Wiedmer: Is Heat's dynasty over before it begins?

Wiedmer: Is Heat's dynasty over before it begins?

June 3rd, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Miami Heat forward LeBron James reacts during the second half of Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Saturday, June 1, 2013. Pacers won 91-77.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

One championship does not a dynasty make, regardless of the sport. So however much it hurts these particular fan bases, Peyton Manning never oversaw a dynasty with the Indianapolis Colts. Nor Dirk Nowitzki an NBA dynasty in Dallas. Nor Cole Hamels an MLB dynasty with the Philadelphia Phillies.

This isn't to say the above talents have been one-hit wonders as individuals. All may yet become Hall of Famers, especially Manning and Nowitzki.

But neither did their lone world titles advance their franchises to historically significant heights, forcing discussions of where to list their teams among the all-time best.

All of which brings us to tonight's Game 7 of the NBA's Eastern Conference finals between the defending world champion Miami Heat and the visiting Indiana Pacers.

Let the Heat win and all this talk of dynasties remains on point at least until the Finals comes to a close against the San Antonio Spurs.

But let the Pacers dethrone King James's Gang on their home court and arguments about LeBron James being the GOAT -- greatest of all-time -- will be replaced by whether or not he's the goat of the playoffs, unable to lift his increasingly average teammates in the same way Michael Jordan did 20 years earlier.

It's the wrong argument. Hugely so. The Heat would have been swept out of this series without James, who has played brilliantly throughout these playoffs without so much as a sliver of protection from the referees that His Airness long enjoyed.

In fact, had but two calls gone differently -- James's sixth foul in Game 4 and the offensive foul and subsequent technical against him in Game 6 -- the Heat might already be scheming for the Spurs.

You can argue that those calls speak to the integrity of today's officials, to the belief -- whether true or not, whether fair or not -- that the league is now stronger than its biggest star.

A league without Jordan clutching the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy arguably unnerved the league office to the point that every ... single ... close ... call appeared to go MJ's way, much to the chagrin of the LA Lakers, Portland, Phoenix, Seattle and Utah (twice), who were on the short end of the six titles Jordan's Chicago Bulls won over eight seasons.

In fact, were this year's officials doing the 1998 playoffs between the Bulls and Utah's Jazz, Jordan might well have been called for a push-off against Bryon Russell on his game-winner, which would have tied that series at 3-3 and might have denied him a final crown.

But MJ, as always, got the call.

This is not to say the calls against King James have been incorrect. Had he been Heat teammate Mr. Tattoo (Chris Anderson), those fouls might never have drawn so much as a raised eyebrow.

James wasn't completely set on his sixth foul, a moving pick, in Game 4. He appeared to initiate contact against Pacers center Roy Hibbert in Game 6, though that play could conceivably have been a "play-on," no whistle being blown.

Yet those whistles were blown, and Game 4 was almost certainly altered by LeBron's early exit.

The other truth of these playoffs is that Hibbert is arguably the second most impactful player on the court. Should the Heat hang on tonight and advance, Indiana coach Frank Vogel's decision to have his center on the bench for the close of Miami's overtime win in Game 1 will be critiqued more than Portland taking Sam Bowie instead of MJ in the 1984 draft.

As Hibbert proved in that critical meeting at the rim with James on Saturday in those final four minutes, he's pretty tough to score against.

In fact, according to ESPN, the Heat's 32 percent shooting percentage in the paint in Game 6 was the lowest of the Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh's three seasons together.

Of course, the way Wade and Bosh played on Saturday -- 15 points combined, including just two total points in the fourth quarter -- the slightly less decorated duo of the Heatles aren't even playing well enough to be called Miami's Ringo. They're both acting more like the fifth Beatle -- Pete Best.

Not that much of the NBA hasn't struggled against Hibbert and the Pacers, given that all of Indy's foes during the regular season shot 38 percent against the Pacers on shots launched within five feet of the basket with Hibbert in the game. No NBA player had a better defensive percentage.

Should Hibbert perform similarly well tonight and King James get similarly weak support from Wade and Bosh, the only Big Three in the Finals will be the same quietly professional trio who have already won three rings to Miami's one.

In case you've forgotten them, the Spurs' dynasty makers answer to Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.