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Asterisks, Real and Perceived, and Facing the Brooklyn Nets

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Mike Ehrmann

There is a perception among a vast percentage of fans of professional basketball that the Miami Heat is very lucky and its fanbase is largely undeserving of its recent success.

Dating back to 2006, the Heat were gifted a world championship by officiating crews that were determined to establish Dwyane Wade as burgeoning superstar. Dallas was the better, deeper team and, as these fans will say, they were more deserving.

In 2010, LeBron James betrayed the City of Cleveland (and to a lesser extent other would-be free agent destinations like New York and Chicago) by joining Miami. James' announcement was a public relations nightmare and - again, this is them not me saying this - an egocentric display of arrogance. They've ignored the charitable act, the lower contract value, etc., etc. and focused on the dark cloud rather than silver lining. For a brief instance, Miami got its well-deserved comeuppance in 2011 and, in an incredible bit of karmic retribution, the Mavericks won the championship in the first year of the Big Three era.

Brief, of course, because Miami won the following two championships in consecutive years. But 2012, if you recall, was a lockout-shortened season. The Heat played only 66 games that season (not a full 82, as per usual) and so that title, as they were apt to remind you, doesn't really count. Never mind that Miami played just as many games as every other team or that they, too, were also subjected to the same back-to-back sets and three-games-in-four-nights-marathons as the other 29 franchises.

Lucky. Asterisk.

2013 was an aberration, a change in the narrative regarding Miami's perceived "luck." The Heat, somehow, managed to win 66 games (that same officiating crew from 2006 must have worked every game that season!), more than every other team in the NBA. Still, Miami only advanced past Chicago because Derrick Rose wore wingtips rather than high-tops. They "undeservedly" got past Indiana, despite a Pacers' collapse fans haven't seen since, well, the greater part of the past three months. And, against San Antonio, it was only Ray Allen's miracle shot that saved the series for Miami, the lesser of the two teams in the Finals.

The fans who left the friendly confines of the AmericanAirlines Arena as time expired in Game 6 of the Finals certainly gave them a lot of fodder to work with. Other arenas throughout the league have shown attendance gaps but, clearly, Miami fans are the worst of the bunch. It will take a demonstration outside the AAA similar to Toronto's display at Maple Leaf Square to finally prove our worth. (On that note, how inherently Canadian is it to name the area after the symbol of the country's best known condiment? It's akin to naming the space along Biscayne Boulevard as "Plantain Place" for Miami's well known maduros. And where do these neighbors to the north get the room? Any gathering that large in Miami would be like having Ultra three times a week. Let's see that happen without any traffic trouble!)

So that brings us to this postseason, still going on despite the Heat's layover lasting nearly the length of Paul Pierce's overrated career. Miami was the only team to advance past their preliminary opponent (the Charlotte Bobcats Hornets) in four straight games. Of course, that only happened due to an injury to Charlotte's best player. As the Pacers once again struggled to advance and the Bulls eliminated completely, the story became that Miami's path to the Finals was unfairly and unjustly easy.

And here are the Nets.

Brooklyn dispatched the upstart Raptors after seven games and won the right to face Miami, a team they feel confident they can beat. While much of the Heat Nation had hoped for a matchup against Toronto (perceived to be a weaker opponent), I am of the exact opposite opinion.

When Miami beat the Chicago Bulls in 2011 (with a healthy Rose choking leading the way) and knocked out the Boston Celtics that featured now-Nets Pierce and Kevin Garnett, those accomplishments were wiped out by the ensuing loss to Dallas. The lockout minimized the significance of 2012. The perception is that 2013 trophy, which was won by actually beating the best team of the last 15 years, was saved by Allen's "miraculous" shot.

This time around, there should be no more excuses, no more asterisks next to Miami's postseason. If Miami wins a third championship - and I admit that the challenge is daunting, to say the least - they should do it by beating the best opponents possible. If that be the Nets, then bring 'em on. If the Pacers somehow crawl their way to the Eastern Conference finals and face Miami, then the Heat will have to prove (again) that the can beat the "better" team. And if Miami should face the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers or any other team left standing out West, then beating the representative from the stronger Conference should be proof enough that Miami has earned their championship.

The Raptors are in the past, just like the justifications of the previous three year. The Heat can only advance by beating Pierce, Garnett and company for the first time this season. It won't be easy but I wouldn't want it any other way.