Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ugly but effective

For those who believed this would be a high-scoring, free-flowing, fastbreak series, take THAT!

Two teams shooting less than 40 percent, no one scoring more than 27 points AND Juwan Howard getting eight minutes and MVP chants.

Not exactly how the prognosticators had this one playing out.

But if you'd watched the defenses the Mavs have played against these playoffs, you had to assume they'd struggle against this athletic Heat defense. And such was the case.

Chris Bosh said the defense that kept the Mavericks to 37.3 percent shooting, that "limited" Dirk Nowitzki to 27 points and the Mavericks vaunted bench to 17 points was pretty much par for the course.

"It's a normal night," Bosh said. "I think we can do better. I think we can play much better offensively and defensively."

It wasn't all great for the Heat, of course. Dwyane Wade looked like the same Wade from the Bulls series through two-plus quarters. It wasn't, really, until the fourth quarter that he looked confident and in rhythm. You would assume that could transfer to the start of the next game, but Wade finished Games 4 and 5 against Chicago strong as well, but it didn't continue in the next game.

Wade should be able to score on either Jason Terry or Jason Kidd, but he seemed oddly hesitant several times.

"He's such an explosive offensive player, he spoils you a little bit," Bosh said of Wade. "He's a major part of this team's offense. Anytime that he's going, it's great."

Bron finals Nowitzki's night was uneven, at best. He did his best work in the fourth, with 10 points, but he never got into a consistent rhythm, either. Udonis Haslem was his typical good self defending Dirk, but so was Joel Anthony. LeBron James didn't defend Dirk, as many projected, and if the bigs do this kind of job against him, that probably shouldn't change.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle gave UD credit for denying Dirk.

"He's got to be denied the ball virtually everywhere on the floor," Carlisle said. "Haslem is a guy that has the wherewithal to do that. And they're going to play him aggressively, and we know that.

"We just to keep playing our game, keep getting him the ball and giving him opportunities to create."

By the way, Dirk has a torn tendon on the middle finger of his left hand and is wearing a splint, while Mike Miller left the locker room with his left arm in a sling. He obviously has a shoulder injury, but no one's really acknowledging it.

Back to the Heat offense for a second. Heat can't rely on LeBron hitting four of five threes, even if a couple of them were so open he had to shoot a commercial first. Wade needs to be more consistent, Bosh needs to be less clumsy against that zone and more assertive with his jumper, and LeBron needs to shoot more than two free throws.

As is, Shawn Marion believes the Mavericks did exactly what they needed to do to win.

"It was a completely halfcourt game tonight, and they prevailed," Marion said. "You hold a team to 38 percent and 92 points, for us, that's normally a victory."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Postgame Breakdown: Mavs 106, Heat 93

The Heat never led in this one. The 0-for-10 start from the field made sure of that. Heat-Mavs-Dirk

Dallas raced to a 17-point lead in the first quarter and carved the Heat's defense with 30 assists, 25 points from Dirk Nowitizki and 20 points and 17 rebounds from Erick Dampier to cruise to a 106-93 victory Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat (11-10) simply had no answers after falling behind 24-7 in the first quarter. Despite fighting back to get to within three points on five occasions, Miami just couldn't contend with Dallas' precision, experience, clutch shooting and balance. Five Mavericks scored in double figures and their two-headed point guard monster (Jason Kidd and J.J. Berea) each had 10 assists.

How do teams like the Mavericks seem to have two quality, starting-caliber point guards and a team like the Heat can't seem to get a lick of consistency from its one?

So much for the Heat's momentum from that encouraging Western Conference trip. Now, Miami stands 6-6 at home this season. The Mavericks extended their regular-season dominance of the Heat by winning their 11th straight in the series. Of course, that run does not include the Heat's 4-2 series win in the 2006 NBA Finals.

Miami owns the championship rings. The Mavericks own the regular season.

D. WADE'S DOINGS: Wade emerged from the training room after the game wearing a brace on his right shooting wrist, courtesy of a hard fall he took after missing a dunk in the second quarter. That about sums on the night for the Heat. Wade delivered his fourth double-double in five games, but his 28 points and 11 rebounds (tied a career high) couldn't offset Dallas' balanced attack. Wade also had an off night again from the field, going 8 of 24. But this wasn't just a settle-for-jump-shots sort of struggle for Wade. He tried to get into the lane. But even those bunnies weren't falling. The best news of the night for Wade was that his sore wrist didn't require X-rays after the game.

TURNING POINT: Even after its horrible start, Miami managed to pull to within three points in the first half and trailed 53-46 at the break. But then Floyd "Money" Mayweather arrived with his entourage, took his seat near midcourt and three spots down from the Dallas bench. The Mavs came out with another flurry in the second half and quickly pushed the lead back to 15 points with a 16-8 spurt capped by yet another one of those kiss-the-ceiling jumpers from Dirk. It was all but over after that. 

Heat-Mavs-JJ EDGE: Take your pick. The Mavericks' 39 field goals came on 30 assists to offer an example of the ball-movement and execution of Dallas offense. The Heat, coming off a 30-plus assist game of its own, reverted to individual players trying to make something happen against a set defense. And then there were the 17 rebounds from Dampier, who had three more than Miami's starting frontcourt.

HEAD-SCRATCHER: Considering Carlos Arroyo hadn't played the previous two games and seemed to have fallen out of the rotation, you had to wonder why so many fans and reporters were at his locker waiting for him before the game. Turns out, Friday's game was quite an event for Spanish media outlets. With Jose Barea in the Mavs' starting lineup, it might have been the first time two Puerto Rico natives faced one another in an NBA game. On cue, Arroyo entered in the second quarter to make the showdown a reality, with a group of fans waiving the Puerto Rico flag ... Lumped into the Heat's sluggish first half were three missed dunks, with Udonis Haslem blowing an alley-oop on a bad pass from Wade, Wade getting hung and falling on his back after a reverse dunk attempt and Dorell Wright clanging one off the back rim.

KEY CONTRIBUTION: Miami started to rally when Haslem entered the game. After the 0-for-10 start, the Haslem Heat then made 15 of 22 field goals. Michael Beasley gave the Heat its first field goal with a jumper at 6:26 of the first quarter. Haslem them followed with a layup. The Heat went from trailing 24-7 to pulling to within 38-35. Haslem finished 9 of 10 from the field for 22 points and 10 rebounds. Beasley added his own double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Unfortunately, Wade, Beasley, Haslem and a pinch of Joel Anthony (four blocks) were forced to play 3-and-a-half against six. 

NEXT UP: Grizzlies at Heat, 6 p.m. Sunday - AmericanAirlines Arena

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wade Heats Up Odom Campaign

Apparently, it's not getting any easier for Lamar Odom to make up his mind between staying with the Odom-Kobe   defending champion Los Angeles Lakers or bolting for a reunion with the Miami Heat.

That's because Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant are at it again, when it comes to fierce competition between the league's two best shooting guards.

And if you think their showdowns on the court are classic, just consider their recruiting skills. Both Wade and Bryant are battling for Odom's long-term affection. Both have taken their pleas public in recent days.

On Saturday, Wade took his to another level: Tweetville.

In announcing his return to tweeting after a brief hiatus, Wade sent out this messaged to Odom early Saturday afternoon on his twitter account.

"This is for Lamar Odom ... come back to where it started for both of us.. the franchise u help build back up wants u to End it all here."

Wade, clearly, is in full-court press mode for Odom, who is weighing a five-year, $34 million offer from the Heat against a reported shorter but more annually lucrative deal from the Lakers. Odom is weighing the pull from one of the teams where he blossomed early in his career against the feelings of loyalty from a defending champion.

"I'm optimistic he'll be back," Bryant said this week. "He makes us a much, much stronger team."

Odom and Wade were teammates during Wade's rookie season in 2003-04. Together, they overcame a rough start to the season, won 42 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Odom spoke fondly about his experiences with the Heat during this year's Finals, when his Lakers defeated the Magic.

ODOM-WADE "I remember how competitive we were," Odom said. "It was a real brotherhood environment there. I guess that's the reason we overachieved."

The irony of it all is that it took Odom's departure to Los Angeles in that trade for Shaquille O'Neal to set the stage for Wade to get his championship in 2006. On the other hand, it took Odom to leave the team he had so much fun with to eventually get a chance to win his ring alongside Bryant and the Lakers.

Now, Wade is campaigning hard for Odom to return so they can make things all right by winning one together - just like they talked about doing years ago as teammates. Does Odom have a better shot at winning his next title with the Lakers than he does with the Heat? No doubt. But that might not settle the signing issue with Odom.

See, he's always seemed to be the kind of player and person who would rather be wanted and happy on a playoff contender than undervalued and constantly criticized on a championship contender.

But therein lies the pull.

On one side, Wade is offering a return to home and happiness. On the other, Bryant is extending the chance to be part of a dynasty. That the Heat has remained in the Odom sweepstakes even this long says a lot.

So which should Odom follow?

His head (Bryant/Lakers)?

His heart (Wade/Heat)?

Or, his accountant (the best deal he can get -  slight edge: Lakers)?

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Back (2008-09) To The Future (2009-10)

Back from vacation and ready to jump into the offseason frenzy once again.

Between bumping into Tyson Chandler on the way out to L.A. and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds on the ODOM-WADE way back, what did I miss? (By the way, I had no problem finding Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch in the middle of the night, but no such luck at all in tracking down Lamar Odom).

Apparently not much, other than tons of rumors, pounds of speculation and plenty of trade and free-agency discussions. But no real action when it comes to the Heat upgrading its roster so far.

It's clear that Allen Iverson and Carlos Boozer seem to be far more interested in Miami than the Heat is interested in either of the All-Star players. At least when it comes to doing what it'll take to get them right now. Really, there's no reason to rush with either player.

It's also clear that Lamar Odom is doing his best Mo Williams impersonation. While both players had genuine interest in Miami, the Heat simply represents leverage in an attempt to get the deal they really want from their current teams. Williams was presented the full mid-level - and a replica 2006 championship ring - from Pat Riley two years ago, but took more money to return to Milwaukee.

Odom, after getting the full mid-level commitment from Riley a few weeks ago, has suddenly resumed talks with the Lakers that broke off after L.A.'s front office learned of Odom's flirtation with the Heat.

Moon-SPo Toss in Jamario Moon's likely departure to Cleveland today via an offer sheet Miami is unlikely to match by tonight's deadline, and you can argue that the Heat has lost a bit of ground the past week or so.

In fact, the Heat moved a few steps closer to solidifying a team next season that looks an awful lot like the one from last season, by locking up Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire this week for another year.

Offseason overhaul or back to (last season's roster) the future (2009-10)?

Knowing Riley, this could all change with a phone call or two in the next few minutes. Or not, if he sticks to his original plan of making 2010 the priority.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

$23 Million Reasons to Hope

By no account will Jermaine O'Neal live up to the $23 million he is set to earn next season after picking up the option on his contract the other day.

It's just not possible. New Jermaine

Think about that for a second.

That's about $7 million more in NBA salary than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will earn next season. That's about $3 million more than Will Smith and Tom Cruise command for blockbuster roles.

Heck, that's about $22, 567,890 million more than Rudy Ray Moore probably earned for his entire Dolemite collection of flicks. And all O'Neal will be asked to do is stay healthy and make about six shots and four free throws a game, grab a few rebounds and block a shot every now and then. 

At this stage of his career, O'Neal is not the same caliber of player he was when he first signed that lucrative contract as an All-Star post player with the Indiana Pacers several years ago. Nor can he be considered completely washed up to the point of no return.

But what matters as much as money in this equation for O'Neal is that he returns next season in the best shape he's been since his prime Pacer years. Or something in that vicinity. Knee problems and an assortment of other nagging injuries, which included a concussion during the Heat's playoff series loss last month, were among the issues that slowed O'Neal once he arrived in the February trade for Shawn Marion.

Even amid the initial growing pains in his search for relevance in the Heat's system, O'Neal still provided the low-post balance that complemented Dwyane Wade's perimeter attack and boosted Miami's offense over the final two months of the season.

If he follows through with plans to push through a rigid training program and gets healthy this summer, there's no reason O'Neal can't return and produce as a top-five center in the East.

Beyond Orlando's Dwight Howard, who else can lay any claims of dominance this side of the Mississippi?

Emeka Okafor? Nope. Al Horford? Not yet. Bogut of the Bucks? Please. Brook Lopez? Promising, but still a ways to go.

But again, it all goes back to O'Neal's health. Even past age 30 and beyond the best seasons of his prime, O'Neal should have enough left - if motivated and relatively healthy - to give the Heat somewhere in the range of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks a game.

In the East, those numbers might even be good enough to make him Howard's backup at next season's All-Star game in Dallas.

In other words, there's still hope for J.O.  

At these prices, he's now contractually obligated to provide at least that much.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

When Riley Talks ...

Heat president Pat Riley talked Wednesday.

A bunch of us South Florida media members gathered at AmericanAirlines Arena to listen.

Now, after transcribing - or, rather, quickly listening to the comments - let's determine what they mean in order of priority as the Heat heads into the offseason.

Priority No. 1 - Signing Dwyane Wade to an extension this summer, before he can opt out in 2010. Wade-Riley

Riley: "It's been broached. It's on everybody's mind. We want Dwyane Wade here the rest of his career. We would love to get a commitment. He's our franchise player. We understand he has the right to wait."

Lowdown: Now, it's D. Wade's turn to make everyone wait on his commitment. Riley should know how it's done, considering the way he publicly handled his coaching future a few years ago. I've got no problem with Wade taking his time. I've got no problem if he waits until 2010. He's earned that right. He knows he's the anchor of this franchise. But business is business. And he's got leverage.

Priority No. 2 - Moving Michael Beasley to small forward

Riley: "I'm a believer in Michael and Erik (Spoelstra) is a believer in Michael. He never really had a developmental summer the way Dwyane had (after his rookie season). He can play that spot. I coached James Worthy, when he was a power forward coming out of college. Michael has the ability to be one of the best 3-4s in the league. You need offensive firepower."

Beasley-Wade Lowdown: If Riley is truly determined to make this current roster work, he had no choice but to move Beasley to small forward. Why the team couldn't have committed to that change after the Shawn Marion trade is beyond me. There is no doubt that Beas can play the three. And enough with all of the talk about him not being able to defend LeBron James and Paul Pierce. Hell, who can? Beasley simply must stay out of foul trouble and force opposing small forward to guard him as well. He can create mismatches.

Priority No. 3 - Is Michael Beasley untouchable as a potential trade chip?

Riley: "I would think so. (But) You never know what will come from outside."

Lowdown: Riley had to be convinced to keep Beasley on draft night - and beyond. Of course, he's going to say all of the "we-want-to-keep-Beas" things right now. But let Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire become available, and Beas might be out of here as quick as he can get a shot up. Having said that, I would much rather see Beas stay and develop and benefit from being alongside Wade the same way Wade did so being alongside Shaq in those first couple of seasons.

Priority No. 4 - Developing the young core of Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Daequan Cook and - get this - Dorell Wright.

Riley: "Michael and Mario and Daequan and Dorell are going to be part of what we call the Heat Academy. We have foregone the summer league this year because I want it to be about a summer of work. Of drilling and out of the box thinking about developing their athleticism and not just their basketball skills. I think they will get more out of it than in the summer league. I'm not saying we won't take them somewhere for a session - I've talked to four or five other teams.  

Priority No. 5 - Making a blockbuster move this summer.

Riley: "Being patiently impatient is what it's about. If something happens that is good and could change the direction of the franchise immediately, if it was sound, fiscal, fit into all of the parameters, like the Shaquille deal did at the time, you move forward. But with what we did last year, what we brought in this year, and how we were able to clean the table for 2010, that has to be the vision and the long-term plan. But I would be proactive if something were to happen. I've got a huge ego. But it's got nothing to do with anything other than the team. It's really about the team."

Lowdown: Pat's got Henry Thomas on speed-dial. Henry not only represents D. Wade, but also Chris Bosh. And if Pat can get Henry to get Toronto to take back anyone on the roster, except Dwyane, it's a done deal this summer - if not by the trade deadline next season.

Priority No. 6 - Getting anything near $23 million worth of production from Jermaine O'Neal next season. SPO-O'NEAL

Riley: "We saw the balance he gave the team. He gave us a presence in the middle. Trying to incorporate him into a perimeter-based game around Dwyane wasn't an easy thing. He needs one summer of just getting strong. We had to drain his knee three times. I think we're going to have that (a strong, healthy and consistently productive) O'Neal next season."

Priority No. 7 - Deal or No Deal regarding Udonis Haslem, who has an attractive expiring contract.

Riley: "You don't want to move players like Udonis. We all know what Udonis brings. We all know what Udonis is all about. Business is business. But Udonis is a fixture here. I would like to keep him here.

Lowdown: Again, this might go back to the Henry Thomas factor. Henry also represents Udonis in addition to Chris Bosh and Wade. The bottom line is that Udonis has taken on a sort of Zo-like quality within the franchise. He doesn't complain. He works hard. And he's the toughest dude in the locker room. Plus he's Dwyane Wade's sidekick. Wade and Haslem are the only rotation players left from the 2006 title team. Jordan had Oakley. Magic had A.C. Green. Bird had McHale. Wade has Udonis.

Priority No. 8 - Riley's future beyond 2010, when his contract is believed to expire.

Riley: "I can have a handshake agreement with (owner) Micky (Arison). After 14 years, I don't think it's Riley-Arison about contracts."

Lowdown: As Riley admits, he has a huge ego. Don't think for one second that he did all the groundwork (along with his staff) to set this team up for a blockbuster summer of 2010 to walk away without reaping the benefits of what becomes of it. Riley will eventually head off into the sunset of Southern Cal. But not before he sets Wade up with another mega star to make a run at one last title.

Priority No. 9 - On dealing to get a first-round pick for the draft, which the Heat does not have right now.

Riley: "Maybe. We'll take a look at it if we like the player and it slots into what we're trying to do."

Lowdown: Probably not. Unless landing a draft pick is part of a larger deal to dump salary. Any takers for Mark Blount? Going once ... going twice ... ?

Mario Priority No. 10 - Acquiring a veteran point guard to compete with Mario Chalmers.

Riley: "I have a depth chart in my office with all of the starting point guards on a board. I told Mario: Don't make me trade for one of those guys to take your spot. He said: I won't."

Lowdown: Riley sees a little bit of Rajon Rondo in Mario. And that's a good thing. Because Rondo faced all of the same questions Mario does now when he took over as the starting point guard in Boston two years ago. Look at Rondo now. One of Mario's best games this season came against Rondo and Boston on the road, when Wade was out. Don't expect Riley to give up on Chalmers now.   


(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Where To From Here? Here.

It never really seems like it's over until, well, it's over.

The Heat's season ended Sunday with a loss to Atlanta in Game 7. The team went from planning to move on to Cleveland to face LeBron and Co. to heading back to Miami to face the reality that it's done.

WADE-Confused And it's been a long, long, long season. How long ago does that trip to Europe seem? I was there and it seemed like it was closer to seven years ago rather than seven months.

Again, I can't complain. It was a good ride.

It was a rewarding one. An at times disappointing one. But, overall, an encouraging one.

In reality, it played out the way it probably should have. The higher-seeded team with homecourt advantage beat the lower-seeded team that didn't have homecourt advantage.

There are some things Dwyane Wade can't overcome. Rookies. Roster limitations. Game 7s on the road. Joe Johnson nailing "40-foot threes" in his face. Zaza. A supporting cast that mostly fell flat.

But take nothing away from the remarkable season Wade had this season. Yes, LeBron James is the MVP and he deserves it. Any logical person can come to that conclusion.

But I still make the case that no player in the league is more important to his team per possession - on either end of the court - than Wade. The difference is in value. How much value is there in 43 victories, no matter how great of a season one had?

How much more is there in 66 wins and a 39-2 home record? That's the difference between Wade and James. Teammates. Hell, maybe just one teammate. Maybe just Mo Williams, who still has the ring Pat Riley gave him two years ago as a free agent the Heat desperately wanted to wed.

But it should be noted that Wade, although he finished third in the MVP voting behind James and Kobe Bryant, got more first-place votes than Bryant.

And that's about right, too.

Now, the question is this: Should the Heat break up this team around Wade again?

Wade has already gone through at least four roster makeovers since his rookie season - and three coaches. There were the Caron and Lamar years, when the Heat valued youth.

Then came the Shaq and 'Tione Walker years, when the Heat sold out to vets, bad attitudes and culture shock to win an NBA title.

Then came the purge season, when Shaq had to go and Shawn was initially romanced as a suitable Thumbs-UP sidekick to Wade on the wing. In reality, the Matrix was only a money man on an expiring deal that led to another deal.

Now, there's the Jermaine O'Neal, James Jones, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers collection of youth and role-playing veterans around Wade.

Count me in the minority, non-knee-jerkers who believe the team that ended the season - one that only had about eight weeks together - should be the same one that starts the next one. With one exception. Pat Riley has to bring in a veteran point guard if, for nothing else, to push Chalmers.

The kid hit a wall late in the season, and still kept his job because there was no one there to take it. What does it say about your point guard depth, when you look at Flip Murray with envy?

This is not a knock on Chalmers. The kid is going to be a solid NBA player for a long time. He has the swagger, hunger and drive. But he wasn't even a pure point guard when he arrived from Kansas.

He was taught the position in summer league last year. Remember?

But more than anything else, this team needs a veteran point guard that Wade trusts enough to give him room to breath. Part of Mario's development was stunted simply because Wade takes the ball and does his thing just about any time he feels like it.

And that's fine. This is Wade's team. But there are times when he simply needs to get off the ball and have someone else take over for a possession or six.

I like the talk about moving Michael Beasley to small forward. I think Jermaine O'Neal, if he commits to an offseason workout the way Wade did last summer, can come back and have a solid presence in the post. The idea of slotting James Jones and Daequan Cook off the bench is the right one (if one isn't dealt to address another need for an athletic backup center/power forward).

Unless there's a Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire available - and a subsequent GM willing to be suckered by Pat Riley again - give this team a shot, with a wee bit of tweaking.

Past bad moves are still haunting the Heat. Smush Parker was still on the cap this season. Mark Blount is still suffocating the payroll for another $8 million. The Dorell Wright Fund, bless his heart, will milk the Heat for $7 million over two years, including another next season.

At some point, these constant make-shift makeovers are going to catch up with D. Wade. How many times can he get used to new teammates? Develop this young nucleus around Wade. Don't destroy it.

This, after all, was a rebuilding job. Remember?

And as rebuilding jobs go, the Heat - going from an injury-riddled 15-win season to the playoffs - is ahead of schedule, all things considered.

Progress was achieved.

Taking the next step from here is going to require a bit of patience - and a veteran point guard.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nets 96, Heat 88 (Beyond the Box Score)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Heat needs to get home in a hurry.

Dwyane Wade's return to the lineup wasn't enough to get the Heat back to its winning ways of not-so-long ago. Instead, the Heat went cold down the stretch of yet another game on this trip and fell 96-88 to the Nets at the IZOD Center.

The Heat is now 0-3 on this four-game trip, and has dropped six of its last seven on the road. Miami also dipped to 1-16 this season when it scores fewer than 90 points.

The best thing about this trip is that the end is in sight. Miami closes the swing Sunday afternoon against the Pistons. The issues with this team clearly go beyond Wade's injury concerns. The rotation seems to be a problem, with the pieces not fitting as well.

A healthy Wade easily hides some of these shortcomings. But Wade is far from spry. The hip flexor remains a concern, even though he played through it after missing Wednesday's OT loss at Boston.

Player of the Game: Dwyane Wade - Even at less than 70 percent, Wade is still better the majority of the players in the league at 150 percent. His 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists proved to be a wasted effort. He was sluggish at the start and at the finish. Still, he tried. At times, that leaves others standing around watching and out of sync. That was the case in the final moments Friday, when he may have been a bit of a liability defensively - dare we say it.

Surprise, Surprise: Michael Beasley - The surprise wasn't the fact that Beasley poured in 17 points off the bench on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. The shocker was that the Heat's most efficient offense player wasn't even on the court at the finish - in crunch time - when buckets needed to be made. He also sat on the bench most of the third quarter. Count this among the issues that have to be resolved.

Tough Night: Jamario Moon - The honeymoon - those first few games after the trade - was fabulous for the Heat. In his first eight games, Moon essentially erased eight months of Shawn Marion memories. But Friday's effort was a microcosm of what things have been like for him in recently. Moon was 0-3 from the field and had one rebound in 11 minutes. He also struggled defensively against Vince Carter.

Lit 'em Up: Jarvis Hayes - Provided the daggers that buried the Heat late in the game. Hayes was the perfect complement to Vince Carter's all-around play. Hayes was 8 of 12 from the field, including 2 of 3 from three-point range. He scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the Night: 4 of 21 - The Heat couldn't match the Nets touch from distance. Miami missed 17 of its 21 attempts from three-point range, including an 0-of-7 offering in the fourth quarter.

That Says it All:"We have to take care of these issues because we have teams breathing down our necks." - Heat forward Udonis Haslem said of Miami losing ground in the Eastern Conference standings.

Next Up: Sunday - Heat at Detroit Pistons, 1 p.m. The Palace at Auburn Hills

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Enough Talking, Already

One of coach Erik Spoelstra's best characteristics as a rookie NBA coach seems to be his open line of communication with his players.

You have to respect that. I'm sure the players do. Spooneal_3

If there's a problem, Spoelstra is approachable and honest about where things stand.

If there's a rotation issue - judging, at least, by what the media's told - Spoelstra has already explained his feelings to one particular player or the other affected by an increase or decrease in playing time. He's not going all Don Nelson on folks.

But at this point, on this particular issue, what more could there be to say?

Spoelstra apparently met with recently acquired center Jermaine O'Neal for the second time in three days. That's two more conversations than O'Neal had rebounds in the first half of Monday's game.

O'Neal has been his own biggest critic since he arrived from Toronto in that Feb. 13 trade. Since then, the six-time All-Star is barely averaging more than a dozen points and slightly less than half a dozen rebounds.

O'Neal, respectfully, would like a bigger piece of the offensive pie. But as things are going these days, this is not only Dwyane Wade's house O'Neal has entered, it's also Wade's bakery. No way this offense will slow down to incorporate a significant amount of sets for O'Neal. At least not now. Not while Wade is on this binge.

You could probably count on one hand the number of actual plays the Heat has run in recent weeks. There's the pick-and-roll. There's the zone break. And then there's the pick-up-the-ball-Dwyane-and-do-whatever-you-need-to-do set, just to mix things up a little bit.

O'Neal has talked frequently about being patient in this transition, but he's also put an enormous amount of pressure on himself to perform. He mentions the fact that he's getting paid a lot of money ($21 million this season and $23 million next season) to do a job, and that he needs to start doing it.

Spoelstra has tried to convince O'Neal there's production in his presence alone, that everything else will come. This is clearly a case of two men wanting the same thing (overall team success, first and foremost), but they are taking different views on the matter.

This Heat team was headed to the playoffs with or without O'Neal on the roster. The hope was that he would make life a bit easier in the post once the postseason gets here. For now, O'Neal seems to be fitting into the offense about as well as Shawn Marion. But that should change.

When O'Neal sat on the bench for both overtime periods in Monday's win against Chicago, he didn't just have one of the most expensive seats in the house, he WAS the most expensive seat in the house.

"Everybody's been so critical of his individual play, and sometimes, that's the challenge with team sports," Spoelstra said. "I don't look at it maybe like the fans do, and look straight at his box score. All I know is there is a correlation with the way we're playing. Our offense is more balanced and Dwyane's numbers are better also. Some of that can be attributed to Jermaine and his presence."

But there seems to be a thin line between presence and productive opportunities, depending on which end of the conversation you're on.

O'Neal seems to want to show the Heat he can still be the player he was during his prime in Indiana. Miami would simply settle for a handful of low-post baskets, a put-back or two, a key blocked shot and more rebounds than, say, 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson might snatch on a good night.

Spoelstra and O'Neal have communicated enough.

But talk will continue to be cheap (as cheap as $44 million in conversation comes) until Spoelstra's playbook and O'Neal's post-game stat sheet start to speak the same language.

O'Neal smooth-talked his way into getting around a team rule to wear his headband.

It's now time he got his head exclusively into the game.

 

Friday, March 06, 2009

Heat 108, Raptors 102 (Beyond the Box Score)

TORONTO - Dwyane Wade is a lot of things this season. But paranoid shouldn't be one of them.

Wade is a desperate man. That could explain the tear he's been on recently, one that was extended with his 42-point effort in Friday's 108-102 victory against the Toronto Raptors.

Wade has scored at least 40 points in four games since the Feb. 13 All-Star break. He's establishing new season and career highs with each game he plays. But he believes his run of remarkable play - at least the scoring binge he's been on - will eventually end.

"I'm playing at a high level right now," Wade said. "I feel good. I just hope it will continue. Eventually, I'm going to have a not-so-good game. I just hope it doesn't happen too soon."

The Heat (33-28) is now five games above .500 heading into Saturday's game at Cleveland.

Player of the Game: Dwyane Wade - He just keeps getting better and better, and stronger and stronger. Wade was 17 of 23 from the field in one of his most efficient performances of the season. He also tossed in eight assists and six rebounds. Yeah, there were the eight turnovers. But I'm sure he'll be forgiven for those blunders. This is MVP stuff, for real. Yes, these were the struggling Raptors. But what he's doing these days is above and beyond the realm of expectation.

Surprise, Surprise: Chris Quinn - Who was that crew cut guy? And when did he get back into the Heat's rotation? Yes, that's right. Your eyes weren't deceiving you. It was Chris Quinn who was dusted off and tossed into the game. And he responded with 10 points and a steal in a rare venture off the bench. He scored all of his points in a four-minute stretch.

Tough Night: Daequan Cook - Another tough night for the sharp-shooting specialist. Cook missed seven of nine shot attempts and finished with six points. He did have four assists and also hit a clutch three in the corner to squash the Raptors rally. The kid may be missing shots, but he doesn't lack confidence.

Shut 'em Down: Jose Calderon - The feisty point guard had a rough go of it against Mario Chalmers before he was benched down the stretch. Calderon was 1 of 6 from the field with two turnovers.

Stat of the Night: 37-32 - The Raptors traditionally kill the Heat on the boards. But the Heat had the edge in rebounding on this night. It was the fourth straight game the Heat, which ranks 29th in the league in rebounding, outworked its opponent on the boards.

That Says it All: "He's shown a tremendous amount of will, but also stamina and great focus in what we're trying to do." - Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Dwyane Wade.

Next Up: Saturday - Heat at Cavaliers, 7:30 Quicken Loans Arena


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