Wednesday, January 04, 2012

HEAT 118, PACERS 83: LeBron and Wade head to Atlanta in pain

Well, looks like it's time for Chris Bosh to carry the team.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are both questionable for Wednesday's game against the Hawks, which could leave Bosh the only healthy member of the Big 3 to face the team that handed the Heat its only loss of the season.

Wade missed Wednesday's game against the Pacers due to pain in his left foot and remains day-to-day. LeBron picked up the slack for Wade on Wednesday but then sprained his ankle in the third quarter leaving his status for Thursday in doubt.

Thoughts from Heat 118, Pacers 83:

--Seriously? The Pacers have six players on the all-star ballot? What the?

--Joel Anthony (along with Wade, James and Bosh, of course) was selected to the all-star ballot. What the?

--The Heat held the Pacers to one field goal in the second quarter, setting a franchise record for field goals by an opponent in a quarter. The Pacers shot 6.7 percent, which is also a new Heat record.

--Who says James Jones can't be a starter? Looked pretty good to me. He was 4 of 5 from three-point range in the first half.

--Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are really pushing each other to perform at their best. Chalmers had another great game (14 points, 3 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal in 30 minutes) and Cole chipped in 10 points and five assists (mostly in garbage time).

--Cole had six turnovers. Needs to clean that up.

--Danny Granger was 2 of 13 from the field and 1 of 7 from three-point range. What an awful game. I remember him playing much better against the Heat last season.

--Udonis Haslem continues to quietly play like a beast inside. He had 10 rebounds off the bench and is averaging 10 rebounds per game (a team high).

--Dwyane Wade wore a nice suit on the bench.

--James Jones had a trucker hat on before the game. This is a picture of that trucker hat:



Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What should James Jones' role be this season?

James Jones played 19 minutes in the season opener and was 3 of 5 from three-point range. His barrage of threes in the third quarter helped break the game open. For a player who sat out The Finals, it was a good way to start the season.

So, here's the question: How much playing time should Jones command this season? When Mike Miller and Shane Battier return to the starting lineup, Jones' minutes will decrease. Should he become a full-time towel waver again or should he take minutes away from Battier and Miller?


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Chris Bosh has muscles and other things you won't believe (or maybe you will)

When I first walked into the Heat's practice gym on Thursday, I was immediately surprised by how much muscle Chris Bosh has stacked on his frame. No, seriously, the guy looks pretty jacked. I mean, he's not Karl Malone or Charles Oakley or anything, but there's no question Bosh dedicated himself this offseason amid all the other responsibilities he had on his plate (getting married and being a newlywed and now he's expecting his second child, so it goes).

An aside: Bosh wouldn't say how much weight he's gained or even how much he bench presses. He did tell me that what he used to bench was "pretty heavy" and now it's "really heavy." Those Georgia Tech guys. Always so precise about their measurements.

"I say it’s probably a 50-pound difference — 60- to 70-pound difference," Bosh said. "No, I’m serious. I’m not joking."

Yes, before you ask, Bosh says he'll play center if need be.

So, reporters watched Bosh, Udonis Haslem and James Jones shoot jumpers for about 20 minutes and then came the day's big shocker. Mike Miller is hurt again. This time, he had hernia surgery. If you're counting, that's four surgeries for Miller since he arrived in Miami last year (two thumbs, a shoulder and now hernia). I caught up with Mike on the phone and he obviously was down about the injury but was also refreshingly upbeat at the same time.

The kneejerk reaction to Miller's injury is to assume he's gone -- that the Heat will use its amnesty exception to free itself of Miller's contract. I'm going to avoid jumping to conclusions for now. I'm fairly confident that no one else will do the same but Haslem seemed hopeful that Miller could be an important part of the team despite the recent setback.

Still, there was a lingering feeling that Miller's days might be numbered.

As for Haslem, he had a little fun with reporters (me and Mike Wallace) when we asked him about trade rumors. Haslem played dumb and asked what rumors were swirling around the league. I told him that there's a rumor that could send him to Denver in a package deal for Nene. Haslem's response was spot on:

"If I was going to go to Denver, they should have let me go last year. [WILD LAUGHTER] I could have got the extra $14 million. [DORKY REPORTERS LAUGHING AWKWARDLY] I should have just signed that last year and got the extra $14 million. You know, then sending me now for $14 million less. Now I feel cheated. That’s all. [MORE LAUGHS] I don’t pay attention to it. I didn’t know until you guys just told me." 

Seriously, does anyone really believe that the Heat is going to deal UD one year after Dwyane Wade and LeBron James both took less money to keep him? If UD was dealt, fans would feel betrayed and so would the players. Not going to happen.

Still, UD defended his value to the team.

"I haven’t heard [the rumors] here and I haven’t heard it from my agent but the bottom line is I make this team better. So, it’s up to the people upstairs to make those decisions. I make this team better. The decisions that are being made, I can’t control that. But the bottom line is, I make this team better.

"The decisions that’s being made, I can’t control those.  I can’t control the rumors, I can’t control anything. I make the team better and whatever decisions bounce around, I only worry about what you can control. The rumors, can’t control. The trades, you can’t control. What you can control is how hard you work to get back from injury like I had to do. When I came back from injury, what I brought to the team. What we did to get through the Chicago series. That’s all I can control. I can’t control anything else."

UD makes a good case for himself. But, the way I see it, he's understating his true worth. UD brings team chemistry, toughness and familiarity to the team that cannot be measured in a box score. (Ahh, but let me stop before I start sounding like a coach.)

That chemistry was apparent when Haslem talked about Miller. UD clearly was upset about Miller's latest injury. (They're good friends, you know.) In hindsight, it made for an interesting shootaround, considering Jones could be one of the free agents the Heat picks up if it waives Miller. (Of course, everyone loves Jones, too.) Jones said he's open to returning to the Heat.

Dexter Pittman arrived at the practice facility after Jones, Haslem and Bosh were finished. The big center might have put on a few pounds since last season but not much. He'll lose it by the time the season begins. The Heat's coaches told Pittman before the lockout that he would play a more important role in his second season in the league. (He didn't really play a role last year. He was in Siberia or some cold place playing in the D-League.)

We'll be back at the arena on Friday. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are back in town after the flag-football fun, so we'll see if they show up.

Oh, Mario Chalmers worked out in Las Vegas on Thursday. No word yet on when he's returning to Miami. Also, Juwan Howard worked out Thursday but declined to speak with reporters. The Warden was also in the house.


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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Make a good case, please.

You gotta love the passionate discussions going on about the Heat-Bulls series. Down here, it feels like no on is giving the Bulls a chance because Derrick Rose is too much of a one-man show and the Bulls have struggled in games against the Pacers and Hawks. Elsewhere, there are those who believe the Bulls' defense and depth will be too much for the Bulls, and that the regular season record is significant and that Rose can dissect this defense even more thoroughly than his first two playoff opponents because of the holes at point guard and center. Bron-deng

Well, here's the thing about those arguments. No matter how passionately you feel about your position in this debate, the fact is, these are the Eastern Conference Finals. That means that there should be a debate. A very good debate, because these are the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. It shouldn't be easy to pick this series. If it is easy, then that would mean one of these two teams is far and away the best in the league. And that's just not true for either team.

So, let's look into some of the reasons people are picking Chicago. First, those siding with the Bulls are suddenly discrediting the Heat's five-games series win over the Celtics. They're looking at the 4-1 result and calling the Celtics old and injured and unworthy of challenging the Heat.

Losing Rajon Rondo was problematic for the Celtics, yes. He's one of their best defenders on and off the ball, and he's the team's engine on fastbreaks. But he was there and completely healthy for two of the Heat's four wins. And for the final four games of the series, Delonte West played terrific defense, particularly on Dwyane Wade, and actually coupled that with shot-making ability. So it's not as if the Celtics were playing with Carlos Arroyo out there. Were these the Celtics of 2007-08? No. But this was still an excellent defensive team with a balanced offense. It was a relatively short, five-game series, but every game was an intense battle, and the Celtics could've easily won two of those four games they lost.

And by the way, the Bulls enthusiasts who are questioning the quality of team the Heat has beaten in these playoffs should look at Chicago's opponents. What, the Hawks beat the Magic and all of a sudden they're better than the Celtics? No way. And it still took the Bulls six games to get past them.

Regardless of that, though, the truth is every series takes on a personality of its own. So the previous series, how it was won or who the opponent was doesn't matter one lick once the next series starts. So those who are predicting Heat-Bulls based on the results of the previous series have little ground to stand on.

Dwyane layup vs bulls When you get to the actual matchups in this series, there are some interesting takes there also. All of a sudden, the duo of Keith Bogans and Luol Deng is supposed to be a good defensive pairing against Wade and LeBron James, respectively.

Let's go back in time, shall we? Wade used to toy with Bogans when he was with the Bobcats and Magic. His face would light up when he saw Bogans in front of him. And Deng? He's a fine defender. He's not Tony Allen. He's not even Shane Battier. He's just fine.

What makes that Bulls defense very good isn't the individual defenders, necessarily. It's the system. If any one player makes that defense especially strong, it's probably Joakim Noah, the same way Kevin Garnett is to Boston, because Noah is long and disruptive but can also move to spots quickly and is instinctive. And he can finish the play with a rebound. The Heat has just seen this Tom Thibodeau defense against Boston, because Thibodeau built that Boston defense as an assistant there. The Bulls have some different strengths based on personnel, of course, but the Heat's big trio should know where there shots are coming from based on the previous series.

The Bulls supporters will also harp on depth as an advantage. Well, the Bulls absolutely have the depth advantage. But here's the thing. They NEED depth to succeed. The Heat has proven time and again that if the large three are on their game, the rest of the rotation doesn't need to score at all. It's not often that the team requires even double-figures from anyone else. Only when one or more of the big three are off does the team require help from a James Jones or a Mario Chalmers in the scoring column. And that's when the Heat's success comes into question. Because no one's ever sure when one of those players will provide the necessary support.

And then there's the power forward angle. Of course, those leaning toward Chicago will remember Chris Bosh's 1-for-18 and Carlos Boozer's strong finale against the Hawks and say that it's at the very least a push in that department. But the truth is this: Boozer has had three good games in 11 tries for the Bulls. And the coach hasn't even trusted him late in games throughout the postseason thus far. Bosh, meanwhile, is averaging significantly better numbers than Boozer in every category except rebounds, where Bosh is only 0.1 rebounds better than Boozer (but still better).

Rose layup Those supporting the Heat have holes in their theories, too. Rose might have had a few high-volume shooting games in these playoffs, but it's not as if the Heat will be able to force him into those types of games every time out. Rose did average 29 points on an OK 45 percent shooting in the three matchups this season. Granted, the Heat's rotation is quite different than it was in those meetings, but not so much better that the defense can say, with certainty, that it can limit Rose.

And those who believe Wade's gonna average 33.5 points in Chicago, the way he did in the regular season, forget that he has struggled more in Chicago than he has succeeded. There's certainly no guarantee he won't revisit those poor performances.

The truth is, there are plenty of arguments to be made for either side.

The ones that include idiotic reasons like "The Heat players celebrated too much after the Celtics so that means they'll take the Bulls lightly," or "the Bulls aren't supposed to reach the Finals because they haven't slain a longtime nemesis," are ridiculous and should, frankly, be ignored.

But ones that contain actual basketball reasoning, those can lean in either direction. As they should, because this is the NBA's final four. Anything less than a heated competition would be a disappointment.

That said, the call here is the popular, safe and boring pick: Heat in six.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

That was easy

Actually, that was the hardest thing to watch for an extended period.

Other than Dwyane Wade, there wasn't a whole lot working well for the Heat through the first 44 minutes or so. So James Jones made a three-pointer and turned the whole feel of the game.  Wade over oneal

After that, though, it was an amazing display of talent and desire. Talent on the offensive end, as LeBron James made a pair of threes he'll never forget. Threes more memorable than even that buzzer-beater against Orlando a couple years ago, because that was just a desperate heave, and his Cavs lost that series anyway.

The desire came on the defensive end, as the Heat rattled the Celtics into misses and turnovers. Two plays that stand out were Jones' hard close on a wide-open Ray Allen. Ray still got off a good look, but that close may have disrupted his rhythm just enough. The second was the help Wade provided on the driving attempt from Jeff Green. It was perfectly timed and perfectly executed help from Wade.

And LeBron's steal and dunk to seal the win was both athleticism and desire rolled into one game-sealing highlight.

For a while there -- before Jones' three and the that sick 16-0 run to close the series -- it looked like Erik Spoelstra was making all the wrong calls. The Celtics had just one big guy in there to start the fourth, Nenad Krstic, and yet the Heat was still playing with both Chris Bosh and Juwan Howard. And when that Celtics lead ballooned to seven, he finally took out Howard, but brought in Joel Anthony. The game appeared to be begging for Jones. When he did finally bring in Jones, it was for Mario Chalmers instead of Anthony, but by then Kevin Garnett was back in the game, and Anthony was the best defender against him, so that was the right choice.

And because of that 16-0 run to end it, the supporting cast's performance looked a lot better. Howard led the non-Big-Three with five points. Anthony played great late defense on Garnett. And Jones had the biggest shot of the game, kicking off that final run.

The Celtics are done, and even though it wasn't the healthiest, most complete version of the Celtics, it feels like a huge accomplishment for this team.

It should also provide quite a confidence boost throughout the rest of the playoffs. Because the Celtics were everyone's bullies. And now it's the Heat that every team left in is probably fearing.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Physical reaction

We can already see the Heat's going to have to be very careful to avoid a "payback" sort of scenario from the officials in Tuesday's Game 2 against the Celtics.

Even before the league changed James Jones' foul on Paul Pierce to a flagrant 1, there was plenty of discussion as to whether Pierce deserved to be ejected, or if both of the fouls against Pierce (Dwyane Pierce-wade Wade had the other) should've been called flagrants.

And now that the league made that distinction, there's even more of a sense that the Celtics got the wrong end of it in Game 1. So it might just be human nature for the officials in Game 2 to be watch Heat players more closely and possibly to even favor the Celtics if any skirmishes break out or especially physical plays occur.

Basically, the Heat players have to be mindful of that possibility and play hard but not get overly physical or let their emotions get the best of them. Because after Pierce got the quick boot, there will likely be very little hesitation to hand out techs in this game either. Wade especially needs to watch himself, because it's widely assumed he got away with one Sunday.

That said, the Heat probably needs to attack the basket a little more and create contact. Because the team can't rely on hitting as many outside jumpers as it did in Game 1. Wade will likely go to his mid-range game as long as he's in rhythm, which is normally how he puts up big scoring nights. But LeBron James might want to consider driving a bit more, even if he knows the Celtics will be waiting for him. A shot fake every once in a while wouldn't hurt, because he'll need to get to the line to make up for the fact that Boston just refuses to let him score around the basket.

Wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Udonis Haslem at least in uniform Tuesday, even if he doesn't play. He's itching to play, and he says he's not feeling any lingering effects from his surgically repaired left foot the day after practicing.

"Definitely I could be part of this series, and without being as athletic and not even having my timing, just the physical aspect that I could bring to the game would probably help us a little bit," Haslem said Monday.

Shaquille O'Neal might return Tuesday also, but we've heard that song and dance from the Celtics for almost three weeks now. If Shaq does play, it'll be difficult to activate Udonis and have both Jamaal Magloire and Erick Dampier on the inactive list. That would likely mean a visit to the inactive list for Juwan Howard. Rondo slump

If Shaq does play, it only opens up another passing option for Rajon Rondo, who played some of his best basketball of the year when he had Shaq in there. Even without Shaq, look for Rondo to play an aggressive and smart game start to finish. He might have been trying too hard to start Sunday's game. But had he not been in foul trouble, he still probably would've finished with a triple-double.

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.

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?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fun in a foreign land

Good time for Eddie House to get hot, in the game he knew he'd get huge minutes.

That career-high 35 points might not be enough to convince Erik Spoelstra to get him into games come the playoffs, but it does go to show you that he's a great option to have. No one's sure if Mike Miller or James Jones can stay healthy for the entire playoffs, so House doing that is a good confidence boost heading into the postseason. Jones fist

Jamaal Magloire's 19 rebounds was kinda fun, too, but probably most important is that James Jones  continued his red-hot shooting. After hitting 4 of 6 from three in Toronto, James is now 18 of his last 28 from distance (64.3 percent) over his last eight games. After that extended slump mid-season, this monster recovery has to bode well for Miami

In case you missed it, the Heat's playoff schedule for the first round goes like this:

Game 1, Saturday 3:30pm in Miami

Game 2, Monday 7pm in Miami

Game 3, Thursday TBD in Philadelphia

Game 4, Sunday 1pm in Philadelphia

* Game 5, Wednesday TBD in Miami

* Game 6, Friday TBD in Philadelphia

* Game 7, Sunday, May 1 TBD in Miami

*(if necessary)





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