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20 posts from November 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Will he or won't he?

Apparently the question of whether LeBron will do the pregame powder thing before Thursday night's game in Cleveland is becoming a point of great interest.

There will be so many parts about the game that will be intriguing to watch (will his ex-teammates be kind to him? Will the fans break those "be nice" rules? Will his Heat teammates help carry the load enough to make LeBron look good?)

But, apparently, the intrigue starts at the very beginning. Even Shaq has an interest in thePowder toss powder thing.

"I'm a silly fan," O'Neal told the AP. "I'm anxious to see if he's going to do that powder thing.

"We have bets that he doesn't do it." 

LeBron was asked about it Tuesday.

"The powder? I probably will," James said. "That's just a ritual for myself, a routine that I've always done, I've done on the road. I don't know. We'll see. I may change. I don't know."

Not sure why it's that big a deal. I know it became his tradition in Cleveland, but it's not Cleveland's tradition, it's LeBron. It left when he left. I say he sticks with it, otherwise the Clevelanders win.

Wade said he should do it.

"I wouldn't expect him to do anything different," Wade said. "He's done it for every game he's played. So why change it just for one game? If he doesn't throw it up, I'll throw it up for him."

I like that idea. Maybe LeBron stands next to Dwyane, gets ready to throw it up, then looks over to Dwyane and lets him do it.

That might be even cooler. Of course, it'll turn Dwyane into public enemy No. 2, but everyone in Cleveland hates everything about the Heat anyway, so what's the harm.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Interpretive dance

Soooo many different ways to take what has gone on with the Miami Heat over the last couple of days, from the most overplayed shoulder bump in sports history, to the players-only meeting that followed the Mavericks game, to the ESPN.com story written Monday about LeBron supposedly not getting along with Erik Spoelstra and essentially wanting him out, to the comments from Dwyane Wade on Monday morning that Spoelstra isn't necessarily "his guy," but "our coach."

Well, there was an attempt at clarification before Monday's game against the Wizards, but depending on how you want to interpret it, it might not be any clearer than it was yesterday or the day before.

LebumpSpoelstra, who in the morning wouldn't confirm there was any sort of "conflict" between him and LeBron, said before the game that he considers this type of thing a "healthy conflict." Whether that has to do with LeBron supposedly being unhappy that Spo called him out for not being serious enough during a recent shootaround, or if it's simply an acknowledgement that everything isn't running smoothly right now, it's still the head coach recognizing that something is wrong. That's a positive thing because he's not running and hiding, nor is he delusional and pretending everything is OK. 

He said he met with LeBron this afternoon to discuss, among other things, how to get him going offensively. He said it was a productive meeting. And it would seem it is the best possible move to diffuse some of this insanity that's swirling around the team. When you meet face to face and hash out your issues, all the rest of the noise becomes just that, noise. Smart move from Spo, but it all depends on what kind of person LeBron is whether it works out or not.

So, on to LeBron. For starters, he said he didn't even realize he bumped into his head coach during the Mavs game, which seems like it can't possibly be true, but then again he is 6-8, 250, so it would be like a windshield running into a fly. He even joked about it after answering pregame questions, bumping into a media member and then apologizing, "Oh, I'm sorry, I bumped you." Laughter ensued, and LeBron walked into the training room with a smile, saying "craziness."

Hammer (Just for a minute, let's all do the bump....)

As for the meeting with Spo, LeBron said it was about on- and off-court issues, but nothing bad.

He acknowledged the story from espn.com that used unnamed sources, but his denial was essentially him saying, "I didn't go to anyone." That doesn't mean someone close to him didn't go to the writer and speak off the record. That wouldn't be in LeBron's control, but it doesn't mean what was said isn't true.

But LeBron did say he has no issues with Spo, that it's simply frustration over the lack of offensive flow and lack of wins.

"I think it’s frustration from everyone," James said. "Frustrating for the players, frustrating for the coaching staff but as far as me and Spo being frustrated at each other, I don’t think it is. I got Coach Spo’s back on whatever the case may be. This is who we have. If I have something to say to the Coach Spo, I’m going to go to Coach Spo and if he has something to say to me, which he’s done already, he comes to me. But it’s nothing I will go behind his back to take to the media. I have never done that. I will not do that. It’s not even my M.O."

As for Dwyane's comment, here's how it's being taken from the outside: Wade is essentially choosing between LeBron and Spoelstra just in case there is some sort of conflict. And if that's the case, frankly, it's an easy decision. With all due respect to Spoelstra, no one in that situation would take the side opposite of LeBron.

However, I don't believe that's exactly where Wade was going with that comment. I think he's simply staying away from the whole "Spo is my guy" thing because he doesn't want to look like he's the one who hand-picked Spo as his coach, nor is he the one who is keeping Spoelstra here. Basically, he doesn't want to look like he has more say in this franchise than LeBron does, or any other player for that matter. If that's the case, it's smart. That way, if LeBron has an issue with Spoelstra, it doesn't also mean he has an issue with Wade.

It's all conjecture and craziness and way, way, way too much analysis for a team that's less than a quarter of the way through the season and is missing its fourth and fifth best players and doesnt' have the ideal parts around the big three (but it is fun). From what I saw and heard today, everyone seems to be handling this thing just right. And my prediction is, as long as the Heat wins these next three games against the Wiz, Pistons and Cavs, this issue will slowly die and won't be back for a while.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Not cutting it

How many times do you have to be hit over the head with something before things change?

Let's see, how does this go again?

Point guard carves Miami (Jason Kidd, 13 assists). Another random player has big game against Miami (J.J. Barea, 13 points and two assists in 15 minutes). Big man dominates the paint against Miami (Tyson Chandler, 14 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks). LeBron James looks unfamiliar and occasionally lost (5 of 19 shooting, five turnovers).

It's kind of an infuriating thing to watch, because you can't decide whether to be patient or whether to place blame and insist on change.

What made this game particularly aggravating to watch was that LeBron continued to settle for outside shots when it clearly wasn't going for him. We've seen this before from him, but in this case, it's as if he's simply allowing the defense to decide what he does. He's much better than that. He needs to be a bully. And it's quite possible that the plays the Heat is running aren't allowing for much penetration by him, but isn't that what makes him great, is that he can force the action? It seems he, and Dwyane for that matter, are too often going right where the defense wants them to, therefore the 12 combined turnovers. And they're being entirely undisciplined by jumping with no idea where the next pass is going.

It might be up to Spo to shake things up, just to see if it will work, or if it will get something out of his players. LeBron also played some lazy defense late in the game, and that should be plain unacceptable to Spoelstra.

Scoring just shouldn't be a problem for this team, even with its current injury situation. The Mavericks zone was far too effective, but then again, the Heat didn't have its shooters in when the Mavs zone was at its best.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gathering themselves

There seemed to be some calm in the Heat players throughout win against the Sixers. It was probably because the opponent didn't really scare them, but even when Philly made a run, there appeared to be little panic, little pressing.

As Chris Bosh said after the game, his mindset is to simply "get the job done," and it appeared that was the entire team's mentality.

There were a couple of surprising performances. First, Carlos Arroyo looks like he's been working on that three-point shot. He hit 3 of 4 and looked comfortable doing it. The reason it appears he's been working on it, is because earlier in the season he wouldn't even spot up that deep. He'd usually stay in the 18-20 foot range, and that didn't open up the floor very much. But now, he's staying out there, especially in the short corners, and is nailing that shot. If he keeps that up, he makes much more sense in the starting lineup.

Arroyo You could tell that Erik Spoelstra even made it a point to get him back in late in the game, whereas in the last few games Arroyo didn't even play in the fourth quarter -- not even in Orlando when he was playing very well.

Joel Anthony was the other impressive support player, playing with Udonis Haslem-like activity. His play let Spo limit Zydrunas Ilgauskas to 16 minutes. While it's encouraging to see Joel do that, the Sixers kind of allow him to be that kind of player because he doesn't have to worry a ton about Spencer Hawes or Marresse Speights, who combined for 12 shot attempts and aren't your classic centers. Nonetheless, considering the Heat's big man void, you'll take those types of performances whenever you can get them, and against any opponent.

Less than a week before LeBron James plays in Cleveland, and the questions have started. LeBron said he can't help but think about it, and the NBA and Cleveland are planning some serious, probably unprecedented security during that game.

I kind of have a feeling that you might see LeBron take off after that game, assuming the Heat can go in there and win. There might be a sense of closure after that one. I mean, it's not gonna get any worse than it will be there. Maybe it'll clear his mind. It'll also be the magical 20-game mark, where you'd expect him and the Heat to have their stuff together and really make a run.

First, though, the Heat has to prove it can win against a quality opponent on the road, and Saturday's game against the Mavericks will be a great test.

The Heat's in the middle of a stretch of six games in nine days, and that's just before the Heat starts a four-game trip that'll last just six days.

Maybe all those games will expedite this growth process.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Issues galore

A few snapshots from Wednesday night's game were extremely telling.

For starters, here's how confident opposing point guards are that they can tear up the Heat. This is why Jameer Nelson got ejected. After getting past Eddie House again and drawing a foul, he looked at the Heat bench and said something to the effect of "if your boy thinks he can stop me, I'm going to have to keep beating his....." That drew a reaction from House, but got Nelson his second tech.

He could say all he wants, though. He had 17 and 14 and spent the entire night in the middle of the floor collapsing the Heat defense and dropping dimes.

Another picture is Dwyane Wade hitting nothing but air on a wide-open three-pointer. He's in a place I've never seen him before. And it's not injury related. His head is just spinning right now. As much as LeBron and Bosh have to worry about adjusting to change, Wade has to worry about this not working because he's the reason it happened. He needs to take a few breaths and just play basketball. He's too good a scorer to be questioning every move he makes and every shot he takes. Not to mention, he needs to work on that mid-range game. He tried to bring it back, and it was pretty awful. Rusty, for sure.

Then there are several images of LeBron that tell a confusing story. He and House were apparently on different pages on a play call in the first half, and it resulted in an awful possession. LeBron spent pretty much the whole first half doing exactly what Spoelstra didn't want him to do, over-dribbling and not moving the ball. And in the second half he let Nelson break up and easy three-on-one, then stepped out of bounds on a baseline drive with the game still in reach. Not to mention his entry into the game seemed to entirely stall Wade's little burst that got the Heat back into the game.

Oh, and then there's the picture of Bosh limping off the floor with back spasms. A big man with back issues can linger. That's exactly what the Heat needs at the moment.

It's ugly right now. And yet the Heat was a couple less mistakes, and maybe a couple made three-pointers (I'm looking at you James Jones), from stealing this win in Orlando and feeling much better about itself -- despite Dwight Howard's 24 and 18.

This team will still get much better. But watching this hideously awkward growth is kind of painful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Phil being Phil

With the Miami Heat struggling, Phil Jackson didn't hesitate to chime in Tuesday, saying the Heat's big trio will eventually ask for Pat Riley to take over if this doesn't change soon.

Philjackson "The scenario that sits kind of behind the scene, is that eventually these guys that were recruited — Bosh and James — by Pat Riley and Micky Arison, the owner, are going to come in and say, ‘We feel you can do a better job coaching the team," Jackson told a Chicago-based radio station. "We came here on the hopes that this would work,’ and whatever, I don’t know. That’s kind of my take on it, is that eventually if things don’t straighten out here soon, it could be the Van Gundy thing all over again."

On the Heat's performance in general, Jackson added:  "That record, I think, says a lot about coming together with some real talented guys, and not having a base. And then some things happened to them, Wade getting hurt. They’re still kind of searching out how they’re going to find a role and work their roles together."

While there are plenty of Heat fans who feel the same way, particularly about the coaching scenario, it just doesn't seem like what these players will want.

If it takes Riley to come in and "save" the season, the three of them will look like failures from the very first season together. And it's not as if Riley, who probably doesn't even want to coach, will be around for the remainder of their time together in Miami.

The other part about that is, how different is Riley from Spoelstra? Can he reel in LeBron and Wade maybe a little better? Possibly, if that's necessary. Would he force the ball inside to Bosh a little more? Also possible. But time will eventually allow Spoelstra to figure this out as well. He's not Riley yet, obviously, but we saw what happened when Stan left. He has been great for the Magic since leaving Miami. And pushing Spoelstra out now would be premature. I think these players recognize that. Pretty sure they don't even believe they need much coaching anyway.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just terrible

There's very little you can say to excuse that kind of performance.

Yes, the Heat was missing Haslem, but Udonis is not that much of a difference.

Yes, the Pacers were making a ton of "lucky" shots early, but that doesn't excuse the awful defense during other stretches or the unimaginative offense on the other end.

Yes, Dwyane Wade was not his normal self, but 77 points? At home? Against the Pacers?

This feels like a game the Heat assumed it would win -- even as the deficit was starting to get into double figures -- and didn't play desperate basketball until it was too late.

It is pretty obvious how depleted that bench is without Udonis and Miller. This is essentially the team everyone assumed the Heat would be before they knew that the trio would take less money to allow for the signing of Mike Miller and Haslem. This team, as is, relies way too much on the big three, and when one or more has a bad night -- or in this case, an awful night -- then it's difficult to win. It doesn't help that Eddie House was 0 of 6 and James Jones managed just one attempt and missed it. But when Jamaal Magloire gets your only field goal off the bench, that's terrible.

Same old issues, otherwise. Outrebounded, too many careless turnovers, too many outside shots, too little Bosh in the paint.

At some point, things have to turn around. Starting to wonder when that will be.

And Erick Dampier, who appears to be the next signing, won't be the answer. Not by himself, at least. Not until everyone who's already here fixes this temporary mess.

Haslem hurts

Starting to wonder if that curse Dan Gilbert put on the Heat is working.

Udonis never misses games. The only year he missed significant time was the 15-win season, and let's face it, that season was a complete waste.

So what to do now? Initially, Juwan Howard should be a good enough fill-in. Offensively, anyway, he can score if called on. Defensively, he knows where to be, it's just a matter of whether he can still get there quickly enough, and whether he can hit the boards.

The rebounding void is where this will hurt most, with UD leading the team in rebounds. You could say it's on Bosh to do that, but he's not going to be on the floor for 48 minutes. And it's not as if picking up Shavlik Randolph will fix it, although he is scrappy like UD.

Erick Dampier now? Not sure if that is the solution anymore now than before, because he's a center and that won't be addressing UD's position.

Not sure how the team will handle this, but the injury will do a couple of things. It'll take some of the pressure off this team to be great every night because it's shorthanded. But it will also make the stars want to win even more for their injured teammates. UD is a great teammate, and they don't want to let him down.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekend wonder

If there is any team in the league that can say, "it's not what the other team does that matters, it's what we do," and be truthful about it, it's the Heat.

The Bobcats would never have gotten back into that game had the Heat not temporarily resorted to old habits of keeping the ball on one side of the floor, and Dwyane Wade and LeBron James settling for outside jumpers. You have to wonder if that's going to be in issue all season, spells where they revert to that kind of offense and bank of a few of those shots going in.

On a positive note, it looks like Chris Bosh really did just need that Suns game to kickstart him. He looked equally as confident playing against a much more defensive minded team in the Bobcats, and he was nearly as effective. He coupled his 22 points with 14 boards, and the Heat was plus-15 with him on the floor. No other Heat players was better than plus-seven. Assuming Bosh takes that same attitude into Saturday's game in Memphis, it's possible he can have another big scoring effort against Zach Randolph, who's not exactly a defensive whiz.

Last observation, and it's one that has grown more obvious as the season has gone along.

Does it look like referees are not giving Wade and LeBron the same bump fouls that they were getting on a regular basis over the past several years? You've seen it so many times already, Wade or LeBron tossing up a shot after contact that they believe is a foul -- a shot they'd never put up if they didn't believe a whistle was coming.

There is one theory that the anti-LeBron, and therefore anti-Heat, sentiment has even reached the officials in the NBA.

But the more reasonable theory is this: refs are just letting more contact go. Not only against the Heat's stars, but against any players. If you've been watching games around the league, it appears driving perimeter players aren't getting those minimum-contact calls as often anymore. And because players are so quick to get hit with technicals these days, they're not going to complain about it as much as in years past. So for the refs, it's a win-win. You let the game flow a bit more by not putting guys on the line, and you don't get chastised for it by players. It also empowers the refs to call the game more by instinct instead of letter of the law. Because when those types of fouls first started getting called, most people cried, especially NBA veterans, that those weren't real fouls.

The refs are also respecting the rule of verticality in the paint a lot more, at least when guys jump straight up to alter a shot instead of trying to take a charge. Bosh is particularly good at jumping with both hands straight up in the air as a defender is working around the rim. It makes the contact a non-call and rewards defenders for good technique. It also takes the restricted area out of play, because you're not trying to take a charge.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sunny side

It's easy to say the Heat took advantage of a Suns team that has no size, rarely plays defense and is playing the first game of an East Coast trip with a slightly injured Steve Nash.

But that doesn't take away what the team did against the Suns. The effort displayed from start to finish was exactly what this team needs to be successful as the chemistry project continues. The closing out and rotations on defense were phenomenal -- probably as hard as we've seen any Heat team play for an entire game in a long, long time. That would explain why the Suns, who average 25 three-point attempts a game, only got off 19 of them despite trailing all game and only made five of them. It also helps explain why Steve Nash only had two assists, because when he hiBosht an open man, that man wasn't open for very long at all.

The other encouraging part for the Heat was how crisp and consistent the ball movement was. You could see a handful of times when Wade and LeBron almost took what would normally been considered an OK shot for them in previous year, but they passed off last second to an open player with a better shot. That's what Eddie House was talking about when he said no one on this team should ever take a contested shot. The result is 55 percent shooting.

Now, Bosh's big game can be considered a tad inflated by the fact it was the tiny Suns defending him. But it's not as if he simply got his points from shooting over the top of smaller guys in the post. He worked within the offense and found himself open not only for jumpers but near the basket. My favorite play was that smooth shuffle pass to Udonis Haslem for a dunk.

What matters here isn't who he did it against, but that he did it at all. The confidence Bosh can gain from scoring 35 against the Suns, in three quarters no less, can go a long way to getting him to play better against bigger, tougher teams. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you can do it. And Bosh just did that.

On the slightly negative side, starting Zydrunas wasn't a great idea. He only played seven minutes because it was obvious it wasn't a good matchup against the Suns.

LeBron's plus-minus was plus-24, Bosh was plus-23, James Jones plus-23, Haslem plus-21 and Wade plus-20... Think that might be the Heat's best lineup? 



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