- Jason Whitlock
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MIAMI -- There are six danger signals for the Disease of Me, the affliction common among teams that leads to the Defeat of Us:
1. Chronic feelings of underappreciation -- focus on oneself.
2. Paranoia over being cheated out of one's rightful share.
3. Leadership vacuum resulting from formation of cliques and rivalries.
4. Feelings of frustration even when the team performs successfully.
5. Personal effort mustered solely to outshine one's teammate.
6. Resentment of competence of another.
Thursday night, in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, we saw the danger signals for the Disease of Me-lo, the affliction undermining the Miami Heat's bid for a three-peat:
1. Chronic inability to rotate defensively to San Antonio's constant ball movement.
3. Leadership vacuum resulting from prolonged toleration of an inferior point guard.
Yep. The Disease of Me-lo has turned this Finals into a one-sided romp. Just as in Game 3, the Spurs controlled Game 4 from the outset, building an enormous halftime lead and padding it in the second half as they cruised to a 107-86 victory and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
"This was probably the biggest surprise of the series," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Game 4 rout. "I think everybody came in expecting something dramatically different than this."
The Disease of Me-lo is brand-new and completely unexpected. In the four-year history of Miami's Big Three, the organization has never doubted its ability to win it all with its highly-talented-but-flawed lineup. But doubt has certainly crept into the hearts and minds of the Heat. The leak this week that the organization has quietly been plotting for months how it can add Anthony to LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh is the deadly sign of weakness that Pacers madman Lance Stephenson hoped to expose by blowing in LeBron's ear.
Pat Riley, the architect of the Heat, has given up. The Big Three isn't good enough anymore. Miami needs a Big Four. The truth is, Miami needed a Big Four a year ago, but the Heat got lucky. The Heat feasted on an injury-riddled and inferior Eastern Conference, and the Spurs blew Game 6.
Put the Heat in the West, and James and Wade are not playing in their fourth straight NBA Finals. Put the Heat in the West, and the Big Three would have developed the Disease of Me-lo or the Disease of Chris Paul or the Disease of Dwight Howard two years ago.
You want to understand Game 4, how the Heat got blown out at home in consecutive games? It's not the fatigue of four long years. The Eastern Conference has provided plenty of rest the past two years.
The Heat are getting blown out because they don't believe anymore. They know the Spurs are better. They know Wade can no longer be a reliable explosive scorer when James needs a break. They know they can no longer hide Mario Chalmers as their point guard.
The Heat knew they had to get better last offseason to have any chance at defending their title. There's an idea in sports that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. It's 100 percent true. Miami's attempts to improve itself failed miserably. Michael Beasley has been a disaster. Greg Oden has been Greg Oden. Rashard Lewis has been a decent substitute for Mike Miller.
Status quo was never going to be good enough for Miami. This isn't status quo. Wade's knees have aged at a remarkable pace. Bosh has committed to being a spot-up shooter.
Talk of Melo is a white flag.
I realize the Heat did not plant the Melo story. I realize the Miami locker room isn't engulfed in Melo talk. But the Melo story dropping this week was the final blow to a team with already questionable confidence. It was an unintended admission that the Spurs are better and that the Big Three are in need of reinforcements.
The Spurs are the superior team. But they're not 20 points better. Not in back-to-back games in Miami. This should be a seven-game series with games filled with lots of lead changes. The Spurs are thrashing the Heat wire to wire. Why?
Because the Heat have conceded mentally that they're not good enough. This is on Pat Riley. He coined the phrase the Disease of More when he wrote about the Showtime Lakers and how they fell apart because the players wanted more and more. The Disease of Me-lo is about Pat Riley wanting more and more.
Riley gets credit for luring James and Bosh to Miami for less than maximum money. He's hailed as the smartest executive in the NBA. Maybe Phil Jackson outsmarted Riley. Maybe Phil injected Miami with the Disease of Me-lo when he suggested Melo might have to take a pay cut to stay in New York. That's when the Lakers and the Heat started wondering how they could land James and Anthony on the same roster.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are not looking for solutions outside their locker room. Coach Gregg Popovich believes in his system. A year ago, when Manu Ginobili turned in a Finals performance more pathetic than the one Wade is having now, Popovich didn't hatch plans to land a superstar. Popovich believed his system would fix Ginobili.
LeBron James is the system in Miami, no different from his time in Cleveland. He has had improved support in South Beach, but he is the system. Like Peyton Manning, James is going to end his career with fewer championships than his skill, intellect and commitment deserve because he has carried far too great of an individual burden.
Melo is a disease, not a cure. An offensive system that maximizes and exploits LeBron's infinite gifts is what would bring him as many championships as Jordan, Magic, Kobe and Duncan. The Disease of Me-lo would bring only more scorn.
When the Heat decided the Big Three needed a fourth, they pulled the plug on this year's championship run.