No less an authority than Pat Riley compared the 2011-2012 Miami Heat to the legendary "Showtime" Lakers of the 1980s before this shortened NBA season got underway. After several months of watching LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the South Beach Superfriends capping bullet train fast breaks with high-flying, ally-oop dunks, it's not hard to see what he was talking about.
During Miami's hard-nosed win over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night, however, Riley's latest team didn't evoke the purple-and-gold uniforms of Magic Johnson's Lakers quite as much as the black-and-blue style of Patrick Ewing's New York Knicks. There was a menace in the air that could only have been made more volatile by the additions of Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason to the mix. Coached by Riley from the 1991-92 season through 1994-95, those lunchpail Knicks couldn't quite beat Michael Jordan but they won 50+ games in each of those years with grit rather than glamour.
From their much-maligned introductory celebration, the James-Wade-Bosh iteration of the Heat has been viewed as having far more pinache than punch. In many ways, this group has been the antithesis of Riley's Knicks, who made up for what they lacked in talent (John Starks as the No. 2 scoring option on a title contender?) with tenacity and belligerence. But after what went down on Thursday as Miami bullied Chicago into submission in a 83-72 win, Rip Hamilton, John Lucas or Joakim Noah might not think this Miami team is any less physical than that crew from New York.
Even if the Heat can't chase down the Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings (although we all know that LBJ is the king of the chase down block) before the season concludes and this latest scoreline is skewed by the absence of Derrick Rose (and perhaps Chris Bosh), there is no denying that a message was sent last night -- ground shipping.
In a game that featured two flagrant fouls and four individual technical fouls, the heavy hitting action kicked off with James Jones' ejection for a hard knock on Noah.
As it turned out, the Jones-Noah kerfuffle was simply the undercard for the two moments that seem likeliest to resonate down the road. After taking an elbow from Hamilton as he defending him along perimeter during the third quarter, Wade reached out and shoved the 34-year-old veteran. The former Pistons star went over like a house of cards, sprawling into the first row of seats at American Airlines Arena. Despite being whistled for a flagrant foul on the play, Wade continued to jaw at Hamilton after he picked himself up off the hardwood.
"It wasn't that one single elbow. It was a few," Wade told Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.com when asked about his incident with Hamilton. "It was an accumulation [over the years]. I love a competition, but it comes a point when you're getting hit a lot, and it's not seen. The only way you can bring attention to it is to bring attention to it."
After that takedown, Wade most definitely had the attention of the officials, of Hamilton and most likely of every team that may line up across the Heat in the playoffs. The Bulls and Heat met in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals (Heat won in five) and aim to renew their hostilities on the same stage this year. Prior to that James' Cavs had dispatched Rose and the Bulls from the postseason tournament during the spring of 2010. Wade isn't the only one with history against the guys in Chicago.
Just a few minutes after Hamilton had to peel himself off the floor, his teammate John Lucas was forced to do the same. While chasing Heat point guard Mario Chalmers through the backcourt, the Bulls reserve was bulldozed by James, who was setting an unexpected screen. After Lucas was decked, Chalmers absorbed a foul at the other end. With the clock stopped, several Bulls players rushed to confront James.
Of course, it's entirely possible that James wasn't try to show up Lucas (again) and that he was just angry because someone on the sideline had let him know that #LeBronHairline was among the top trending terms on Twitter during the game.
Whether it was Ewing's high top fade or the intricate scalp designs of Mase, Riley's Knicks certainly had hotter hairstyles than the double headband. Haircuts aside, perhaps the Heat's winning formula isn't merely trying to duplicate the processes of those Showtime Lakers but by discovering some sort of alchemical combination of the explosive athleticism and free-flowing offense of those West Coast teams with the brute, blue-collar force of those 1990s East Coast Knickerbockers.