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20 posts from May 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pace and prediction

Keep hearing talk about the Heat being able to let loose offensively in this series against the Mavericks because their defense isn't as good as that of the Bulls or Celtics.

Well, I don't subscribe to the theory that this will be an up-and-down series. Now, I understand the idea that three-point misses can turn into fastbreaks, but the Mavs shoot good three-point shots, they don't randomly chuck them up there.

Besides that, though, the Mavericks don't turn the ball over a ton (12.7 TO a game in the playoffs), and that's what really sparks fastbreaks.

As for the offensive end for Miami, no the Mavericks won't pose the same challenge as the Bulls. But the Mavericks tend to junk up their defense. They'll throw a zone in there, they'll mix up their pick-and-roll defense. All of it could very easily confuse the Heat for 2-3 minutes at a time. And that's all it takes to keep the score a little lower and the pace a little slower.

Still, the Heat's main guys have a way of figuring things out, eventually. It might not be in Game 1, which will probably feature some confusion from the Heat offense, but as the series progresses, the Big Three will find ways to attack whatever defense the Mavs throw at them.

Still don't believe it'll be a high-scoring series, but I believe the Heat has a high enough basketball IQ overall to solve the Mavericks defense.

As for the series, if the format was still 2-2-1-1-1, I'd say Heat in five. But with the 2-3-2 format for the Finals, gotta go with Heat in six.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dirk stopper?

Before we get to the question of who guards Dirk Nowitzki late in games, let's get to the Heat's new rallying cry in this series: Erase the ink!

Apparently, that tattoo of the Larry O'Brien Trophy on Jason Terry's right bicep will be removed if the Mavericks don't win the championship. Not that the Heat needs anymore motivation, but.... TerryTattoo

As for that "who covers Dirk" thing, the popular opinion is that LeBron James is going to cover Dirk late in ballgames, the same way he essentially shut down Derrick Rose by defending him late in fourth quarters.

Here's the only potential problem with that: The Mavs have a very set lineup to close out games. They go with Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler and Dirk. The Heat's ideal closing lineup would be Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Chris Bosh, Dywane Wade and LeBron.

So let's just match up Kidd and Terry with Wade and Miller. Then assume Bosh sticks to Chandler. That means if LeBron has to defend Dirk, Udonis is responsible for Marion.

Now, Haslem has guarded a handful of small forwards in the past. And his lateral quickness isn't bad. And it's unlikely the Mavericks run anything for Marion anyway, because they only seem to do that when he has a smaller player on his back that he can back down and shoot over.

But it's still a potentially problematic matchup when you consider that Udonis is used to dealing with bigs, and boxing out bigs, and staying in the paint with bigs. Marion could create issues with his athleticism and quickness if matched up with Udonis.

Now, if defending Dirk with LeBron is clearly the best option, it's a challenge I'm sure Udonis will be up to, and he'll very likely hold his own. But if it's a toss-up as to whether LeBron or UD is the better option against Dirk, chances are that Erik Spoelstra will stick with Udonis on Dirk down the stretch and let LeBron help off Marion if he's on the perimeter.

Of course, the Heat could go with an entirely different closing lineup -- and based on Spo's flexibility this season, he's not set on any singular lineup. But it's something to think about if you assume those are these two teams' closing lineups.

Bounce back potential

Just a guess here, but Dwyane Wade must be sick and tired of hearing about him possibly being injured.

It's more than a guess, actually. He's clearly annoyed with people wondering if he's hurt. Dwyane doesn't even like to talk about his injuries when he is actually hurt, so he must be extremely annoyed answering questions about his health just because he shot 37 percent with 15 turnovers in his last three games against the Bulls.

Wade says he basically had some dead legs, at least that's what he was overheard saying after the Game 5 clincher (something to the effect of "I gotta get my legs back under me.").

Wade-stevenson “I had bumps and bruises then if anyone remembers that (2006 Finals) series,” Wade said Sunday. “Obviously I’m five years older, so I’m not as fast and athletic as I was when I was 24, but when it comes to my body, I mean, playing this many games everyone’s body has taken a beating. But it’s mental right now more than physical at this point.”

So these days to rest before Tuesday's Game 1 will certainly help him.

As will all the talk his struggles.

Remember how people spoke about Dwyane's struggles against Boston during the regular season leading up to that Game 1 of the second round?

In large part because of that, Wade was determined to perform in that game. He answered with 38 points on 21 shots, with five assists, three steals and two blocks.

He did say it's mental at this point. And if Wade's determined to show he's fine, the Mavericks will probably be the victims.

It's not as if Wade shot the ball poorly against the Mavs in the regular season. He was 16 of 33 (48.4 percent) combined in the two games against Dallas in the regular season, and got to the line 17 times (missed nine of them, though). His main problem against the Mavericks was turnovers, and that was just in the first game, when he had seven. And that was when this offense was unfamiliar and awkward.

The Mavericks will probably employ some zone in this series, which would encourage the Heat to take outside shots. Wade's easily the best on this Heat team at penetrating a zone, so he would probably have more responsibility than LeBron James against the Mavericks zone (LeBron's better at working the middle of the zone and either passing to a cutter on the baseline or hitting a mid-range shot).

If Wade has his legs under him and his quickness is there, he'll be able to break down the Mavericks zone. If the Mavs go man-to-man, he'll have to deal with DeShawn Stevenson, who's a very good one-on-one defender but not good enough to consistently stop Wade. Besides, more often than not, the Mavs run Jason Terry or even Jason Kidd at the two-guard, with J.J. Barea coming in to handle the point. Kidd is a quality defender still, but he does it with strength, good positioning, good anticipation and quick hands. He's not exactly quick anymore, and Wade has had some success against him.

Wade's biggest issue will likely be once he gets to the paint. Tyson Chandler is terrific at altering shots, and he's big enough to flat-out block Wade's shot. So he might attempt a good number of pull-up jumpers or floaters over the big man.

Either way, with all this time to rest his legs, work on his strategy and listen to those who are questioning him, there's a good chance Wade will have a strong Game 1.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Finals bound

This wouldn’t have happened in five games had Dwyane Wade not gotten himself out of this severe slump.

Everyone wondered whether he was hurt throughout the game, because he’d turned the ball over nine times, because he was indecisive, because he had missed dunks in each of the two previous games.

But he was basically just in a slump, and he had to shake himself out. In a hurry.

He said it took a couple of baskets, just seeing the ball go through the rim, to get him going at just the right time.

The first started with a play called for him, even though he’d been struggling so badly. So Erik Spoelstra can be credited with starting to get Wade going.

“It’s small things,” Wade said after his press conference and before leaving the United Center for the last time this season. “I’m struggling at that point and coach called a play to give me the ball. That confidence was within me right there.

“Once I was able to hit that one, it was like, ‘OK.’ Then I was able to get the and-one. As a scorer, you see the ball go in the basket, that’s all I need.”

That’s all he needed, indeed. Because he had enough confidence to take a step-back three-pointer a couple possessions later, with the Heat down seven and looking like its late flurry wouldn’t be enough.

He felt a hit from Derrick Rose on his arm before his release, so he had to adjust the shot and hope he heard the whistle. He did both, and as a bonus, the shot went in.

“Oh, I felt it,” Wade said of Rose’s tap. “I had to change my shot a little bit, because he hit my arm. I had to get it up more, I didn’t want it to be short. When I released it, I was like, ‘Man, it’s on line.’ But no question he hit me.”

LeBron James and Chris Bosh did the rest of the work, with LeBron hitting more huge shots in these playoffs, and playing stingy defense against Rose, getting a key steal and getting a block on the game’s final shot attempt.

It was such a blitz by the Heat that both superstars had to watch the final minutes again just to realize what happened. And Wade said he’ll watch the game again,.

“Twice,” he said. “I don’t remember what happened at the end of the game, like all the plays. So I’m gonna watch it on the plane. And it was late, so my kids weren’t able to watch it. So I’ll watch it with them, and that’s it.”

After that, it’s Mavericks film.

It’s amazing how much better both these teams are than the two teams that faced off in 2006. The Mavs are better at every position, it seems, and Jason Terry appears to be a more consistent shooter than he was back then as well.

The Heat has a number of players it can throw at Dirk Nowitzki, including Bosh, Udonis Haslem, LeBron and maybe even Joel Anthony, if he can avoid going for Dirk’s pump fakes.

Too early for a prediction, but just like it was fitting that the Heat faced the Celtics in these playoffs because they were a nemesis, just like it was fitting the Heat faced the Bulls because Chicago was 3-0 against Miami, it’s also fitting that the Heat faces these Mavericks in the Finals, because Miami didn’t beat Dallas this year.

It’s as if the Heat is able to answer every lingering question in these playoffs. The Mavericks are the only Western Conference playoff team the Heat hadn’t beaten this year.

Two teams playing incredible basketball led by their respective stars. Should be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Closing time

The luxury of having three true superstars may have never been as meaningul to the Heat than it did Tuesday in Game 4.

Dwyane Wade was surprisingly bad, despite having his late-night shooting session late Monday, LeBron James hit an ugly cold spell highlighted by an airball three-pointer, and the rest of the Heat wasn't shooting particularly well as the Bulls took an 11-point lead in the third quarter. Bron hips

But unlike Derrick Rose, who has little to no help when defense is as intense as it is in this series, Wade had teammates to carry him past this particularly horrendous showing.

Chris Bosh is proving emotions don't get the best of him, even in the most stressful of situations. He had 10 huge points in the fourth quarter and overtime combined, he got to the foul line 11 times for the game and he was the only member of the Big Three to shoot 50 percent (6 of 12). Despite being largely ignored in the first half (actually he had to adjust to a more aggressive Bulls defense), Bosh finished with 22.

And of course, James was spectacular down the stretch, scoring 13 of his 35 after the third quarter. Toss in the surprising performance from Mike Miller (12 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes) and Wade had just enough support to make up for his unusual performance.... (Miller, btw, was a +36 on the night, which is ridiculous. According to NBA.com, twenty other players have had a +36 or higher this season. Their teams won those games by an average of 40.4 points. Miller was +36 in an 8-point win.)

Just to emphasize the importance of such support, Rose had a largely awful night himself, needing 27 shots to score 23 points with just six assists, three rebounds and seven turnovers.

He didn't have the player next to him that was capable of making up for that. Luol Deng had a decent night with 20 points on 8 of 16 shooting, but he works largely off Rose. It's basically up to Rose to get Deng good looks.

Other telling numbers in this game: The Heat shot 38 free throws to Chicago's 22, prompting Tom Thibodeau to tweak the officials after the game, saying Rose didn't get enough calls.

The Heat only needed 12 assists for their 32 field goals, while the Bulls had 20 assists for their 35 field goals. Just goes to show how the Bulls need offensive execution just a bit more than Miami because LeBron and Wade and Bosh create so often for themselves.

Wade's four blocks were phenomenal, while LeBron's defense on Rose was critical. Just like his defense on Paul Pierce in Game 4 against Boston, it's what saved LeBron after a late turnover (offensive foul) in a critical game.





Monday, May 23, 2011

Bosh goes boom

Chris Bosh had so many highlight moments in that Game 3 that it's hard to pick a most impressive segment.

It might just have to be his entire fourth quarter, which is a time of game Bosh rarely is dominant. That's normally reserved for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, known to Carlos Boozer as the Heat's only two great players.

Bosh hit a variety of jump shots, each one, no matter how difficult, looked like it was good from the Bosh 34 second he released them. He was hot, and he knew it.

The back-to-back pick-and-roll plays with Wade were pretty, especially the second one that included a spinning dribble and two-handed dunk.

Then he helped put the game away, essentially, with a tough rebound off a Luol Deng miss, a pair of free throws 16 seconds later, and a blocked shot of a Boozer layup.

It was encouraging to see Bosh have a second 30-point game in this series, and it's probably no coincidence that he's doing it in this series, after Boozer's comments.

Bosh offered mixed messages when asked if that motivates him in this series.

"Not really," he said. "We’ve been through so much in the regular season, that comments don’t really affect me too much. You can find inspiration in all different ways.

"It does nothing but help. I think about it when I’m shooting."

Sooo, he doesn't think about it, except when he's shooting? He just doesn't want to start a war of words. Guaranteed Bosh is highly motivated by that omission. He had two 30-point games all season. Now he has had two in three games. Not a coincidence, not a matchup advantage. Heck, Joakim Noah is one of the best defensive big men in the league.

Wade said Chris has been a different player since he heard of the Boozer comments.

"Any great player is going to respond." Wade said. "I was glad he said that about Chris because he came in with a different focus."

Bosh's performance was particularly big because Wade was far off his game (17 shots for 17 points, four turnovers, three assists) and because LeBron was being a facilitator (10 assists) instead of attacking much. LeBron said that he saw two defenders every time, so he didn't want to force it. And you could tell at the start of the fourth quarter that LeBron was making sure that plays drawn up for Bosh would be executed properly.

Couple nice games from Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers, also.Haslem took a big charge, and Chalmers played solid defense on Derrick Rose, who had two FGAs in the fourth quarter.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What Miller may mean

It's almost unfair, really, if this whole Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller thing works out for the Heat from here on out.

You're not supposed to get significantly better in the middle of the Eastern Conference Finals. And if Haslem remains part of the regular rotation and Miller contributes without being significantly affected by his thumbs, then the Heat will be better at the end of this series than it was at the start. Gators four

We all know what Haslem's role is going to be if he can handle the minutes. He's a defender, rebounder, mid-range shooter and fast-break finisher.

(Just for fun, a photo of the Florida 1998 recruiting class. UD, Miller, Teddy Dupay and LaDarius Halton)

Miller, though, we really haven't figured out yet -- at least as it pertains to this offense. In his 18 minutes in Game 2, Miller attempted only two shots but still made an impact on the game with seven rebounds, an assist, a steal and consistent effort. The longer he's out there, the more three opportunities will open up, and eventually he'll hit a few.

More importantly, though, if Miller remains a regular, he'll be part of a solid defensive lineup against the Bulls.

Primarily at the end of halves, the Bulls tend to run pick-and-rolls with Derrick Rose and either Kyle Korver or Luol Deng. The Rose-Korver screen-roll is particularly damaging -- and it's probably why they use it at ends of games -- because Korver needs little space to free up for a jumper, and we all know what Rose can do if the defense doesn't commit two guys to him.

But if the Heat has a trio of Miller, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James out there, the Heat can easily switch that pick-and-roll, taking away some of its threat. Ideally, Wade or LeBron would be on Korver and Rose, respectively, so if they switch there's no drop-off. Miller allows that to be an option because he's big enough to guard Deng. But even if Miller is part of that screen-roll defense, he can even switch on Rose, and the Heat's defense doesn't truly suffer as a result (anyone guarding Rose one-on-one would rely on help anyway).

It's an added benefit of having Miller out there, but in Game 2 his main reason for being on the floor was to keep Mario Chalmers off it. Erik Spoelstra has faith in Chalmers, and very well could go right back to him as the backup point in the first half on Sunday. But even if that's the case, he will have a short leash, with Spo ready to replace him with Miller, like he did for the second half Wednesday.

For the series, Chalmers is 4 of 8 shooting for nine points with zero assists, one rebound and six turnovers. Chicago's C.J. Watson has pretty much stifled Chalmers, forcing him into awful mistakes, and Chalmers has gotten himself into other bad spots, like when he floated across the baseline in the first half Wednesday with no one to pass it to, eventually just turning it over. Miller has had a much bigger impact in seven less minutes for the series (10 rebounds in 21 minutes).

Of course, the Bulls will adjust to both the presence of Haslem and Miller. But other than keeping a body on Haslem in the fastbreak and one on Miller when there's a rebounding opportunity, there's not much the Bulls can do to counter these two, because they get most of their production off effort or well-executed Heat offense. They won't be a surprise from here on out, but that doesn't mean they won't be able to contribute significantly -- especially if their minutes get a slight bump.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Surprise party

Go ahead and choose which one of these elements from Wednesday's game was most surprising, because this game was full of shockers.
--Udonis Haslem's performance: It wasn't so much that UD was able to score 13 points with five UD red rebounds, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot. It was the way he did it, and the timeliness of it. And that he managed to play 23 minutes in two long bursts. 
He single-handedly revived the Heat in the first half, and he helped the Heat maintain a lead while the Chicago crowd was about to explode.
Haslem had a facial dunk over Keith Bogans and another transition dunk on Derrick Rose. But it might have been his two jumpers -- two crucial jumpers -- that were most difficult. He hadn't hit one of those since before the foot injury, and to hit a pair in those spots in the second half was downright gutsy.
--The rest of the rotation: Erik Spoelstra spent the first half trying out players like women try on new shoes. But by the second half, he realized what was working. UD, of course. But also Mike Miller, who played 18 minutes, essentially in place of Mario Chalmers. Miller and Haslem, who weren't fully in the rotation until Wednesday, were the only Heat bench players to play more than five minutes. Meanwhile, Mike Bibby played 35 minutes. That's Mike Bibby, 35 minutes!
--The rebounding numbers: The Heat hadn't outrebounded the Bulls in four tries, and in the last game were embarrassed on the boards. This game, with Joel Anthony only playing 22 minutes and Jamaal Magloire playing five minutes, the Heat outrebounded the Bulls 45-41.
LeBron James had 10, Dwyane Wade nine, Chris Bosh eight and Miller had seven in his 18 minutes. The Bulls still managed 17 offensive rebounds, but that's because they missed 54 shots.
--The Heat defense: The Bulls shot 34 percent from the field and scored all of four points in the final 8:44 of the game. And here's how those four points were scored: Taj Gibson had his shot blocked going up for a dunk, and was hanging on the rim as it bounced off the backboard and back through the rim. So, technically, it shouldn't have counted.
The next two points were also Gibson, and again he had his shot blocked, but this time Anthony accidentally tapped it into the Bulls basket with the side of his hand. So if not for a missed call and an own-goal, the Bulls don't score at all in the final 8:44. What was Charles Barkley saying about the Bulls having the best defense he's ever seen?
This Heat defense is pretty good itself.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


As expected, there's a lot of panicking going on with Heat fans after that Game 1 performance, and there is plenty of reason to be concerned.

It appears the Bulls rebounding advantage will be a constant in this series, as it has been in the regular season. And it appears as if the Bulls defense, devised by a good defensive mind in Tom Thibodeau, has a formula for stopping LeBron James, and quite possibly also Dwyane Wade.

Bron and wade Well, there's also plenty of reason to remain optimistic, if you're a Heat fan, despite that Game 1 performance.

Let's start with the idea that Thibs' defense is capable of stopping James. It has, yes, just like a handful of other defenses in the league have at certain times in James' career. And as good buddy Howard Beck of the NY Times pointed out recently,Thibs' defense is difficult to penetrate for James.

But overall, the performance you saw Sunday night is not the type of performance LeBron has against that defense.

Go back to last postseason when Thibs was an assistant in Boston and the Celtics knocked out the Cavs in six games. Take out the infamous Game 5, in which LeBron was accused of quitting when he shot 3 of 14 and scored just 15 points, and his averaged are impressive.

In the other five games, he managed to put up 29.2 points, 10 rebounds, 7.2 assists a game and shoot 48 percent. Yes, his turnover totals were high, but you had to expect that from a player who was responsible for doing everything on that team. And in this regular season, in the two games LeBron played against the Bulls, LeBron averaged 27.5 points on 56 percent shooting.

Same type of thing goes for Wade. Last postseason against Boston, he averaged 33 points on 56 percent shooting against Thibs' defense. He did a lot of that with efficient outside shooting, but it's certainly something that's well within his arsenal.

Point is, don't assume that because they had one bad game against this defense that it's some sort of pattern.

As for the rebounding issues, that's going to be harder to fix. The Heat averaged less rebounds against the Bulls (33 a game) than it did against any other team in the regular season. But there is also reason to believe that LeBron and Dwyane themselves can help remedy that as well.

As Erik Spoelstra put it, those two are pretty much the best rebounders at their positions, and both have put up big rebounding numbers in this postseason already.

They're going to need to hit the boards when the help defense leaves the bigs out of position. They're certainly athletic enough to make up for the height discrepancy.

"We have to understand how important it is to finish, to make the second effort, to make that last rotation," Spo said. "A lot times that’ll be the block out and rebound.

"They’re the better rebounding players at their position, and they’ve done that all season long."

So there's some reason to believe the Heat can beat the Bulls, even if the previous four attempts have been unsuccessful.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Is it as simple as effort?

The first three meeting between these two teams came down to single possessions, basically, and this one was a blowout because of what looked like simple effort.

The Heat's bigs were outworked by the Bulls bigs, and the Bulls perimeter players were more disruptive defensively than were the Heat perimeter players.

So what's the solution? UD shrug

Well, other than just trying harder, the Heat might just be going to its go-to effort guy. That would be Udonis Haslem. It's difficult to expect extended segments of basketball from UD, but based on the fact that he played the final minutes of Sunday's game, you can pretty much infer that Erik Spoelstra's plan is to include Haslem into the rotation Wednesday.

Now, as much as the game came down to rebounding and poor performances from both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it also didn't help much that Spo went to a combination that hasn't seen the floor in forever -- if ever. Playing Jamaal Magloire might have sounded like a good idea, giving Derrick Rose another big body to go through before getting to the rim. But Cat can't rotate nearly fast enough to affect the lightning-quick Rose, or move quickly enough to keep the Bulls bigs off the boards.

Now, going to Udonis could help, because again, effort is his game and even though he's smaller, he's a rebounder and can hang with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. But he is in no shape to do that for 30 minutes or more. But when Udonis can't do it, the Heat might need to stick to the smaller lineup when Joel Anthony is off the floor. Go with Chris Bosh at center and LeBron at the four. The Heat is quicker that way and can be disruptive defensively. And when LeBron is asked to rebound, he normally responds very well. It would be up to Bosh and LeBron to hit the boards and keep the Bulls off the offensive boards in that scenario, but that's not too much to ask of those guys.

If effort is the simple answer, then Game 1 was essentially a wake-up call for the Heat. If the issues go much deeper than that, then it will be evident again in Game 2. You can say that the Heat's offense looked awful against the Bulls, but then again, that's not the first time that's happened. The Heat offense has a way of recovering, starting with LeBron and Wade playing more like themselves.

We'll see if that all comes together.



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