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15 posts from March 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Worst loss of the season?

It might be, for a few reasons.

First, you'd think by now, and when the team should be getting into playoff form, that there wouldn't be anymore complacency, regardless of the opponent. Baron-bron

The Cavs are athletic up front, which has always given Heat problems, and have two point guards who can score in Ramon Sessions and Baron Davis (officially on the "Heat Killers" list), and we know how those have given the Heat problems all year.

Yet, the Heat has solved those issues with effort and defense at times this year. This time, though, that wasn't there -- at least not when the team was falling behind.

You'd think that another trip to Cleveland would keep this team into the game. You'd think LeBron James and Co. would want to dominate this team every chance it got. But they let up, which is disappointing.

Another disappointing aspect was the play of Chris Bosh, who hasn't had a stinker like this in a while. He looked like he was wearing butter gloves most of the night, and when he was making a move to the basket, was predictable and gave those athletic Cavs big men either bother or flat-out block every shot. And those free throws with the Heat down nine late in the game? Yikes.

But you almost want to give Chris a pass given how well he's been playing of late. It just makes you wonder if he'll respond this way during road playoff games.

This probably ranks right up there with the home Indiana loss and the home loss to Orlando that featured a 24-point collapse.

But all that said, it really doesn't mean much other than the Heat can no longer reach 60 wins for the season.

The No. 2 spot is still right in the Heat's reach, especially considering the Heat plays Boston on April 10, and if the Heat comes out of this road trip 3-1, there's a good chance it'll come back home at least tied with Boston, given the C's schedule.

Two quick side notes on the game: Mike Miller would've been fairly important in this game, because his rebounding would've helped. And what in the world got into James Jones? He hasn't played this many games in a season since 06-07, so maybe it's fatigue? Because 0-for-5 from three, and some pretty awful misses, just doesn't look like him.

And just a note on that three-pointer that was first ruled no good, then good by the officials at the end of the third quarter. Normally, in those situations where the clock clearly started before a player touched the ball, they would literally run the play again, rather than count anything that happened after. But these officials literally pulled out a stopwatch while watching the video replay, checking to see if LeBron's heave would've gotten off in the 1.9 seconds left on the clock. Now, that would seem to be the right thing to do, call it a "clock malfunction," and let a very meaningful play count rather than try to make LeBron make that shot again. But it also feels like these officials panicked because it was obvious neither of them was watching the clock like they were supposed to.

Not surprised that the NBA said the shot shouldn't have counted. But if the clock operator had just done his job correctly, it would've counted, so in a sense it was the right thing to do. These officials (Ed Malloy was the lead official, and his charge call looks like a "count it," motion, which was extremely confusing) are lucky that it didn't come down to a one-possession game.

(Update: Technically, it could've been the clock operator or any of the three referees that started the clock early on that 3rd quarter play. Each of the refs have the ability to start the clock. So it's not necessarily the fault of that hometown clock operator.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Big three go small

Can't help but love the fact that Erik Spoelstra is dropping down a size and using the small lineup regularly again. Doug Collins said the other night that LeBron James' best position is power forward. Now, while that's hardly true all the time, because he's a better rebounder and defender against guys his own size or smaller, he does become more difficult to defend off the dribble when he's at that position.

But more than that, when the Heat goes small, it feels like the offense is just more potent, especially now that the guys know each other well, and with Chris Bosh playing aggressively, and with Mike Bibby out there knocking down threes at nearly 50 percent efficiency. Bron powder

It's going to so well, that you'd even like to see Spo play that lineup against bigger teams and force them to match up with it.

Obviously, the Big Three had it going against the Rockets. And the Rockets do allow their opponents to put up big numbers. But it does look like these guys are having their best games together just before the playoffs, which must be comforting for Heat fans to see.

Dwyane Wade looks fairly unstoppable, particularly late in games. And Bosh's offensive aggressiveness appears to be transferring to the defensive end as well, as he's actually trying to contest most shots near the basket.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if this team runs the table the rest of the way, because Spo says he doesn't intend on resting his starters, and because other than a home game against the Celtics and a late game in Atlanta, there aren't any difficult ones on the schedule. That would very likely wrap up a No. 2 seed, which means Boston in the second round and homecourt advantage.

Finally, shout out to Dan LeBatard for writing something I've been thinking for weeks now. The whole Derrick-Rose-for-MVP thing has gotten out of control. He is the best player on the best team in the East, so of course he deserves strong consideration. But just because a few people on TV believe he's the MVP, it's as if no one else is left in the hunt. How many Bulls highlights have you seen with the anchor just flat-out calling him MVP throughout the highlight? That would be every Bulls clip in the past six weeks.

It's ridiculous, especially when you consider that Dwight Howard has a strong, if not stronger, case, and guys like LeBron, D-Wade, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki are all right there with him.

The thing about it is, when you're writing for a South Florida publication, you're automatically viewed as bias. I wish someone from, I don't know, the Midwest would have the nerve to actually question Rose's status as favorite.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Down the stretch...

Another example of how Dwyane Wade might just be the better first option down the strech of close games.

On most nights when Wade has it going, it means he's getting to the basket and getting fouled. Occasionally he'll come up with a strong outside shooting performance, but for the most part, he's using his quickness to get the rim when the games are in the balance. Wade layup

That's exactly what he did Friday night against the Sixers, practically getting to the rim at will against a Sixers team that wasn't sure what to guard and the help defense rarely found Wade.

As if we needed anymore proof, LeBron James had a couple possessions late, when it looked like the Heat had the game locked up, and ended up with a "mismatch" against Elton Brand after a Sixers switch. Nothing came out of those possessions, and suddenly the Sixers were within five points again.

This isn't an indictment of James in any way, but he's prone to shooting jumpers more often, and he doesn't necessarily have a go-to move late in games, while Wade has that sick right-to-left crossover and is just better at getting to the rim. Late in games, that's what you want.

LeBron is going to get his numbers, and there are going to be plenty of times when his explosive scoring is going to keep the game from ever getting close. But when it comes down to it, this team is better suited with the ball in Wade's hands.

With that, apparently, having been figured out, it might be time to look at the final 10 games and consider where the Heat will stand come April 17.

The Celtics keep struggling, now holding just a half-game lead over the Heat for second place, with a game between the two still to come.

The Celtics also have the far tougher shcedule left, with games against the Spurs, Hawks, Bulls and Knicks also remaining on the schedule, three of those coming away from Boston.

The Heat, meanwhile, have 10 winnable games left, with the biggest challenges probably coming from the Celtics and probably the red-hot Rockets on Sunday, both home games.

Should the Heat and C's swap positions before the playoffs, it could set up for a better situation than playing the Celtics in the conference finals. That's because the C's might still not have everything together by the second round of the playoffs, especially if Shaquille O'Neal doesn't come back until April, and also if he doesn't ever return to full strength.

And I also wouldn't assume the Bulls automatically get past the Magic in a potential second-round meeting. The Bulls are 2-1 against Orlando this season with one more game to come, but the Magic are the experienced playoff team and could easily stun the Bulls with a couple of good shooting nights.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Miller's time?

Turns out Mario Chalmers' injury might help Mike Miller shake out of this shooting funk he has been in of late.

Miller has always been a playmaking forward, not just a shooter. He averaged at least 3.4 assists over his previous four seasons. If nothing else, he's at least an involved player, not just a spot-up shooter.

Miller stare Well, with Chalmers out for a while, Miller will initiate offense a little more often, Erik Spoelstra said.

"Mike did well in the Atlanta game," Spoelstra said. "The game was out of the balance, but he initiated most of the offense for us in the fourth quarter.

"He is a very good passer. He can put the ball on the floor. And he reads the game well. He’s a rhythm player."

Miller seemed pretty happy about it Tuesday, and it'll probably be a relief once he actually starts doing more of it. He hasn't said anything about his role, but you could see on the floor just how frustrated he is at times with just standing, waiting for shots from the perimeter.

"He’s been a terrific soldier about it," Spoelstra said. "I told him that he doesn’t have to answer the critics. I don’t care if people are judging him, comparing him to what he used to be. He’s getting more than 10-less minutes a game. It’s a different role for him. He’s adjusting. That does take time. He missed the first half of the season.

"But it’s a symbiotic relationship. It’s also our part to make sure he is getting involved and feeling engaged in the offensive side of the floor."

Added Mike"

"It’s difficult, but I knew what I was getting when I signed up for it. You can’t let critics decide how you’re going to play. My role on this team is to do a lot of the dirty work. Now, would I like more shots? Sure. But there’s only so many shots in the game. There’s only so many points in the game. We’ve got three guys that play heavy minutes. Two of them are in the top five in scoring, and one’s averaging 20 a game. There’s 70 points right there.

"You accept your role and you do what you can to win a championship."

Miller's time?

Turns out Mario Chalmers' injury might help Mike Miller shake out of this shooting funk he has been in of late.

Miller has always been a playmaking forward, not just a shooter. He averaged at least 3.4 assists over his previous four seasons. If nothing else, he's at least an involved player, not just a spot-up shooter.

Miller stare Well, with Chalmers out for a while, Miller will initiate offense a little more often, Erik Spoelstra said.

"Mike did well in the Atlanta game," Spoelstra said. "The game was out of the balance, but he initiated most of the offense for us in the fourth quarter.

"He is a very good passer. He can put the ball on the floor. And he reads the game well. He’s a rhythm player."

Miller seemed pretty happy about it Tuesday, and it'll probably be a relief once he actually starts doing more of it. He hasn't said anything about his role, but you could see on the floor just how frustrated he is at times with just standing, waiting for shots from the perimeter.

"He’s been a terrific soldier about it," Spoelstra said. "I told him that he doesn’t have to answer the critics. I don’t care if people are judging him, comparing him to what he used to be. He’s getting more than 10-less minutes a game. It’s a different role for him. He’s adjusting. That does take time. He missed the first half of the season.

"But it’s a symbiotic relationship. It’s also our part to make sure he is getting involved and feeling engaged in the offensive side of the floor."

Added Mike"

"It’s difficult, but I knew what I was getting when I signed up for it. You can’t let critics decide how you’re going to play. My role on this team is to do a lot of the dirty work. Now, would I like more shots? Sure. But there’s only so many shots in the game. There’s only so many points in the game. We’ve got three guys that play heavy minutes. Two of them are in the top five in scoring, and one’s averaging 20 a game. There’s 70 points right there.

"You accept your role and you do what you can to win a championship."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chalmers update

As expected, MRI showed that Mario Chalmers has a right knee sprain and nothing more serious.

Problem with that is, a sprained knee isn't a very specific diagnosis. It doesn't tell you which ligament is injured, and it doesn't say how bad the sprain, which is essentially a partial tear. Mario hand

Either way, the Heat says Chalmers is out for a couple weeks and should be back for the playoffs. Chalmers says he wants to be back before the playoffs.

Chalmers had a pair of scoreless games against the Thunder and Hawks before injuring his knee against the Nuggets. But before that, Chalmers had gone 7 of 11 three-point range during the Heat's three-game win streak against the Lakers, Grizzlies and Spurs.

But it's safe to say that he'll be rusty again after the two weeks off, and it'll be around playoff time, so it's going to be tough for him to get back into the rotation as a regular contributor.

That puts a lot of responsibility on Mike Bibby, who handled it against Denver, making four threes in 34 minutes. Safe to say the Heat will go big in the backcourt when Bibby sits, with Mike Miller taking on some ball-handling duties, and possibly Eddie House getting minutes.

That could be a good thing for Miller, because he can get more involved in offense rather than wait on the perimeter. Miller can initiate a pick-and-roll quite well. It's actually an under-utilized aspect of his game, and of the Heat offense. It would be a good option to go to in these final weeks of the season.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Showing off

It's amazing how bad a basketball venue Philips Arena. The big screen is small and poor quality. The crowd is just sitting there waiting to be entertained like they're at a bad comedy show.

Fortunately for the fans in the ATL, LeBron James brought his best act.

He went for 43, lighting up Philips from the perimeter. Lebron-hawks

Probably most interesting part of it was after the game, when LeBron said he does his best work on the road and loves it. He said just look at the facts. And it's true this year, that's for sure.

Most of his big scoring games have come on the road this year.

38 at Cleveland

36 at Phoenix (with no Dwyane Wade)

38 at Charlotte

44 at Portland

51 at Orlando

43 at Atlanta

That's certainly a good thing, because the Heat might very well start on the road in Rounds 2 and beyond in the playoffs. Even though the Celtics and Bulls both lost Friday, the Heat is still three games back of both in the loss column, and doesn't hold the tiebreaker against either team. Doesn't seem like Miami can make up that deficit with 13 games left.

Back in 2006, the Heat was the No. 2 seed and didn't have homecourt in the conference finals or the Finals, but won those series anyway. As LeBron put it, nobody goes through the playoffs just winning all their home games, so they'll have to win a game or two on the road anyway.

But back to Friday's game. It looked like Erik Spoelstra put James Jones back in the rotation. It might just have been for this game, given that the Heat was starting a back-to-back, but it still appears feasible that Jones will play in smaller lineups against teams without a ton of size.

Chris Bosh remained aggressive and active on the boards. He finished with an overshadowed 17 and 10, as the Heat outrebounded the Hawks by 23, the largest margin of the year.

So, in five games since he asked for more chances, he's averaging 22 points, 10.4 rebounds and is shooting 55.1 percent and shooting 8.4 foul shots a game. That's a quality response.

 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thunderous thud

OK, for those who are always complaining that writers from the city of the losing team always make excuses and never credit the opposing team, this one's for you (even though I don't buy that line... We cover the home team, so we're supposed to look for "reasons" the team loses, but those are taken as "excuses" for those who choose to see it that way).

Anyway, here's the breakdown of that Heat loss to the Thunder: That was just great defense by Oklahoma City for pretty much the entire game. Ibaka-collison

About the only time the Heat was able to do anything was late in the second quarter, and much of that was off terrific defense by Miami.

The Heat tried the aggressive route, and the Thunder met players at the rim. The Heat tried shooting from outside, those weren't falling this night. The Heat tried to draw fouls, and most of the time those attempts were transparent and weren't rewarded.

Despite fouling out, Kendrick Perkins had a significant influence on the game. And for the most part, Serge Ibaka dominated the paint late with his rebounding and long arms.

Chris Bosh continued his strong play, scroing 21 points with 11 rebounds and two blocks. He took a pair of threes at the end that made his shooting numbers look worse than they were (finished 6 of 17), but he got to the line 10 times and made nine. About his only fault was fumbling a couple passes down the stretch. But that wouldn't have changed the outcome of this one. Neither would have that non-call on Ibaka against Dwyane Wade that drew two techs from Wade and Erik Spoelstra.

There really shouldn't be much overreaction to this one, although there probably will be. The real test will be Friday and Saturday. That's back-to-back games at Atlanta against a tough Hawks defense and a fast-paced game against the Nuggets on the second night. Win those, and this will be a distant, ugly memory.

(Those who want to rip into Mario Chalmers for his back-to-the-norm zero-point, three-turnover effort, feel free.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Much more like it

While you could say that the Heat's recent success has come against Western Conference teams, and that it would be a lot more comforting to see Miami win like this against either a Boston or Chicago to prove it can come out of the East, there are way, way, way too many positive signs of late to say anything negative about what's going on.

For starters, Dwyane Wade has taken something of a leading position when it comes to scoring, whether it's late in games like he did against the Lakers or throughout games, which he did in the other two. There's less concern about sharing with LeBron James or deferring to LeBron at any point, which is the only way he knows how to play. LeBron is still finding his spots to score, which is encouraging, and distributing at the same time.

Of course, there's the play of Chris Bosh, which if you think about it, is really a matter of effort and not necessarily getting the ball in different spots or changing up the Heat offense.

Bosh is rolling more often on screen-rolls rather than spotting up, which has worked out beautifully at times, but for the most part it's really an effort thing. He's fighting for better position, he's driving to the hole more often and he's working on getting to the foul line. He's rebounding, too, of course, which comes with effort.

The defense might be the best sign of all, and it's what should make the Heat so tough in the playoffs. If this team, particularly LeBron and Wade, are engaged defensively for the better part of 48 minutes, it's very tough to beat them. And you have to assume that will be the case in the playoffs. These games have felt like playoff intensity, at least from the Heat's side of things.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Back at it

Dwyane Wade hadn't been getting chances to close out games for the Heat, and he said he wanted the chance. Erik Spoelstra ran some plays for him, yes. But Wade's defense was just as important in closing out that game. Wade el heat

That clean pick of Kobe that ended with LeBron James' dunk might have been his most impressive defensive play of the season, considering it was Kobe and the moment in came, and that's saying a lot.

But the Heat was a lot more than Wade on Thursday. Mike Miller looked just as involved and active as he has in previous games. The only difference is a few shots went in. And Mike Bibby did more of what he's supposed to do, hitting a couple of threes and not turning the ball over in 22 minutes. Chris Bosh played aggressively, which is something you would think he'd continue after that result against that team.

It's kind of funny, actually, that the Heat had the support on Thursday, while the Lakers bench looked terrible outside of Lamar Odom.

I said way back in the preseason that Steve Blake and Matt Barnes weren't as significant additions as everyone said they were. And I know Barnes just got back recently, but he and Blake combined for five points, all on free throws. And Shannon Brown did nothing.

You'd hope this kind of win, after such a frustrating five-game losing streak, can catapult the Heat again. It's clear now the kind of effort it takes to win against quality teams, and the Grizzlies are playing very well right now heading into Saturday's game here.

Wondering if Spoelstra might consider starting Zydrunas Ilgauskas again. He's more effective on the offensive boards than Erick Dampier and he's not awful defending inside. He held his own against Andrew Bynum. And he gives the Heat an offensive element that Dampier doesn't, which opens things up for the big three. Z definitely was the more effective center on Thursday.

 


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