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21 posts from December 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thinking bigger

For some reason -- maybe it was because the Celtics were rolling along or simply because the Heat had played more games and the loss totals looked deceiving -- I was under the impression recently that the Heat would have trouble catching the Celtics.

Well, let's look at that again.

The Heat's only one game behind the C's, and with the injuries piling up in Boston, it looks like not only can the Heat catch Boston, but it would frankly be a disappointment if they didn't pass the Celtics and take that No. 1 spot in the East. And 60 wins, which many figured was out of the question for Miami just a few weeks ago, also seems like a low goal. To go 35-13 the rest of the way and finish with 60 wins would mean the Heat losing one out of every four games the rest of the way. If that happens, people will be wondering what's wrong with the Heat again. At this point, a 65-win season is starting to look reasonable, assuming health.

Which brings up the matter of health. Not only are teams taking cheap shots at the Heat (Dwyane Wade has been the most recent victim on a few breakaway dunks), but the team has been incredibly lucky so far in terms of health to the Big Three. Only Wade has missed any games (two total). And when you look at Chris Bosh's history, he tends to miss anywhere from five to 13 games a season (although he's at an ideal weight and conditioning level this year to maintain his health). Wade lip

Regardless, it starts to make you wonder which of the three the Heat wouldn't be able to do without for any extended stretch.

You tend to shy away from saying Bosh, but then again, he's the only one on the team that gives you what he gives you. He's an inside presence when he wants to be, and he's the best big with which to execute a pick-and-roll. And he has been the team's best rebounder since Udonis Haslem went down.

Wade and LeBron James are somewhat similar in that they both can create and score. But at the moment -- and technically, for the season -- Wade is the better and more efficient scorer, while James is the more consistent playmaker, more effective rebounder with his size and better three-point shooter (he gets hot from distance more often than Wade).

The answer might just be Bosh, though, if only because Wade and LeBron can take over the other's role, if necessary. And with Mike Miller getting healthier, the Heat has another perimeter player to replace any lost minutes.

Ideally, none of them would lose time, but given how easily injuries can happen, it's difficult to imagine a full season without at least one of the Big Three being forced to sit some games.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Power player

Against the Knicks, it was Dwyane Wade's 40 points that got most of the attention, and deservedly so.

But Chris Bosh had a huge impact in keeping the Knicks distant in the third quarter, scoring 10 of his 18 in the third, looking confident the whole time.

It's further proof that his slow start was basically an anomaly, and that he is rounding into the player that we've been used to watching while he was with the Raptors.

Bosh has been steady, basically, since that 35-point outburst against the Suns. But he's showing signs of having more explosive games like that. Bosh dunk

The best part is, Bosh is looking and sounding confident. He said before Tuesday's game against the Knicks that he's basically going all LeBron on everyone, trying to prove the doubters wrong. The only difference between him and LeBron James is that Bosh's haters showed up after the early portion of the season, when Bosh was coming up small on occasion.

“For some reason, people think I can't play basketball,” Bosh said. “It gives me an added sense of motivation. I feel in those situations, I have a chance … to go out there and do well, because I know people are watching -- just to shut them up. Just to be frank.”

That's good to hear from the normally reserved power forward.

And if you look at his numbers, he has only been getting better as the season has progressed.

He averaged 13 points on 45 percent shooting with 6.5 rebounds in October (just four games).

That went up to 19.4 on 51 percent shooting and 7.5 rebounds in November.

And in December, he's at 19.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and shooting 52.1 percent (before the Knicks game).

He says he will get to that 10.0 rebound average (he's at 8.2 for the season). If he's determined to get there, that should mean some big rebound games down the road.

After that slow start, everyone said give Bosh some time. It's looking like that patience is paying off.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Reassessing matters

OK, so that whole 70-win thing was way premature and semi-ridiculous to expect from a team that was this brand new. But now that the rough patch is long gone and the Heat is among the elite in the league, what's the new guess on win total and playoff seeding?

January is going to be a very telling month for Miami, with eight of 14 on the road, including the longest road trip of the year, a five-gamer that includes Chicago and Denver, another trip to NY and its lone game in OKC.

Still, with the Heat playing at this level, and presumably only getting better with Mike Miller's return, it would be fair to say the Heat can still reasonably be a 60-win team. That would require a 37-13 finish. As long as health holds up for the Big Three, that's plenty attainable. Though it might be difficult to catch the Celtics for the top seed -- unless the Celts get bored at some point.

Here's a video from the Herald website on the January challenges.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

How big a deal?

Was overhearing a conversation near the end of Saturday's game, with one well-respected L.A.-based journalist saying this wasn't as big an accomplishment for the Heat because the Lakers are struggling so badly.

Well, that isn't fair, is it? You can't play that card and also say that the Heat hasn't beaten very many good teams in its stretch of 14 wins in 15 games. What does the Heat have to do, in that case, to be considered legit? Beat only the Celtics?

The Lakers might have thrown in a clunker against the Bucks on Tuesday, but isn't that all the more incentive for the Lakers to want to beat the Heat? And the Lakers had just won eight of nine before that Bucks loss.

But here were the Lakers, essentially making excuses after the game, complaining about their lack of intensity, etc. Sad kobe

Kobe Bryant said the Lakers are always terrible on Christmas games, Phil Jackson said his team isn't "connected right now." Bryant added that games seem more important to the opponent than it is to them.

Interesting, then, because this was just as much a barometer game for the Lakers as it was for the Heat. It was their first chance to show that it's still L.A., and not the Heat, that is a championship favorite. That seems like some pretty good incentive.

Fact is, this is a very impressive win for Miami, not only because the Heat won in Los Angeles, but because they did it with defense and the rebounding was solid against the bigger Lakers and because all three of the Big Three were effective in so many ways.

It was an impressive display. It would probably feel a little better if the Lakers had a completely healthy Andrew Bynum, because it's that two-headed monster of Bynum and Pau Gasol that is L.A.'s biggest advantage against the Heat, but this is still the Lakers team that started out 8-0 without Bynum.

Chris Bosh has been steady all season, but he's now mixing in the big games more often. He completely outplayed Gasol, and it's encouraging to watch him mix up the jumper and the drive.

LeBron James has been shooting the ball quite well of late, which is scary. He hit 5 of 6 threes Saturday, and he's now shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range in December. Bron three

Interesting that Mike Miller wasn't used until garbage time -- also probably frustrating for him given that he targeted this game for his comeback -- but it kind of makes sense to roll with what was working against a team as capable as the Lakers. You can imagine Miller will be back in the rotation against the Knicks on Tuesday, probably taking minutes from James Jones, who was 1 of 6 from the field, all from three, against the Lakers.

Lastly, if I were Mario Chalmers, I'd be working on my three-point shooting a whole lot from now on. Because apparently he's going to get a ton of those looks.

Since the game in Utah on Dec. 8, Mario is averaging 5.4 three-point attempts a game, including nine attempts Saturday. He made three of them on his way to 13 points, but if he's deadly from out there regularly, he could be a serious spark off the bench.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Rio's role

So, the Suns game was impressive and all. Besides the team stepping up without Dwyane Wade offensively, the Heat also kept the Suns to 83 points, 40 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers. And that was with Jared Dudley absolutely on fire (11 of 16, 7 of 10 from three, 33 points and 12 rebounds).

But there was one element in the game that kept gnawing at me. It was the play of Mario Chalmers. He was very good. In 27 minutes, he had 11 points, two assists, three rebounds, two steals, one block and three turnovers (although to be fair, one of those turnovers came because of an awful non-call). There was even a point when he was on the bench and the Suns were creeping back into the game that I said, "They need Mario back in there." Rio wade

So the question is, is Chalmers consistent and reliable enough to be a heavy-minutes player every night? Or is he eventually starting material? To consider him a starter would be unfair to Carlos Arroyo, who scored nine critical points in the third quarter Thursday. But Chalmers has had his moments of late. And LeBron James has taken a liking to him off the court, as they've become pretty close friends (that doesn't have much to do with basketball, but it can't hurt Mario to know that LeBron will have his back).

But then another writer put it this way when it comes to Mario... "Would you be comfortable with him on the floor against the Celtics in the fourth quarter of a Game 7?" That kind of changes the conversation.

I think Mario is getting better, but I think the jury is still out on him. He did have a couple of bad moments against the Suns, too.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wade out vs. Suns

Wade was listed as inactive Thursday, with James Jones inserted into the starting lineup in his place.

Mike Miller is expected to get more minutes, as a result.

Maybe Wade, who had a swollen knee after banging knees with Jason Kidd on Monday, is saving himself for the Lakers on Saturday. But this game against the Suns will be no gimme, even though Vince Carter isn't playing either.

The last game Wade missed, the only game he missed this season, the Heat lost on a buzzer-beating jumper from Rudy Gay in Memphis.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday perspective

All it took was one loss -- one loss in a 13-game stretch -- for the doubters and the nitpickers to call the Heat pretenders once again.   Pretenders

The Heat lost by two to the Mavericks, and all of a sudden the most popular statistic in basketball is that the Heat is 5-7 against winning teams through its first 30 games, as if that's some sort of hard evidence that this group doesn't have what it takes to compete in April, May and June.

Well, let's examine this a little closer....

Here are the seven losses to winning teams the Heat has experienced, in order:

The Celtics: That was the first game of the season, in Boston, with Dwyane Wade playing his first full Ray-Allen game since Game 5 of last season's playoffs. This still required Ray Allen to hit a three with less than a minute left to seal the win.

The Hornets: This was the sixth game of the year, when the Hornets were still on fire and the Heat was, at best, playing one quality half each game. This still was a three-point game, also on the road.

The Jazz: This was not only a game that the Heat by 20-plus points, but it required a freakish performance from a power forward who found religion outside the three-point line in the final minutes. And, by the way, the Jazz did this to about five other teams immediately after this game.

The Celtics (again): OK, this one couldn't really be explained away, other than the fact that it was the Celtics, and Ray Allen happened to be on the type of roll only a handful of shooters have experienced. That and Wade was still experiencing his month-long out-of-body experience with a 2-of-12 performance.

The Magic: Truth is, this was the worst the Heat had been playing, and quite possibly the worst this group will ever play together. Coming off losses to the Grizzlies and Pacers, the players were questioning themselves and playing like a bunch of strangers. That said, this was still a tie game with 4:36 remaining.

The Mavericks: One awful quarter, one unfortunate bump, one game over .500, one players-only meeting that apparently started in the shower. The Mavericks are really, really good (don't let that home loss to the Bucks fool you), and the Heat never wins in Dallas (unless it's the Finals). This was hardly a moment to properly gauge a team in the Heat's position. Dirk slap

The Mavericks: You again?!? But seriously, LeBron James had one of his worst halves -- ever -- and the Heat was still within two points and, frankly, looked disinterested in the game's first eight minutes or so. Granted, that doesn't say much for the team's frame of mind, but it still is no reason to dismiss its chances to compete against this caliber of squad.

There you go. All perfectly reasonable results for a team still figuring itself out while simultaneously overcoming a size deficit and playing without Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. By the way, the Heat's five wins against winning teams have come against the Magic in blowout fashion, the Jazz on the road, the Hawks, the Hornets and the Knicks.

And just for the record, the Lakers, who nobody would dare question at this time of year, is 2-3 against winning teams this year, with the wins coming against the Blazers, who are barely above .500 at the moment. and the Bulls, who they then lost to in Chicago. The Lakers also just got housed by the Bucks in L.A. and have lost to the Grizzlies, Pacers, Rockets and Suns. Just sayin'.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What is it about the Mavs?

Make that a 14-game win streak -- for the Mavs against the Heat.

That has to be infuriating for the Heat. And Monday night's game was difficult to watch.

The start was exactly the opposite of what you would've expected from a Heat team that barely escaped Washington with a win and owed the Mavericks one. Yet, the Heat came out of the blocks setting for jumpers, playing passive defensively and allowing the Mavs to jump ahead by 13.

Obviously, the Heat recovered with a 17-0 run, but the team played in waves the entire game. And it just so happened that they ended the game on the wrong side of a run.

You almost wanted to say it while LeBron James was lighting up the Knicks with jumpers -- you couldn't because it was too much fun to watch -- but you just knew that his relying on the outside shot was going to come back and bite the Heat. And that happened Monday.

It was either the Mavs zone or simply an inability for him to find or create any driving lanes, but all night the Mavericks had him stifled.

And then it just got contagious.

Seriously, 31 three-point attempts? That's way too many. And that's exactly what teams want the Heat to do.

Maybe it's just the right time for the Heat to be humbled. With a couple days of practice time and a two-game trip against the Suns and Lakers upcoming, the team needs to settle some of the issues that the final few games of that win streak masked.

It also will help Mike Miller shake off that rust that was so evident in his four-minute, 0-of-4 performance against the Mavericks.

You could see, though, in that brief time that he has the ability to make plays when teams close out on him -- an ability that James Jones doesn't really have.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bizarre NBA day

What in the world was going on in the NBA on Saturday.

First Magic GM Otis Smith decides to shake up his entire roster, bringing in Gilbert Arenas as a backup -- that has disaster written all over it -- and ridding itself of any depth up front by trading Marcin Gortat. Granted, the Magic got rid of Vince Carter, which is step one in attempting to win a championship, and Jason Richardson can light it up more regularly than Vince can at this point, but I'm not sure that Hedo Turkoglu is necessarily going to return to his form from a couple years ago. Either way, this can be considered a questionable move. Or it could work out brilliantly. But without Gortat and Lewis, the Magic is basically relying on Brandon Bass, Malik Allen and maybe Earl Clark as its power rotation outside of Dwight Howard. That's disconcerting.

Then the games started.

The Knicks lost to the Cavs. The undermanned Magic lost to the Sixers. The Bulls lost to the Clippers. Memphis took San Antonio to overtime.

And the Heat? Well, the Heat worked Magic.

Maybe this was just the basketball gods giving the Heat back the W that the Jazz stole from them in November, but it was pretty ridiculous to come back from down five with 30 seconds left, down four with 19 seconds left, and still win... in regulation.

The MVP of this game? That would be Chris Bosh. His three was money when the Heat was down five. He was smart enough to draw the foul on his next attempted three. He only made two of those, but that's just fine because you would've taken a two-pointer at that point anyway.

Then he set the screen that set Dwyane Wade free, and he eventually got fouled and hit the two free throws to give Miami the lead. Then he stood there as Kirk Hinrich was racing toward him, went straight up, even retreated a bit so he wouldn't get called for a foul, and made the game-saving defensive play. Anyone who says that was a foul is wrong. Not only did Hinrich blatantly lean in to try to get the foul, but Bosh never brought his arms down and was practically backing up the whole time.

Yeah, Bosh had seven turnovers, but when it mattered most, he was the most important person on the floor. And maybe that's why he was so obviously excited after that one. It was Bosh's win.

Now the Heat can move on to face the team that kickstarted this 12-game win streak. The Mavericks are playing great, but I have a feeling the Heat has something special in reserve for that team.


Friday, December 17, 2010

If he is LeChicken...

...then LeBron James just laid a golden egg. Not sure what the NY Post was thinking with the headline, but it certainly wasn't the most clever jab ever taken at LeBron. Lechicken

Sometimes it's scary when his jumper is going. Check that. It's always scary when LeBron's jumper is going.

And as much as people want to knock him for relying on that jumper too often, he seems to find it in games like this. He had it going against the Cavs, and he certainly had it going Friday night.

As much as LeBron took the hearts out of the Knicks, there were a couple other contributors that made a huge impact.

Joel Anthony was quick enough to annoy Amare Stoudemire, keeping him on the perimeter and contesting his shot every time. Stoudemire normally does most of his damage against slow-footed centers (as he did in the first and third quarters against Zydrunas Ilgauskas), but Joel is essentially a power forward, so Amare didn't have a quickness advantage. The most impressive part about Joel was his discipline defensively. His feet were always in great position, he didn't reach and he didn't leave his feet early.

On the other end of the floor, the Knicks really didn't take advantage of the fact Joel was on the floor. They only forced him into one shot attempt in 20 minutes.

Then there was Chris Bosh. He had a couple turnovers that were the result of over-aggressiveness, but you'll live with those, especially when he's shooting 11 of 19 for 26 points. He took advantage of the size disparity against the smaller Knicks. And while you'd love to see him grab more than seven boards, he was normally on the perimeter defensively, guarding shooters like Wilson Chandler most of the time, so he was drawn away from the glass. And, of course, when Carlos Arroyo shoots it that well, having a big impact in such a short span of time, that makes the Heat's life that much easier.

As much as the Knicks want to claim they're back, that team is still in the second tier of Eastern Conference teams. Not only do they have no one other than Amare who can create his own shot regularly, but it doesn't look like that team has any sort of game plan defensively. They doubled LeBron for a possession or two, but never looked certain of what they were doing. In order for this version of the Knicks to win a playoff series, it'll take a consistently red-hot shooting performance. And that's just not going to happen. Even if they trade for Carmelo Anthony, it won't put them on a championship level.

Best news of the day was Mike Miller announcing he's ready to return, although it does bring up a quesiton of when should he be inserted into the rotation.

Mike miller It would appear difficult to force him in there when things are going this well. But things are going so well that this might be the best time to do it, when the team can afford to deal with a little tinkering.

I know it would kill Miller to miss the Christmas game if he was ready to play, but with the Mavericks coming up Monday (we can assume Miller won't play Saturday in Washington without a practice under his belt), then the Suns in Phoenix and the Lakers on Christmas, it might make the most sense to wait until the 28th, when the Heat's back home against the Knicks.

But then again, if you slot Miller into James Jones' spot in the rotation, it's not as if he has to play many minutes or has too much responsibility in the early going. So it's not asking too much of him. Wouldn't be surprised to see him inserted for one half of duty while Jones tackles the other half. At least that way you can gauge just how effective he can be while still keeping Jones involved.



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