh dancing on a stage and pretending to be immortal. We love underdogs, upsets and comeuppances.
And that’s what this Miami season has been — a four-month-long comeuppance, a vindication that you can’t stack your team without thinking it through, that role players matter, that coaching matters, that even the most talented basketball teams need a pecking order. Miami tried to cheat the system. It didn’t work. Teams came roaring at them for four straight months — night after night, a bull’s-eye draped on their backs that never went away — and, eventually, Miami started to wear down. It’s possible to play playoff games for nine straight months, but only with a deep team. You can’t do it with three guys.
Against the Lakers, they won because Bosh played really well, Wade outplayed Kobe, and Miller and Bibby nailed six of nine 3s. Pretty good game for the Heat, actually. And they barely won. Not a good sign. I continue to think we’re headed for a Bulls-Celtics Eastern finals. At least I will have someone to root for.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller ” The Book of Basketball,” now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy’s World or the BS Report page. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.