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21 posts from January 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hard to figure

Not much went on "behind the scenes" during this game, so I'll stick to the on-court stuff.

It's kind of hard to read this team right now. Other than the early defensive breakdowns against Baron Davis in particular, this was an ideal style of win for the Heat: They get 53 from Dwyane and Shaq on 23 of 34 shooting (68 percent), dominated the boards 48-37, got 34 assists on 46 field goals (which means the ball was moving freely), got 19 points from Antoine Walker, and Gary Payton and Jason Williams combined for 24 points and 14 assists and they shoot 59 percent for the game.

But can all that continue? Is this the team waking up after losses against New Orleans and Phoenix, or is it just one of those good games that excite a fan but doesn't come consistently?

I tend to think it's the former. The Warriors aren't a great defensive team (give up just below 100 per game), but the Heat executed great, and it looked easy. I think now that they're not trying to force it to Shaq, the ball is moving, players are moving and Dwyane is finding open space all over the place. I think it took those losses to the Hornets and Suns for everyone to see that forcing the ball inside is a mistake when a defense is giving you other options.

And speaking of Shaq... look out for him. I said during the game that he looked like he's getting his legs back, and he said the exact same thing after the game. Not only did he back guys down and then jump OVER them for a dunk, he spun around guys a couple times, and went up to get a few blocks, too.

I still don't think he'll have consistenly huge numbers the rest of the season because teams are still game planning to stop him, but if he plays against a team like the Pistons, who don't double-team him, he might just go nuts.
For now, the guards can carry the team with the extra space they get thanks to Shaq.

The next game might be another easy win because Ray Allen is probably going to be suspended, making the Sonics a one-man team (Rashard Lewis). But look out for the Jazz on Saturday. Utah's on a roll, and the Heat will be playing them on the second night of a back-to-back. It'll be a big test of the Heat's defense, because Jerry Sloan has those guys executing to perfection.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Payton's Place

Spent some time at the home of Al Payton, Gary Payton's father, on Tuesday.
Talk about keeping it real! Mr. Payton lives in the same 4-bedroom house in East Oakland that he bought in 1972. Gary says he'll be out of his element if he moves out, and the folks in the neighborhood love "Pops," so he feels extremely comfortable there.
I can't reveal too much info because I don't want to give away what I'm wriring for Friday's paper, but the Payton family is a great bunch, and it's so obvious Gary gets his confidence and his personality directly from his father.
I'll admit that when the Heat signed Payton, I thought it was a poor fit for this team, not only because of his style of play (I thought the team needed more outside shooting) but also because of his strong personality on a team that was headed by Shaq and Dwyane. But not only has Payton been terrific on the court after a shaky opening couple weeks, but off the court he has been nothing like his reputation would suggest.
He's extremely friendly with the media (probably the most reliable player on the team in that respect), he's great with his teammates and he's especially helpful with the younger players on the roster and with Jason Williams, as Gary promised he'd be before the season started.
The trash talking might make him look like a disagreeable person, but that's just part of his approach to the game... taught to him by none other than his father, Al.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Artest obsession

Ron Artest to the Heat?

Why not, right? If the Heat can somehow get its hands on Shaquille O'Neal, what's keeping them from adding Ron Artest and locking up the Eastern Conference title for the next two seasons?

This is so different than the Shaq situation. When Shaq demanded to be traded, he had leverage as to what team he went to because he was entering free agency the next summer, which meant he wouldn't re-sign with any team not on his list, taking the teams not on his wishlist out of the running.

With Ron, the Pacers have the entire league to sift through for offers, with basically no restrictions. So when you look at the Heat's best possible offer, it doesn't seem very enticing. The Heat would give up Antoine Walker and throw in Dorell Wright to sweeten the pot. But Walker plays the same position as Indiana's franchise player, Jermaine O'Neal, and his six-year deal is less-than attractive to a team like Indiana, who would prefer to remain flexible in case it has to pull another quick rebuilding job.

For those of you who believe Jason Williams should be offered... again, not enough to entice the Pacers. J-Will 30 years old, has chronic tendinitis in his right knee and certainly isn't a point guard who would want to play for Rick Carlisle. Plus, he's playing too darn well with Dwyane Wade to consider moving him at this point, even for Artest.

The Pacers would love to get a superstar back for Artest, but if that doesn't happen, they'll take an up-and-coming player, or players, with friendly salaries. The Heat doesn't really have either to offer Indiana.

So, believe it or not, it was actually easier to trade for Shaq than it is for Artest. By the way, when Ron goes to another team and causes problems you didn't think possible, you'll thank the basketball gods he didn't end up in Miami.

Heat @ Blazers...

... the matchup that sounds like "one big fire hazard." That was a line I read on deadspin.com. Thought it was funny. Learned a few things in this game.

-First, having your starting backcourt on the floor is important. By the end of the year, people are going to have to start talking about Wade and Williams as one of the top backcourts in the league, right? RIght now, national people include J-Kidd and Vince, Tony Parker and Manu, J-Rich and Baron Davis, and Chauncey and Rip Hamilton as the best guard duos in the league. But Wade and J-Will score more than those backcourts except the Pistons (by like a point).

-Shaq is getting annoyed with all these defenders on his back. The Heat learned not to force him the ball when teams front-and-back him without the ball, so when Shaq did get the ball, he forced some shots against double-teams. He normally finds the open guy, but he wasn't about to sit on single-figure points and be happy. Not selfish, just frustrated.

-You won't see much of Gerald Fitch anymore. Even if J-Will misses anymore games, Pat Riley said he'll start using Dwyane at point guard instead of Fitch. Makes sense, 'cause Riley's not too fond of rookies, especially not one running the team. Riley was in Gerald's ear during much of Friday's loss to the Suns.

-James Posey might not like it, but he's pretty much become a spot-up shooter. Even on the fastbreak, Posey is running to the corner because Riley's trying to get the guys to execute efficient fastbreaks and get guys in spots. That's Posey's spot.
It's not necessarily a bad thing. Posey took six shots Sunday, all threes, and hit four of them.

-Antoine's going to play some small forward, which frees up some time at power forward for Wayne Simien, who's solid as rookies come. Walker's pretty much used to the three-spot now, so it should work out. This is just a hunch, but I think Antoine's gonna string together some decent games coming up. We'll see.

Sights and Sounds

Rather than just spit out my opinion all the time (what do I know, anyway?), I'm going to try to let you in on some things you couldn't see for yourself just from watching the game. Hopefully it's not too revealing.
Heat @ Blazers...

-In the locker room before the game, Shaq offered to conduct an interview while he was, umm, well, let's just say "using the facilities."
I declined.

-Shandon Anderson, who went to the Univ. of Georgia, lost a friendly bet to Udonis Haslem and Jason Williams, who both went to the Univ. of Florida, after the Gator men's hoops team beat down the Bulldogs in Athens, Ga., on Friday.
Shandon's revenge? The Lady Bulldogs beat the Lady Gators in hoops on Sunday.... No, wait, that doesn't matter. Nobody bets on the women's games. No revenge for Shandon.

-During the game, a Blazers fan sitting just a few rows from the court yelled to Zach Randolph as he was walking off the court. The message was something to the effect of "play like  you want to win." Zach looked dead at the fan, was about to say something, then thought better of it and kept walking to the bench. It's amazing how these Blazers fans have turned on their team over the past few years.

-This was on the postgame quote sheet, so I didn't actually hear it, but Ruben Patterson said that during the game, Gary Payton told him "You guys suck... You all bad, Rube." And Payton and Patterson are actually friends. The truth hurts.

--During garbage time, a Blazers fan sitting across from the Heat bench was pleading for Shaq to wave to him. Shaq, playing the part of bad cop, didn't move a muscle. The begging continued, drawing laughs from those within earshot.
Finally, the fan gave up and said, "Dwyane, will you at least wave to me?" Wade, pretty much always the good cop, waved, drawing applause and more laughter.
I love funny fans.

-Nothing too exciting in the postgame locker room, other than Udonis Haslem joking that the reason Dwyane Wade has so much success running the pick-and-roll is because defenders are afraid to leave Udonis open for a jumper. Funny.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Random questions...

-Did Riley not watch tape of last year's game in Phoenix and see that trying to shove the ball inside to Shaq is not the way to go against that team?

-Is it just me, or would anyone else have run every play for Jason Kapono?

-Is Mike D'Antoni the best coach in the league or does he once again (even with Amare Stoudemire) have some of the best talent in the league? More of the former, but plenty of the latter.

-How sick of an athlete is Shawn Marion?

-Would Dwyane Wade and Jason Williams have made a difference against the Suns? I say, obviously, yes, but not enough for the Heat to win.

-Why is Pat Riley all of a sudden saying he "doubts" he'll be back next year? Probably because he's quickly grown tired of the daily grind, but that's not something anyone needs to hear right now.

-If Riley leaves after next season, who outside the organization would he trust to coach his team? Plus, if this team goes deep into the playoffs (that's suddenly a decent-sized if), I think Riley will realize he loves that part of the season and wouldn't give it up so quickly.

-How is James Posey shooting better from three than from two? I can't even remember the last two-point shot he took.

-Can Wayne Simien be doing more for this team right now? I think so, but he's stuck behind a big salary in Walker.

Problems

Pat Riley said after the Suns game that the honeymoon was over, and the effort he is seeing from his team now is completely different from the type of effort he saw during the first road trip he coached this season.
That's just one of the Heat's issues right now...

--The Hornets and Suns basically put two guys on Shaq and zoned the rest of the floor, and the Heat hasn't found an answer to it. Last year, the Trail Blazers did a great job of that against the Heat, so expect some more of it Sunday night. Unlike last year, the Heat hasn't been making teams pay for doing that. It didn't help that the starting backcourt was out against the Suns, but the Heat can't just put all the pressure on Udonis Haslem to make that mid-range jumper. Riley's got to find a better counter to that defense.

--Small guards are killing the Heat. None of these guys can really guard the smaller, quicker guys off the dribble, and it creates a matchup nightmare for the Heat.

--Jason Williams will constantly be in and out of the lineup if he doesn't give right knee some serious rest. And by serious, I'm talking about a month. Tendinitis isn't just going to go away.
And with Williams out, Gerald Fitch becomes the backup point guard, so look for Riley to get his hands on a veteran point guard of some sort (Travis Best is in Russia somewhere).

--Riley's starting to get annoyed with his team, and that doesn't bode well for them. Riles is just starting to get back into his long practice routine, and you never know how guys will respond to that.

If things don't improve soon, look for Riley to make some tweaks to his lineup, whether through personnel changes or changes in the rotation.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Stung

I know, I know. Antoine Walker had another boo-worthy night, shooting 1 of 9 from the field. Dwyane Wade had too many turnovers (8). And Shaq shoulda played more than 30 minutes.

None of those stats were the reason the Heat lost to the Hornets on Wednesday.

This game was about defense, and the Heat isn't a defensive team. At least not right now.
The perimeter players have trouble containing people, and the Hornets have two of the quickest guards in the league in Chris Paul and Speedy Claxton (his name is Speedy, for crying out loud). And neither Wade, Gary Payton or Jason Williams could stay in front of them. That's why David West was open, why Rasual Butler was open, why Kirk Snyder was open.

Combine that with a lack of all-around effort on rebounds and loose balls (Shaq stood and watched a few rebounds that ended up in the hands of Hornets guards), and it's the difference between a win and a loss.

Even when the Heat play less-than-great offensively, they can win. But only if they combine that with effort on the other end.

The guys who are supposed to be the "energy guys," like Udonis Haslem and James Posey, can't be the only ones who play hard all the time. Others need to match that, otherwise the Heat will continue to lose to lesser competition.

If the Hornets looked tough, wait until Friday, when the small, quick, explosive Suns offense takes on Miami.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

From wicked far

Since the start of the season, folks have obsessed over this team’s three-point shooting as compared to last year’s team.
Maybe it’s because Antoine Walker leads the team in three-point attempts this year as opposed to Damon Jones last year, but there’s a perception that this year’s team is a significantly worse three-point shooting group.
Actually, if you take four shooters from last year’s regular rotation players (Damon Jones, Eddie Jones, Rasual Butler and Keyon Dooling), they combined to shoot 39.2 percent from three.
Take four shooters from this year’s regulars (Jason Williams, James Posey, Antoine Walker and Jason Kapono), they have combined to shoot the exact same 39.2 percent on threes so far this year. And that includes 18 games without Shaq.
Even Gary Payton, who started the season off horribly from three-point range, has shot 41.7 percent from three-point range since Nov. 26.
And now that Shaq is back to his old tricks, the shooting percentage from inside the arc should improve, too. This year the team is shooting 49.7 percent on two-pointers, compared to last year’s team that shot 51.3 percent from inside the arc.
 

Monday, January 02, 2006

Road, sweet road

It was the last game AmericanAirlines Arena (I'm going to start calling it "The Cockpit" and see if it catches on) for the Heat until Jan. 20 when the Spurs come to town, but the Heat hit the road having shown some very positive signs.
Sign No. 1: James Posey looked as active as he has been all year, and his defense on Wally Szczerbiak got better as the game went on. And he was able to get some shots off a little quicker. He normally has one of the slowest releases in the league.
Sign No. 2: Shaq is mixing it up. When he's on his game, Shaq truly is The Big Sewer, hitting the turnaround shot, the lefty hook off glass, sweeping across the lane with a scoop shot and still catching the lobs for dunks and hitting the offensive glass. Shaq has been doing all that the last couple games, and he's 19 of 27 (70 percent) in those two games.
Sign No. 3: The team defense is getting there. Riley has changed things up, and guys are starting to get it. Rather than have set rotations, Riley wants his guys to help defend whenever they see it necessary. That means guys have to read each other and make quick decisions. It could make for some mismatches if they get caught in a bad rotation, but it also lets guys play aggressively and makes the defense less predictable, therefore harder to pick apart.
Sign No. 4: UD is hitting his J. Udonis Haslem wasn't getting great looks when Shaq was injured. Now that Shaq has been back for a while, Haslem is open more, and he's knocking down the shot even though he has two disfigured fingers (one that was hurt last year and one that he broke this year and looks disgusting).
If those continue, the upcoming road trip should be pretty successful. It's not like it's that tough or anything. Six of the seven games are against the Hornets, Sonics, Blazers, Warriors, Jazz and Lakers. The toughest game is against the Suns, who the Heat might be able to outscore.


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