Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mike Miller's triumphant return highlights Heat 120, Spurs 98

The Heat trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half but ended up winning by 22. LeBron James had 33 points, including 17 in the third quarter but the feel-good story of the night revolved around Mike Miller, who made his season debut scoring 18 points on 6 of 6 from three-point range.

Of note:

--The Heat is 4-0 without Dwyane Wade.

--The Heat scored 39 points in the third quarter, which was the second highest scoring quarter for any team in the NBA this season.

--Seventy-one points in the second half was a season high.

--Second time this season the Heat has rallied from at least a 14-point deficit at halftime.

--The Heat shot 68.3 percent in the second half, a season high, after allowing a season-high 63 points in the first half.

--The original plan was for Miller to only play five minutes. He ended up playing more than 15.

"I'm so out of shape right now," Miller said. "That's what's tough, my conditioning. But it will come."

--Miller went down in pain late in the fourth quarter holding his side. It was a scary moment but Miller said he's fine. Miller said "a dumb defensive play" aggravated his surgically repaired hernia.

"I got caught up in the air," Miller said. "You know, it's going to hurt. Obviously, it's where I had the surgery. So, one good thing about this game is I took every shot I needed to take to see where I'm at and I'm still standing, so that's the most important thing."

--Miller said he's just going to have to fight through the pain for "four or five weeks."

"My main concern was if it was going to tear again and they said the likelihood of that was slim, so I'm going to continue to battle."

--Miller joked about his bad luck over the past year.

"Like I told them, I'm not going to tell them anymore injuries. I'm not going to do another X-ray, because anything to do with an X-ray is bad news. So, they know my stance right now and I'm just going to continue to play."

--Chris Bosh scored 30 points, showing increased aggression around the basket. Bosh's highlight was a spin move around Tiago Splitter in the lane followed by a powerful one-handed dunk.

"I should be like that every game," Bosh said. "Just another shot at it. Good things happen when you're aggressive and when I'm aggressive I don't think. I think less and that's always better. Always better not to think so much and just go out and play. If they give me the shot, I'll take the shot. If I need to drive, I'll just drive."

Game higlights from below:


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, November 10, 2011

Should the Heat keep Mike Miller?

The new collective bargaining agreement calls for an amnesty clause that will allow teams to dump players who aren't performing up to their contracts. The Heat's most likely amnesty candidate is forward Mike Miller, who recently put his house up for sale.

So, what exactly is the amnesty clause? It's basically a one time, get-out-of-jail-free card. Under the new CBA, teams will most likely be able to cut a player and most of his contract (75 percent has been reported) will not be factored into the salary cap or luxury tax. In other words, there will be a lot of shuffling the first week of the season ... if there is a season, of course.

Mike_millerA few big-name players likely will be cut from teams, including Baron Davis (Cleveland), Gilbet Arenas (Orlando), Rashard Lewis (Washington) and Brandon Roy (Portland). (Before you ask, yes these players would immediately become free agents.) Anyway, the Heat will likely take a long look at releasing Miller, who is under contract for $24 million over the next four seasons. 

Two freakish injuries to Miller's thumbs, a history of concussions and an injured shoulder limited Miller in his first season with the Heat. He had offseason surgery on one thumb and the shoulder after having surgery on the other thumb just before the start of last season. Should the Heat release Miller? That's the tough question facing Pat Riley.

Under normal circumstances, the answer would be an easy one: Miller would stay based upon the size of his contract. I mean, the Heat's ownership has plenty of money but it's not about to throw away nearly $25 million just because Miller had one bad year. But these are not normal times for the Heat. Far from it. This is the Big 3 Era and the Heat wants to win the title this season, especially after losing in the Finals to Dallas. The Heat could cut Miller and use the cap space to bring in a healthy shooter.

Still, a strong case can be made for keeping Miller. He's a fierce competitor who battled through injuries last season and gave the maximum effort. His shot might have been off, but his defense, rebounding and basketball acumen shined at times in the postseason. What if Miller bounces back this season and regains his form as one of the game's best three-point shooters? All things considered, it might be in the Heat's best interest to keep him.


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ugly but effective

For those who believed this would be a high-scoring, free-flowing, fastbreak series, take THAT!

Two teams shooting less than 40 percent, no one scoring more than 27 points AND Juwan Howard getting eight minutes and MVP chants.

Not exactly how the prognosticators had this one playing out.

But if you'd watched the defenses the Mavs have played against these playoffs, you had to assume they'd struggle against this athletic Heat defense. And such was the case.

Chris Bosh said the defense that kept the Mavericks to 37.3 percent shooting, that "limited" Dirk Nowitzki to 27 points and the Mavericks vaunted bench to 17 points was pretty much par for the course.

"It's a normal night," Bosh said. "I think we can do better. I think we can play much better offensively and defensively."

It wasn't all great for the Heat, of course. Dwyane Wade looked like the same Wade from the Bulls series through two-plus quarters. It wasn't, really, until the fourth quarter that he looked confident and in rhythm. You would assume that could transfer to the start of the next game, but Wade finished Games 4 and 5 against Chicago strong as well, but it didn't continue in the next game.

Wade should be able to score on either Jason Terry or Jason Kidd, but he seemed oddly hesitant several times.

"He's such an explosive offensive player, he spoils you a little bit," Bosh said of Wade. "He's a major part of this team's offense. Anytime that he's going, it's great."

Bron finals Nowitzki's night was uneven, at best. He did his best work in the fourth, with 10 points, but he never got into a consistent rhythm, either. Udonis Haslem was his typical good self defending Dirk, but so was Joel Anthony. LeBron James didn't defend Dirk, as many projected, and if the bigs do this kind of job against him, that probably shouldn't change.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle gave UD credit for denying Dirk.

"He's got to be denied the ball virtually everywhere on the floor," Carlisle said. "Haslem is a guy that has the wherewithal to do that. And they're going to play him aggressively, and we know that.

"We just to keep playing our game, keep getting him the ball and giving him opportunities to create."

By the way, Dirk has a torn tendon on the middle finger of his left hand and is wearing a splint, while Mike Miller left the locker room with his left arm in a sling. He obviously has a shoulder injury, but no one's really acknowledging it.

Back to the Heat offense for a second. Heat can't rely on LeBron hitting four of five threes, even if a couple of them were so open he had to shoot a commercial first. Wade needs to be more consistent, Bosh needs to be less clumsy against that zone and more assertive with his jumper, and LeBron needs to shoot more than two free throws.

As is, Shawn Marion believes the Mavericks did exactly what they needed to do to win.

"It was a completely halfcourt game tonight, and they prevailed," Marion said. "You hold a team to 38 percent and 92 points, for us, that's normally a victory."

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.

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, 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.





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.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Game 3 importance

Seriously wish people would stop trying to call Game 3 in Boston a must-win type game for the Heat.

Of course, the Heat WANTS to perform well in Boston and put a stranglehold on the series with a win. Of course the Heat WANTS to avoid losing in Boston for the 11th straight time. Of course the Heat WANTS to keep the Celtics from gaining any sense of confidence in this series.

But the Heat doesn't HAVE to win Saturday's game in Boston, or Monday's game in Boston, or even Game 6 in Boston.

And let's just say, hypothetically, the Heat loses Game 3 on Saturday. Based on how the team has played the Celtics the last three times they've played, wouldn't it seem perfectly reasonable to believe the Heat could win the next game, Game 4, despite coming off a loss? Even if the Celtics blew out the Heat in Game 3, the Heat has too much recent history to feed off in order to rebound from that kind of loss.

This whole concept doesn't just exist in this series. It's even more prevalent in the Lakers-Mavericks series. Somehow, because the Mavericks lost a 2-0 lead in the Finals five years ago, and because the Lakers are the Lakers, all of a sudden it's the Lakers who are in great position despite trailing by two games and going into Dallas. Again, even if the Lakers somehow pull out Game 3, that doesn't mean the Mavs won't win Game 4.

Miller-pierce The Mavericks did everything possible to bring back those feelings of collapse when they lost a huge lead to the Blazers in Game 4 of that first-round series. And what did they do after that? They won two games fairly convincingly. And the Blazers weren't arguing amongst themselves the way the Lakers are right now.

That's not to say that the Celtics and Lakers can't come back and tie these series over the next few days. But to suggest that Game 3 is THE critical contest for either the Heat or Mavericks, or that the team that's down 0-2 is still in good position, is utterly ridiculous. Just look at the history of teams that go up 2-0.

Now, to the actual game. If Shaquille O'Neal plays, it might just throw off the Celtics even more. If he starts, that's potentially dangerous because the beginning of games hasn't been Boston's problem. If he comes off the bench, he'll be playing with guys like Delonte West and Jeff Green who aren't used to playing alongside him or getting him involved.

Should be interesting to see how Doc Rivers plays this. But here's guessing that Glen Davis finds a way to be much more of a factor in this game, because he's just flat better at home, particularly in the postseason.

As for the Heat, Mike Miller and Mike Bibby finally made shots in Game 2. If Miller stays part of this rotation and contributes, it could be a significant factor.

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.



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