I watched Thursday night's Heat-Bulls tilt airborne at 35,000 feet above some rectangular state between the Great Plains and my home airport of LAX. That's the miracle of human flight and the privilege of personal screens on a garden-variety 757.
Explaining away the Heat's failures -- no matter what, no matter when -- is fraught with peril. You get tarred as a Heat apologist, or a LeBron sycophant or, if you read the comments section, a miserable human being with irreparable flaws.
When C.J. Watson's game-tying 3-pointer fell through the net, you could hear a rousing reaction from all over the cabin which, for an NBA fans, should be reassuring, especially on a Western U.S. route.
Dwyane Wade did a nice job contesting Watson's incredible shot, and had probabilities played out (Watson had made three out of eight 3-pointers over his career and we can fairly assume that percentage drops when there's a hard close by a defender), we'd be talking this morning about how the besieged Heat responded with moxie to their recent struggles.
That's how thin the margin is in the NBA between cataclysm and redemption. This isn't to take away from the Bulls, probably the league's most resilient team and a squad playing without the health of its best player, but it underscores that fine line between process and result.
There's something ironic about the collective hand-wringing and schadenfreude over the Heat's struggles. First, let's take the Thunder, losers of four of their last seven. In the process, they've let the Spurs, over whom they had a healthy lead for the No. 1 seed in the West, back in the chase for the top spot. But outside of Oklahoma County, nobody is pressing the panic button.
And that's probably smart. Early April basketball provides the blurriest of snapshots. The Celtics stumbled into the playoffs in 2010 losers of seven of their last 10, then marched their way to the Finals. Their opponent for the trophy, the Lakers, lost six of their final nine -- nobody could find that purple and gold switch. With only four games left in the regular season last spring, the Mavericks were reeling. You know the end of that story.
We measure Miami through an entirely different calculus. Back in February, when the Heat were rolling, we were told by many that any success the Heat and LeBron James compiled in the regular season was irrelevant. Achievement would be measured in June, and only in June.
Well, if that's the criteria for the Heat -- that pre-playoff dominance tells us nothing about the Heat's fortitude -- then shouldn't their April failures be weighed in a similar vein, even recognizing that there are legitimate issues to be addressed between now and then?