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18 posts from April 2011

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Keys to C's

If there's an obvious area of improvement available for the Heat against the Celtics, it's the play of Dwyane Wade. His numbers, as we'll all know quite well by Sunday, against Boston this season include 12.8 points and 28.1 percent shooting in four games. Even in his "best" game against the C's, he was only 4 of 12 from the field and had eight assists.

Wade explains his lack of production by saying he has different responsibilities than he did against the Celtics last year, when he was asked to score as often as possible. He says he has to stick with Ray Allen more, which takes away from his offense. And that he has to be a facilitator rather than an attacker so he doesn't lose Ray in transition. And that he has to rebound more often.

Here's the problem with that explanation. Ray had 20 in the Heat's first meeting with Miami. Then he dropped 35 on Miami in the second meeting. If Wade was supposed to keep up with Ray, he certainly wasn't doing a great job with that. Wade hot hand

Meanwhile, Dwyane averaged just 3.8 rebounds against Boston, which is less than his season average.

So as much as he wants to explain away his struggles against this team, it doesn't fully explain why he can't shoot a lick against Boston all of a sudden.

Chances are Dwyane's going to return to more of his usual self in this series. He just needs to make sure that when he attacks the basket something good comes out of it -- either a high-perentage shot or a trip to the free throw line. That way Ray can't leak out in transition and burn the Heat. That's much easier said than done.

The other option for Dwyane is to work his mid-range game. That way even if he misses, it gives him time to recover defensively. And if you remember back to last year's playoffs against Boston, Dwyane's outside game was working quite well. He even nailed threes at a good rate (who can forget the moment he was talking to his hot hand?).

If the Heat's going to succeed in this series, the team's going to need a productive Wade. So he's going to have to find that balance: play aggressive offense while still keeping a mindful eye on Allen.

Wade can pretty much do anything he sets his mind to on a basketball court. So I fully expect him to find a way to put up his average offensive numbers while still doing a decent job on Ray Allen.

There's more than just Dwyane, of course. If we assume LeBron James can put up similar numbers to his regular season averages against Boston (28.8, 6.5, 6.5) and that Wade can recover, then the Heat might not need huge performances from Chris Bosh. But as the Celtics see it, Bosh is the difference between the Heat winning easily and forcing a close game. Kevin Garnett said when Bosh has a big game, the Heat blow out teams.

Well, Bosh hasn't had a huge game against the Celtics yet. His best was a 24 and 10 game on Feb. 10, which was a three-point Heat loss. But Bosh has been efficient shooting the ball against Boston. Despite his 3 of 11 showing on opening night, Bosh has shot 55 percent against KG and the Celtics. The Heat might want to see if Bosh can keep that up and feed him early and often against Garnett and Glen Davis.

Garnett and Davis are probably the Celtics' best help defenders, along with Rajon Rondo. So if you face up Bosh against one of them, it keeps them from being that effective help defender. If Bosh can put up 24 and 10 in any game in this series, chances are the Heat's winning that game, because this team is playing differently than it was on Feb. 10.

Rondo defense Erik Spoelstra says he's sticking with the starting lineup that includes Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Bibby. While those two were problematic against the Sixers, it might not be that much of an issue in this series. For starters, the threat of Bibby's three-pointer is what's important. Let's assume his shooting won't stay as bad as it was against Philly. If he hits his first shot or two, it'll force Rondo to stay home rather than play center field and help his teammates defensively. That's ALL Rondo did when Carlos Arroyo was in there for Miami early in the season. And chances are he won't truly respect Mario Chalmers unless he's hot from outside. Bibby might be Miami's best chance to force Rondo to stay home.

Of course, that means Bibby's going to have to defend Rondo on the other end. But given that the Heat usually play off Rondo, it means Bibby's not going to have to actually "stick" to Rondo.

As for Big Z, as long as Jermaine O'Neal is out on the floor, Z is perfectly capable of making an impact. Jermaine isn't quick or explosive anymore, so that's not a mismatch in Boston's favor. And Z can work the offensive boards as well.

Finally, there's the Shaquille O'Neal factor. No one knows what kind of condition he'll be in if he does play. But if I'm Miami, I'd want Shaq to try to play. He'll be out of rhythm offensively, and he'll be a liability defensively.

What he'll do best is be a screener for Allen and Pierce, and he's obviously tough to get around. And Shaq will also be the beneficiary of Rondo's penetration, because he'll get some easy baskets. But there's still a good chance Shaq will be entirely out of rhythm, and there's always the chance he'll hurt himself again. Doubtful he'll be a big factor if he does even play.

Oh, and here's guessing you won't see Mike Miller at all unless the new rotation fails miserably. As for Udonis Haslem, if he does come back in this series, it'll probably be late in the series. Otherwise, the Heat might need to get past Boston for Haslem to get back into the fold.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Breakfast leftovers

It's human nature to base your feelings about a team on the last thing you've seen from that team. But there are a couple of reasons not to assume you'll see Wednesday night's version of the Heat against the Celtics.

First, every series takes on an identity of its own. You can't assume the Heat will play the same way against the Celtics as it did against Philly. Nor can you assume that the Celtics, who played against the defenseless Knicks, are as good as they looked in that series.

There's a real good chance the Heat was playing the toughest opponent of the top seeds in the East. The Knicks were clearly the worst. The Pacers looked good by sticking with the Bulls, but the Sixers were the most disciplined team, had a terrific defensive game plan and had a few legitimate scoring threats.

Mario celebrate Second, the Heat we saw in that Game 5 against the Sixers just doesn't show up very often. The 30 three-point attempts wasn't so much the Heat just giving in to the Sixers defensive game plan. It just happened that Mario Chalmers was confident in his shot, and it was one of those games where both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade decided to jack up a few to see if they were feeling it. Toss in James Jones' threes and the fact that Eddie House played a handful of minutes, next thing you know you're up to 30 three-pointers (not to mention that one Chris Bosh threw up late in the shot clock).

Against the Celtics for the season, the Heat averaged 17.5 threes a game. The problem was the Heat only hit 28.6 percent of those shots against Boston. To counter that, the Heat did get to the free throw line almost 29 free throws a game against the C's in the regular season, which would indicate that Miami can get to the rim against this defense.

Here's the problem when it comes to Boston. The Celtics execute so well offensively that they attempt less threes but at a much better rate. The Celtics shot 15 threes a game in four games against Miami, hitting a ridiculous 45 percent against the Heat. That more than made up for the fact the C's got to the line six less times a game than Miami.

Two players the Heat hasn't really unleashed on the Celtics are Joel Anthony and Chalmers. Anthony averaged about 20 minutes against Boston, which is about 10 less than he's playing these days. And Anthony is just a different player now than he was earlier in the season. I mean, he not only looked to shoot the game's most important shot, but then he made the two free throws after he was fouled Wednesday.  Ray allen

And Chalmers only had one game against Boston where he played more than 13 minutes. And that was just 20 minutes on April 10. Chalmers can be, at the very least, disruptive against Rajon Rondo and the Celtics offense. He probably should stay away from guarding Ray Allen because Chalmers has a tendency of either getting caught up in screens or just trying to cheat around them and getting burned. But he can play center field well (play off Rondo while bothering the rest of the Celtics players), which is what the Heat will ask of anyone that's guarding Rondo.

If you include significantly better shooting performances from Wade in this series than he had against Boston in the regular season -- and a possible appearance from Udonis Haslem, and you're looking at a matchup that should be nothing like the regular season games between these two teams.

Still say the Heat win it in seven games.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Starting issues

One of the primary points of conversation since the Game 4 loss has been the play of the starting lineup, which has been outscored 131-102 in the first four games of the series.

You'd think the problem is the defense, given that the Sixers have jumped out to big leads three times in this series. And while that is an issue, the Heat's offense is what's struggled most with that lineup.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas has done his part on the offensive boards (his postseason numbers are actually better than his regular season stats so far), but he's not getting those open 18-footers we're used to seeing him get when he starts. Bibby stare

Mike Bibby, on the other hand, hasn't been hitting at his usual pace, which is probably the biggest issue for the starters, especially when Bibby's presence on the defensive end isn't helping much either.

Bibby has hit just 4 of 19 three-pointers in the series (21 percent), which is way worse than his 46 percent clip from the regular season. Both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James continue to encourage Bibby to shoot the ball, so we'll see if this cold streak is a brief one or if it lingers.

Erik Spoelstra has no intention of switching up the starting lineup to include either Mario Chalmers, who played 31 minutes Sunday, or Joel Anthony, who's the most used center in this series.

Spo might have another option soon. Probably not for Wednesday's Game 5, but quite possibly for the next series against the team no one's allowed to speak of until after this series is over.

Udonis Haslem remains confident that he'll be back in these playoffs. He practiced with the team Tuesday, and it was a physical practice. And he believes it's a matter of "when" not "if" he'll be back. That would help the Heat's flexibility with frontcourt matchups, not to mention rebounding.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trust issues?

Erik Spoelstra will say no, and of course one road playoff game isn't enough to judge, but the Heat was essentially limited to six players Sunday, with James Jones, Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony joining the Big Three in significant minutes.    Spo hips

Mike Bibby went 0 of 6 from the floor and struggled defensively, and Zyrdunas Ilgauskas played token starter's minutes and didn't produce. With Mike Miller out of the rotation, for the time being at least, it limited the team's options and forced all member of the Big Three to play more than 40 minutes.

The idea, of course, was that it was OK to wear out those guys as long as it meant a win and a week to recover. Instead, it resulted in a loss and another game Wednesday while the older Celtics get their much needed rest after sweeping the Knicks.

The reason for the loss also had to do with trust, as Chris Bosh will explain.

“Sometimes you get a little tight,” Bosh said in regard to the Heat's lack of offensive execution. “It is tougher to execute down the stretch. When the attention is focused on the last minute of the game, it’s tough to execute your offense. It’s easy to trust when you’re up 2-0, 3-0.

“We’re gonna have to trust each other.”

Chances are that's just a minor slip-up. Chances are that Bibby will shoot his usual percentage and Big Z will hit the offensive boards again and Dwyane Wade and LeBron James won't resort to hero basketball again when games get tight.

But this game was just a reminder that it still can happen to this group, even when it looks like everything was going in its favor.

.... Oh, and feel free to go off about LeBron taking and missing the Heat's final shot. That topic had been dormant for some time now anyway.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Smell the gym

Quick correction from the previous entry... When Doug Collins was complaining about one foul being called in 120 minutes, it was in reference to Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who combined to play about 120 minutes Thursday and were called for one foul combined.

On to Friday, there really wasn't much to it, other than Erik Spoelstra holding a light practice so his team could "smell the gym."

Spoelstra said he expects Mike Miller's role to be the same as it was Thursday, which means he won't play for the second straight game. He's totalled six minutes in the series, though Spoelstra insists the team will still need Miller as the playoffs go on. We'll see about that.

On a more positive note, Spoelstra was very complimentary of his centers, who were a huge part of Thursday's win. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had eight rebounds, all offensive, while Joel Anthony got plenty of credit for shutting down Thaddeus Young as well as for spearheading the Heat's defensive effort.

"I enjoy looking at his boxscore after every single game and seeing how unremarkable it looks," Spo said of Joel. "His energy is contagious. Hustle is a talent. It’s a skill."

As for the point guard play, which was less than stellar against the Sixers, to the point where the Heat finished the game without a point guard on the floor, Spoelstra said it shouldn't be a signal of things to come.

"I’m not too worried about it," he said. "That doesn’t affect my trust level about either one of them."

Mario Chalmers spent most of Thursday's game listening to Wade and LeBron yell at him for missed defensive assignments or poor offensive decisions. And he sat and talked with Pat Riley for a few minutes after practice was over Friday. He followed up his strong Game 1 with a pair of semi-stinkers in Games 2 and 3. Here's guessing he's due to finish out the series strong. At the very least, he'll want Dwyane and LeBron to stop yelling at him.

Wade's turn

Feeling better, Dwyane Wade finally reminded everyone just how good he can be at this time of year.

Wade said there were just more opportunities for him, but it was obvious he created those opportunities. And he was able to because he felt like himself.

"I felt a lot better," Wade said. "I think my teammates could see it. I was here early ready to go"

Wade went down temporarily, holding his left shoulder. Officially, it's nothing to worry about, he said.

"I had shoulder surgery before, so when I get hit a certain way it hurts," he said. "I'll just get some treatment for the next two games. It didn't affect me in the second half, my aggressiveness, so I'll be fine."


Doug Collins is quite savvy, but he might not be able to avoid a fine on this one. It was almost too smooth.

In the middle of his postgame press conference, he mentioned that the officials have called two fouls on Wade and LeBron James in a span of 120 minutes. It drew a chuckle out of the media members on hand, who then pressed him for more, but he didn't bite.

Collins did, however, say the exact same thing to the officials who he crossed paths with after the press conference. One of the officials listened but didn't really respond. It was a rather awkward situation, actually. But then Doug went on to say the same thing after exchanging pleasantries with Heat assistant coach Ron Rothstein. Collins might want to let that go. Given that Wade is normally guarding a shooter and LeBron is guarding a gimpy Andre Iguodala, it only makes sense that they're not fouling.


Sickest play of the game came when LeBron went nasty behind-the-back dribble on the break against Jrue Holiday and then shoveled a pass to Wade as he was falling down. Bron strong

"You missed the between-the-legs part first," LeBron said.

My bad.

James said it was "all part of the theatrics," but was pretty proud of the play.

Wade said he could tell it was coming once he saw LeBron gather the ball before he fell.

"I just wanted to grab it and dunk it real quick and give him a congratulations on the move, more than anything," Wade said.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

UD or no UD

As this series continues, there remains that lingering question of whether or not Udonis Haslem will return either this series or the next one, and if so, whose minutes will he take.

Haslem still reports some soreness in the foot, but figures he could be ready soon if needed, especially if it's for five-minute segments or so. UD foot

The problem is, whose minutes will he take if he does play? When he was playing, it was backing up Chris Bosh and playing some center. Well, the current group is playing well with either James Jones or LeBron James spending some time at power forward. And for him to play some center, you're talking about taking minutes away from Joel Anthony, who has been playing very well of late and is a better shot blocker than Udonis.

As the playoffs progress, you'd assume that the minutes of Bosh and James get even higher, which would mean even less opportunity for Udonis. That's not to say Udonis doesn't have something significant to offer to the team, but tinkering with the lineup in a potential second-round matchup with Boston could be horrible timing.

Now, Udonis is probably best suited to defend Glen Davis and has a history of playing against Kevin Garnett, so that could definitely prove beneficial. But he'd have to be ready to play and not slowly working his way back.

Best case scenario for Udonis and the Heat in this scenario is for the Knicks-Celtics series to go the distance while the Heat sweeps Philly. That way the team will have a little extra practice time and get Haslem as acclimated as possible to actual game activity.

Speaking of finding minutes for someone. Are we seeing the last of Mike Miller's minutes because of his thumb injuries? He played three minutes in each of the first two games, and with Jones playing well and LeBron playing about 42 minutes a game, it looks like there's no rush for Erik Spoelstra to carve out minutes for Mike. Miller's too good a teammate to complain about it, but if he needs surgery on that left thumb, which requires months to fully heal, he should either get the surgery now and be ready for next year or be used in a capacity that can actually help the team.

Just because the team hasn't really needed him against the Sixers, it doesn't mean he won't be very useful in the next series or two (or three?).

Can't imagine it's fun being Mike Miller right now.

By the way, is it some kind of sign from above that the two guys who gave up the most money to play on this team have had frustrating, injury riddled seasons? Maybe it should be all about the money?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Feeling sweepy

I understand that Thaddeus Young might be the Sixers' most explosive player -- at least of the ones that are completely healthy -- and Evan Turner is a rookie with plenty of potential, but the fact that the two of those bench players outscored the Philadelphia starters by a score of 33-29 shows you how well the Heat defense played Monday night.

Still, there are a couple things the Heat could do better if it wants to make this an easy sweep in Philadelphia.

The three-point shooting could be better. And strangely enough, the Heat shoots significantly better from distance on the road (.384 on the road to .355 at home). A fairly big part of that is LeBron James, who shot .373 from distance on the road compared to .279 at home.

The other part is containing Young. At some point, either Lou Williams or Andre Iguodala or Jrue Holiday will have at the very least a big scoring half, if not an entire game. If you combine that with another big performance from Young, then you could get yourself in trouble. Maybe that means Joel Anthony spends more time on Young from the moment he gets in the game.

Now for the saddest part about this series, and no, it isn't Spencer Hawes. For the second straight game, Mike Miller played just three minutes because of that sore left thumb, which is every bit as bad as the right one was that required surgery.

The chances of Mike's thumb getting better with just a week's rest is obviously pretty slim, but at this point shouldn't he just be shut down until the second round? It certainly can't help that he's taking a beating, even if it is just for three minutes at a time, in a series that the Heat can win easily. We saw Eddie House play in the fourth quarter Monday, and against a team that features a small guard in Williams and a shooting specialist in Jodie Meeks -- both of whom House can guard -- it wouldn't be the worst idea to toss him out there for a few minutes and keep Miller from possibly hurting himself even more.

(Also... a brief moment of silence in remembrance of the career of Jason Williams, who annonced his retirement Monday. Who can forget his highlight reel passes and crossovers with the Kings, or how he turned his career around by quarterbacking the Heat to a title? All hail White Hot Chocolate. Or should it be Hot White Chocolate? Actually, that sounds delicious.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not all bad

LeBron James' four made field goals Saturday was a low for his first season with the Heat, but as he explained it Sunday, it didn't define his game.

"My all-around game wasn’t off, my shooting was off," he said. Lebron iggy

Makes sense. He did grab 14 rebounds -- rebounds that were crucial because of the activity of Thaddeus Young down the stretch -- he got to the foul line 14 times, and he had three blocks in there as well.

James called Saturday a "feel-out" game for him, because he noticed the Sixers played him differently than they did in the regular season.

"I’ll be ready to attack the defense better (Monday)," he said.

James might have to be a lot more aggressive Monday in Game 2, especially if Dwyane Wade misses the game with migraine headache issues. Wade missed practice Sunday, and he did miss a game with the migraines this season.

But LeBron doesn't think Wade will miss the game.

"We expect him to be here tomorrow," LeBron said. "Give him a full day today and give him a full day tomorrow."


If it seemed like James Jones was a lot more animated Saturday than he has been all season, it's because he was. Jones said he tends to unleash that type of emotion in the postseason because there's no reason to hold back.

"The regular season is an emotional roller coaster," Jones said. "It’s a marathon, not a sprint. When you get in the playoffs, it’s a sprint. Every game, you’re bringing whatever you have. You don’t leave anything in the tank because you don’t have a game tomorrow."

Jones' game also looked a bit different than usual. Jones was forced off the three-point line, so he hit a couple one-dribble pull-up shots, he came off a screen for a two-pointer, and he also made a play for a Chris Bosh bucket.

He said he knew the Sixers wouldn't leave him open, so he had to dust off the rest of his game.

"It’s not something that’s foreign because I’ve done that before," Jones said.


Funny moments from Sixers and Heat practices.

At Sixers practice on the main floor, Spencer Hawes was talking to Young about the play Saturday when Young lost his shoe and was defending Bosh.

Hawes said you'd think Bosh would go right, forcing Young to plant off his shoeless foot. Hawes basically implied that Bosh, who's left-handed, only drives to his left.

But up in Heat practice, turns out Bosh didn't even know Young was missing a shoe.

"I never look down at guys’ shoes or anything like that," he said, getting a healthy laugh out of the media members at practice. "I remember the crowd kind of groaning and moaning, and I was like, ‘What happened?’ I’m thinking there was a fight or something.

"When I’m sizing a guy up, I’m not like (leans to his right and checks out my shoes)."

Still, Bosh didn't appreciate the theory that he can't drive to his right.

"Tell them to force me (right)," he said. "I’d love them to. It’s no problem."

As for the shoeless Young, he said he had a plan for Bosh if he'd gone right on that play.

"I woulda tripped him or something," Young said with a laugh.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Random playoff thoughts

It's kind of hard to believe that Dwyane Wade hasn't been out of the first round of the playoffs since the championship season.

The Bulls bounced him and his bum shoulder in the first round in '07, then came the unspeakable season, then out in seven against the Hawks, then in five games last year.

And when you look back at his performances after the first round, it makes you wonder what he can do with this team.

In his rookie season, he went from averaging 15.4 points in the first round to 21.0 in the second round.

His second season, he averaged 31 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in the second round, then had 42 in Game 2 against the Pistons in the conference finals and 36 in Game 3. That was the series he Wade-zo was all banged up, ending with the rib muscle strain.

The championship season, he seemed to get better every round, and had probably the best Finals performance ever.

--Speaking of impressive individual series, I was looking up some numbers from LeBron James' previous playoff exits. It's amazing to look at his numbers from the six-game series loss to the Magic in the 2009 conference finals.

How did the Cavs lose with LeBron putting up 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.17 blocks a game? Probably because that team had to play Delonte West 45 minutes a game for the series (more minutes than LeBron) and the Magic shot the lights out. But still, that's an impressive line from LeBron.

--If you thought Mike Bibby's three-point shooting was impressive since he got to Miami, he may get even better in the postseason -- at least if last year is any indication. Last year Bibby jumped from a 38.9 percent three-point shooter in the regular season to a 54.2 percent three-point shooter in the playoffs. It didn't happen that way every year in his career, but it has become his specialty, so it's possible he'll only get more comfortable out there.

--Couldn't help but hear an analyst (who can remember which one says what?) predict that the Heat would make the Finals but the moment would be too much for Chris Bosh. Well, he did have an awful time in his first playoffs, shooting below 40 percent and scoring less than 18 in six games. But his next time out, he got his numbers back up to 47 percent shooting, 24 points and nine rebounds. Should be interesting to see how he does when he's out of the first round for the first time.



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