If we're guilty of anything as a sports culture, it's endorsing the propaganda that only championships matter. That only the big picture has significance.
Anyone who buys into that line of thinking deprives themselves the nightly enjoyment of watching sports, or the accompanying frustrations, and the Heat's 107-97 loss to Detroit Tuesday night carried ample doses of each.
This isn't to pretend rings aren't the main thing. Everyone understands they are. That's why Heat star Dwyane Wade sat out Tuesday for the fourth time this year, to rest his perpetually sore knees.
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But does everything always have to be folded into the big picture? Can't we appreciate the immediate context of a game?
Isn't that what drew us to sports in the first place?
The Heat played through three quarters Tuesday like they are the defending two-times champs on a 10-game win streak and bored with the regular season in December.
Disinterested doesn't begin to explain it. At half, they trailed a middling Detroit team by the second-largest margin of the half. Detroit center Andre Drummond had more rebounds than the Heat's starting five. Enough said?
"And, give them credit, they played like this was a Super Bowl,'' Heat forward Michael Beasley said.
That's part of the pact with Heat. For the fourth season, they aren't just the touring rock band everyone wants to see. They're the team every opponent wants to play.
"This is a game everyone here is interested in, because they're the champs — the two-time defending champs,'' Detroit coach Maurice Cheeks said. "That's part of the interest in playing a team like this."
And so for three quarters, it was Detroit diving for balls, Detroit hustling on defense, Detroit crashing the boards. Even at the start of the fourth quarter, the Heat fell behind by the insurmountable margin of 85-68.
That's when the unlikely almost happened from the most unlikely group. The Heat scored six straight points. Detroit took a time-out and the Heat defense earned a 24-second shot-clock violation.
The crowd, full of the kind of fans who can't find a ticket in June, began to feel the pull of magic. This is the why this Heat era is one to embrace. They do the impossible by making the endless NBA regular season fascinating most nights.
The previous game, on a night no big-picture meaning in Charlotte, Chris Bosh scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers, for the win.
Now it was the Heat reserves scoring the team's opening 18 points of the fourth quarter. Then LeBron James went down the line for a dunk to pull within 91-88 with five minutes left. And then LeBron took a charge.
An hour before the game, LeBron stood at his locker and chuckled when asked if his balky back was good enough to play.
"I'm in the lineup,'' he said.
That's part of the sale of this regular season. There remain other fascinating sub-plots to this regular season. Can Beasley, who scored 23 points Tuesday, continue on the road to basketball recovery?
Will Greg Oden, out since 2009, return at some point? His size would help against a Detroit team that scored 60 points in the paint. The Heat, as it turned out, never came closer than that three-point margin late in the fourth quarter.
This night won't mean anything come June. And it's a difficult tight-rope act to pour a night's emotion into a game but not anything more. Earlier this season, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was asked if he half-feared going on another long winning streak like last season because of the expended energy.
"No, I hope we win like that again,'' he said. "I don't want to devalue the regular season at all. We need it. We need to get better. We need to get everything right in it."
This was game 18 in an endless 82-game regular season. It didn't mean anything in the big picture. But the wonder of the Heat on a night like this was the small picture, the one that allows you to enjoy the game in front of you.