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.
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.
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.