Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thunder 96, Heat 91 (Preseason)

TULSA, Okla. - Even without Dwyane Wade, there's no reason this one had to end this way. Heat_Thunder_Basketball_OKS

Just about everything that could go wrong down the stretch for Miami did go wrong in Wednesday's 96-91 preseason loss to Oklahoma City at the BOK Center. Missed shots. Turnovers. Unfavorable whistles from the replacement officials. On top of everything else, there was Kevin Durant.

The Heat remains winless after four preseason games, despite getting a promising effort from Michael Beasley through three quarters and placing a total of five players in double figures in scoring. Beasley had 24 points and four rebounds in 38 minutes, but he faded down the stretch. He scored only four in the fourth quarter and finished with seven turnovers.

Meanwhile, the fourth quarter seemed to be just when Durant was finding his rhythm. Durant and Jeff Green combined for 55 points to lead Oklahoma City back from a 14-point deficit to get the win.

Beasley's best scoring game also came on a night when point guard Carlos Arroyo made his Heat debut. Arroyo made a couple of nifty passes, including a behind-the-back kickout to Beasley for a jumper at the top of the key in the fourth quarter. But coach Erik Spoelstra's message to Arroyo after the game was to "keep it simple" and run the offense.

Now 0-4 heading into Thursday's game against New Orleans in Kansas City, the Heat has reached the point where it would be prudent for the team to experience a win in the preseason, especially when Wade is not available.

D. WADE'S DOINGS: He waved to the crowd. He posed for a lot of photos. He acknowledged two little kids who showed up wearing his Heat jersey. Other than that, Wade simply took it easy for his second straight preseason game. Wade continues to nurse a strained muscle in his left rib cage. Wade suggested Wednesday he may have aggravated the strain when he took a few hits at Tuesday's practice. "I took a couple of hits in practice just to make sure and see," Wade said. "And I'm not ready yet. Still a process." Wade, who averaged 17.5 points in the first two preseason games, said he would warm up before Thursday's game against New Orleans and then decide if he's ready to play.

TURNING POINT: Miami led 70-61 going into the fourth quarter and proceeded to watch OKC close the game out with a 35-21 edge in the fourth quarter. The Heat committed 15 fouls in the period, missed 7 of 10 from 3-point range and had five turnovers. A Daequan Cook missed layup late in the game would have slowed the Thunder's rally. Michael Beasley's two turnovers at critical stages of the period also didn't help. 

LOSING EDGE: It was the Thunder's home game, although it was played in Tulsa. But that didn't stop the team from getting the benefit of the doubt from the refs. In no way should the edge from the free-throw line have been so lopsided. OKC outshot the Heat 24-2 from the line in the fourth quarter. The Thunder's 20 points from the line in the period nearly matched the Heat's scoring output overall (21) for the quarter. "It is what it is," Spoelstra said. "But you've got to embrace these kind of games on the road. There are a lot of circumstances on the road, obstacles, distractions, that can get you off your game."

HEAD-SCRATCHER: This one had very little to do with the game. Instead, there was yet another incident where forward Michael Beasley found himself on the wrong side of a social networking media controversy. This time, it had to do with Beasley responding in jest to a comment regarding marijuana use that was posted during a U-stream session several Heat players had from their Tulsa hotel Tuesday night. I'm all for free speech and everything. But considering Beasley's recent issues, which included a month-long stay at a Houston-area rehab facility as part of the league's substance-abuse program, there are certain things he just can't joke about. Beasley has to know that he no longer gets the benefit of the doubt on such issues. COOK_DAEQUAN That said, this ordeal appears to be a major overreaction to another episode of Beasley being Beasley.

KEY CONTRIBUTION: Daequan Cook was 4 of 7 from three-point range and finished with 14 points off the bench, including nine in the second half. Cook, who has been bothered by a sprained right thumb, was far more efficient from deep than he was from inside the three-point arc. He was 5 of 15 overall. But his willingness to take - and make - big shots was what kept the Heat in the game in the fourth at a time when the team was getting very little from everyone else. "Me and coach talked about me being a lot more reliable and a lot more consistent this year," Cook said. "I just have to do a better job of doing that."

DAMAGE DONE: Not sure who gets bumped in the West. But go ahead and book Kevin Durant's ticket to Heat-Durant February's All-Star game in Dallas. For one, it would be fitting for Durant, a former University of Texas star, to make the squad and return to the state that made him star. He will also deserve the nod if he continues his rapid improvement as expected this season. Durant is as silky smooth as they come at 6-10. He can handle. He can post. He can shoot. And he can fly. Just ask Heat center Joel Anthony, who caught a face full of chest when Durant flew through the lane for a vicious dunk in the first quarter. Durant was limited by four first-half fouls, but finished with 30 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter. "To see someone do the things he does at a guy his size is incredible," Beasley said of Durant.

NEXT UP: Heat vs. New Orleans Hornets, Thursday (Kansas City) - 8:30 p.m.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Carlos, Comebacks & SuperCoolBeas

Clearing out the mind and notebook as the flight to Wednesday’s Heat-Thunder preseason game reaches cruising altitude. Consider it the misdirection exhibition tour.


After the game in Tulsa against Oklahoma City, the Heat heads to Kansas City to play New Orleans. Go figure. Still trying to figure out how last preseason offered a trip to Paris and London and this year counters with Tulsa and Kansas City. Again, go figure.


THE ARROYO-AL TREATMENT: There was a slice of it after Tuesday’s practice, when new Heat Carlos Arroyo guard Carlos Arroyo had what amounted to his own personal media day The Puerto Rico native and former FIU standout signed with the Heat on Monday.


TV, radio and newspaper reporters from Spanish media outlets engulfed Arroyo after Tuesday’s practice. Considering the market, there was a genuine excitement and interest. Arroyo is believed to be the first native Spanish-speaking player in Heat history. And who said his signing with the Heat wouldn’t have an impact on and off the court?


“It’s been great,” Arroyo said of the reaction. “It’s an honor to be here and to be home.”


BEASLEY’S WIN-WIN-WIN SITUATION: Count forward Michael Beasley among Heat players Beasley Interview who believe Arroyo is just the sort of addition second-year starting point guard Mario Chalmers needed. With a savvy, proven veteran to contend with in practice every day, Chalmers gets a taste of what Beasley goes through with Udonis Haslem.


“Some of the guys who have been in here – not to downgrade guys, but – (Chalmers) has been a landslide better than them,” Beasley said of a group that has consisted of Chris Quinn, Marcus Banks, Shaun Livingston, Luther Head and current camp hopeful John Lucas. “Carlos can do it all. (Chalmers) not only has somebody to go head to head against, but somebody to look up to and to learn from.”


WADE AND SEE: Dwyane Wade acknowledged Tuesday that his current rib strain is near the same spot as the injury he sustained during the 2004-05 season that lingered into the playoffs. But Wade said this recent ailment pales in comparison to the anguish he felt four years ago.


“If it was that bad, I wouldn’t even be out here,” Wade said after practice. “I wouldn’t even be trying to play.” Wade worked out extensively the past two days, with a focus on conditioning. He essentially wore a “yellow jersey” in scrimmage sessions, meaning he was completely off limits for contact. Wade said he would consider wearing protective padding around his rib cage if he plays this week. From the sounds of Tuesday’s practice, Wade, at best, might appear in one game and skip the other.


SPARRING SESSION: Jermaine O’Neal said he expects to play the back-to-back set against the Thunder and Hornets after he missed the previous two games with a bruised foot. O'NEAL_JERMAINE


There is absolutely nothing he could face in those games more demanding and brutal than the low-post sparring sessions he’s had after practice against assistant coach Keith Askins. Make that Askins and two huge, thick “bash pads” Askins basically used as weapons to pound on O’Neal as he practiced low-post scoring moves. O’Neal managed to hold his own at times, but Askins did little to hurt his reputation as “Kick Ass-kins.”


“It’s a different kind of conditioning in here,” O’Neal said. “I look forward to getting back on the court and getting my timing and everything back.”


FUNNY EXCHANGE: Beasley, if nothing else, is still providing the comic relief. Before Sunday’s game against San Antonio, Beasley and Yakhouba Diawara had a hilarious exchange. Beasley picked on Diawara because of his deep French accent. Diawara, a Pepperdine grad, shot back: “I’m an educated man. Put Pepperdine against wherever you went, college dropout. Did you even stay long enough to major?”


Beasley, who spent one season at Kansas State before leaving to become the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, didn’t hesitate. “Yeah, I had a major. My major was Bucketology. You don’t know about that. I mastered in getting buckets.”


(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Super Mario? Nah, Just Solid

We know he's confident. Mario Chalmers entered the league a year ago with a chip on his shoulder after Mario slipping to the second round of the draft, and refused to take a back seat to any guard picked ahead of him.

We know he's durable. Although he only had to beat out a barely-wanted Marcus Banks, a still-rehabbing Shaun Livingston and a seldom-used Chris Quinn, Chalmers (pictured right) grabbed the starting job last season and became the only rookie in Heat history to start every regular season and playoff game.

We know he's valued. Why else would Heat president Pat Riley go as far as to proclaim that he wouldn't bring in anyone to start ahead of Chalmers, despite the team's significant void of point guard depth? That means - barring a last-minute change of plans - bypassing a group of proven veterans that consists of Ty Lue, Brevin Knight, Flip Murray, Jamaal Tinsley and just-off-the-market Allen Iverson.

Yes, we know plenty about Chalmers. But there's at least one thing we don't. And that is whether or not he's clearly - beyond a reasonable doubt - the solid, steady, clutch point guard this franchise will place in the backcourt alongside Dwyane Wade for the foreseeable future?

This season will go a long way in determining that answer. I still find it a bit strange that Chalmers went from having to be taught the point guard position at this level a year ago to becoming practically untouchable and essentially irreplaceable in just the span of 12 months.

And that leaves the Heat in a curious situation entering camp just two weeks from now. Chalmers and Quinn are the only two point guards under contract. Riley said last week that Wade will again handle significant time at the position late in games and in crisis situations.

Mario-magic That sets up a huge gamble for the Heat. An injury to Chalmers means far more minutes for Wade. An injury to Wade means the season is done, during a contract year for your franchise player to boot. Riley is a risk taker. But he ain't crazy, which is why I think he will address needs at the position via a trade or free agent signing at some point before the start of the season.

If Chalmers (pictured left, driving against Jameer Nelson) continues to develop, there's no question he could be a solid starter in this league for a long time alongside Wade, assuming Wade re-ups as expected next summer in free agency. Remember, greatness doesn't need spectacular as a sidekick to win. Simply solid would do.

That's why Jordan worked so well with Paxson and Armstrong. It's why Kobe gets it done with Fisher. Between now and the Sept. 28 start of training camp, we will rank how the Heat stacks up in the East at all five starting positions, the bench and coaching. Let's start at point guard, where I've got Chalmers ranked 10th in the East entering the season, based on production, potential, expected progress, overall impact and durability among other factors. Here's where the Heat stacks up at the position.

1. Devin Harris (pictured right), Nets. 2. Gilbert Arenas, Wizards. 3. Derrick Rose, Bulls. 4. Rajon Rondo, Celtics. 5. Devin Harris Jameer Nelson, Magic. 6. Mo Milliams, Cavs. 7. Jose Calderon, Raptors. 8. Mike Bibby, Hawks. 9. Rodney Stuckey, Pistons. 10. Mario Chalmers, Heat. 11. Raymond Felton, Bobcats. 12. T.J. Ford, Pacers. 13. Chris Duhon, Knicks. 14. Luke Ridnour, Bucks. 15 Lou Williams, Sixers.

If Chalmers makes the sort of second-year progress the Heat is expecting, Miami will be fine at the position. But if the team enters the season as is at the point, Mario will have minimal margin for error.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Getting To The Point

Covering the Eastern Conference finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic, and it suddenly hit me. And then it hit me again. And again.

What does the Cavs-Magic series have to do with the Heat? Plenty. Rafer

Especially when you get to the point. Point guard, that is. The veteran variety.

It could be argued that one of the Heat's biggest weaknesses this season was the absence of a proven, veteran, play-making point guard it could bring off the bench or use to challenge rookie Mario Chalmers.

Well, these conference finals, particularly in the East, are essentially a Point-Guards-R-Us outlet center.

And it makes you wonder. Why does every other team in the league seem to have a spare Flip Murray on the roster, yet the Heat goes two seasons without one? Shaun Livingston didn't have the legs. Marcus Banks lacked the skills. And Penny Hardaway - dare we say - didn't have anything left other than pleasant memories of when he used to be somebody in this league.

This Magic-Cavs series is stocked with serviceable, stop-gap type veteran parts at the point that Miami either tried to get and couldn't, parted with too soon or probably should have pursued harder when it had the chance.

Orlando has three of them: Rafer Alston, Anthony Johnson and Tyronn Lue.

Cleveland has one: Mo Williams, who understandably went for the money grab in Milwaukee and turned down Miami as a free agent. He was then dealt to Cleveland.

Anthony carter Denver has one: Anthony Carter.

Even the Lakers can haunt the Heat here: The final piece of the Shaq trade was the pick the Lakers ultimately used to draft Jordan Farmar.

And what do Farmar, Carter, Williams (Heat get a pass here), Alston, Johnson and Lue all have in common? Each would just be the type of backup the Heat so desperately needed this season. Many - if not all of them - would have started for Miami. These cats aren't saviors by any stretch. But they can be short-term, serviceable solutions that Dwyane Wade can trust and respect in the backcourt.

They can also groom Chalmers.

I know. I know. The last time the Heat went for its own Flip, it ended up getting Smush-ed. And burned.

But that was two seasons ago. The scorn should have worn off by now. Smush

It's well past time to address this need. It won't cost much. It won't break the salary cap. It won't send Miami too deep into the luxury tax. It might have, however, sent the Heat a round deeper in the playoffs. So it's worth the investment, isn't it?

After all, the Heat never did have an answer off the bench against the Hawks for Murray, who played a key role in flipping the Heat out of the postseason.

Pat Riley, one of the NBA's ultimate deal-makers, was able to get a second-round draft pick out of the Magic two years ago for releasing Stan Van Gundy from his coaching-turned-consulting contract with the Heat.

In hindsight, Riley probably should have held out for the option to take one of the Magic's 26 veteran backup point guards instead. Filling this void would be one small but significant step toward roster improvement for the 2009-10 season.

Get my point?

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

And then there were 14...Goodbye Shaun Livingston

The Miami Heat released Shaun Livingston, meaning the point guard will have to attempt his comeback elsewhere. His conditional contract would have become guaranteed for the rest of the season Jan. 10.

83520242 Livingston last played Dec. 6 for 12 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He appeared in only four games this season. He looked stiff in his brief appearances, but had said regaining his explosion was the last stage of his rehab. The Heat had raved about his work ethic and ability in practice, and coach Erik Spoelstra emphasized that the Heat would take a long-term approach with Livingston. It's hard to tell what kind of progress Livingston made in about three months with the Heat because he played so sparingly and the media does not get to watch practice. In recent days Spoelstra had been vague about Livingston's status, saying the team would soon determine whether he could play in upcoming games.

Livingston's former Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said earlier this season that questions remained about whether Livingston would return to his old form. After watching Livingston work out this summer, Dunleavy got the sense it probably would take Livingston much of this season to rehab.

It's not particularly surprising that Livingston was waived because of the players that signed partially guaranteed contracts before the season, Livingston played the least. His release makes it likely that Jamaal Magloire and Joel Anthony's contracts will become guaranteed for the rest of the season.

The Heat now has a roster spot to potentially re-sign Alonzo Mourning, as only 14 players are under contract. Spoelstra said Saturday that Mourning was about three or four weeks away from making a decision about whether he would return this season. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Entering 2009: Where Things Stand Now

The Heat's last game of 2008 was far more impressive than its first.

Remember that 103-98 loss at home to Milwaukee on Jan. 2, 2008? Neither do I. And I was there, I think. But that setback dropped the Heat to 8-24 en route to a 15-67 finish in 2007-08.

Tuesday's 104-95 home victory against the title contending Cavaliers brought the Heat's record this season to a respectable 17-13 through its first 30 games of 2008-09.

As the Heat heads into what appears to be a promising New Year, we update where things stand with each player on the roster at the close of 2008.

Joel Anthony - The second-year, shot-blocking center still struggles to catch the ball. But as long as the Heat stays above .500 and defensively consistent, he'll hold onto a starting job.

Marcus Banks - Another year Banks finds himself without a steady role despite a starter's salary. He recently pulled ahead as the No. 2 point guard, a move even coach Erik Spoelstra has trouble explaining. Maybe this was truly about defense. Or maybe Banks is being showcased for potential trades.

Michael Beasley - Fun-loving kid who is still searching for his way, despite his offensive production. Of the top five players chosen in last June's draft, Beasley is one of only two who isn't a starter.

Mark Blount - Every team has a highly overpaid, under-producing player stuck on the bench. Blount is the Heat's representative. A heck of a nice guy, who, at this pace, will earn about $230K per game played.

Mario Chalmers - Cool. Calm. Confident. Is playing like he was the Heat's No. 2 overall pick. Has become the second-most important player on the Heat's roster behind employee No. 3.

Daequan Cook - What a difference a year makes. Because, a year ago, you had to wonder if the Heat simply missed on this kid. Now, he anchors the Heat's bench and is Wade's No. 1 bailout option.

Yakhouba Diawara - Has only showed flashes of the defensive stopper the Heat thought it landed in free agency. Frenchie, as Diawara is called by teammates, has had a hard time finding playing time.

Udonis Haslem - Beat him up in the paint. Bloody him. Still, Haslem continues to bounce back for more. Looks like this will finally be the season he averages that elusive points-rebounds, double-double.

James Jones - Any day now, he'll pop up on the active roster after a methodical recovery from wrist surgery. But it will be interesting to see where he fits in, considering Cook's surprising emergence.

Shaun Livingston - The promise is still there (we think), even though the playing time is not. Livingston remains a long-term project as he works back from 2007 knee surgery. Sitting has to be killing him.

Jamaal Magloire - His legs and explosion might be shot, but he's still big enough to bang, board and bring that intimidating presence in the paint the Heat desperately needs ... until Zo makes up his mind.

Shawn Marion - By now it's obvious that Marion is more counterpart than catalyst. But that's fine, as long as he continues to rebound, defend and provide energy. His $17.8 million expiring salary will keep him in play for potential deals until the Feb. 19 trading deadline.

Chris Quinn - Remember that line from the Ice Cube movie, Friday? When Cube's character, Craig, got fired on his day off? Somehow, that's happened with Quinn, who was demoted to third-string point guard when he was shooting a team-best 44 percent from 3-point range.

Dwyane Wade - Putting up MVP numbers in every category now, including team victories. Wade is having the best all-around season of his six-year career. Thirty games into the season, the issue is no longer whether D.Wade is back. It's how far can he go?

Dorell Wright - Speaking of characters from funny movies. Remember Can't-Get-Right, the character from Eddie Murphy's movie, Life? Well, that's Wright. Despite two procedures on his troublesome left knee, including March 2008 surgery, Dorell just can't get right. And it's a shame.

Alonzo Mourning - The mystery man. He's not on the roster, and is officially a free agent. But Zo continues to work toward a return from last December's devastating knee surgery. The Heat would have to make a roster move to make room for Zo. But at this stage, would a reunion be more about gratitude or need? And would a three-month swan song be worth parting with the potential of a Livingston or Diawara? Or even pausing the progress of Anthony? Or would the simple answer be to release Magloire before contracts are guaranteed on Jan. 10, with the hope that Zo would be ready to step in soon after?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Portland Trail Blazers 106, Miami Heat 68 (Beyond the Box Score)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- So much for a happy ending to first-year Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's homecoming. He went to Trail Blazers game as a child, as his father was a team executive, and Spoelstra played point guard at the University of Portland. The Trail Blazers dominated from start to finish. The Heat sorely missed forward Shawn Marion, who was attending a family funeral, but is scheduled to rejoin the team in Phoenix for practice Thursday.

Player of the Game: It's hard to pick one in the Heat's worst game of the season but based purely on stats forward Michael Beasley had the best offensive night with a team-high 14 points.

Surprise, Surprise: There were several. Center Mark Blount played for the first time since Nov. 19 and finished with 7 points, two rebounds and a blocked shot in 23 minutes. With Udonis Haslem starting at center and Joel Anthony moving into the backup role lately Blount has been the odd man out. Honorable mentions go to guard Marcus Banks, who played for the first time since Nov. 14 and in his fifth game this season. Banks shot 5 of 6 for 11 points and Shaun Livingston played his first game since the Heat's home opener Oct. 31. Livingston played 7 minutes and was 1 of 2 from the field with two points.

Tough Night: Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade both had rough nights. Wade had a season-low 12 points on 5 of 14 shooting and Haslem was 2 of 9 and had 6 points. For Haslem it continued his recent shooting struggles as he is 11 of 35 in his past four games.

Light em' Up: Portland forwards LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting and rookie Nicolas Batum had a career-high 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting.

Next up: Heat at Phoenix Suns, 8 p.m. (ESPN).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Heat 103, Kings 77 (Beyond the Box score)

The Heat's blowout of the Kings resembled games the Heat played in last year, only this time it wasn't Miami feeling embarrassed and demoralized.

The Heat was thrilled to win its home opener--and earn its first win of the season. It was coach Erik Spoelstra's first NBA win and after the game players surrounded him in a circle in the lockerroom and tried to mess up his perfectly gelled hair.

Just about everything went right for the Heat. They played swarming defense, helping fuel the offense. They created 25 turnovers and had 15 steals and eight blocks. This was a team win, with every Heat starter contributing. Rookie Mario Chalmers didn't score a lot but he was a key reason the Heat made its second-quarter run that allowed the Heat to take a 49-31 halftime lead.

Michael Beasley overcame a slow start (2 of 6) to finish 7 of 15 with 17 points. He was happier about the team's performance though.

"We played like a team," he said. "We were relentless. We had so much intensity, we played with energy and we played together. That is what felt the best."

And now we go beyond the box score.

Player(s) of the Game: Dwyane Wade had a superb game with 20 points, eight assists, four blocks and four steals. While he had some monstrous dunks and helped set the tone defensively, Shawn Marion deserves Player of the Game honors too. He had several dunks and he also filled out the box, with 13 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots. Perhaps most importantly, Marion fit really well and seemed comfortable on both ends and that hasn't been the case recently.

Surprise, surprise: Daequan Cook turned in his second straight 13-point performance and hit 3 of 6 three pointers. He also played sound defense, earning praise from Spoelstra after the game. The only reason it's a surprise is because Cook, a second-year guard, has been inconsistent. With James Jones out, the Heat needs Cook to be a reliable option off the bench. Cook went from barely being in the rotation for much of the preseason to the Heat's sixth man against the Kings.

Tough night: Point guard Chris Quinn seemingly has fallen to fourth on the depth chart, after being considered a front-runner to start. He was on the inactive list Friday, after not playing Wednesday night (DNP-Coach's decision). Spoelstra indicated that Quinn may have come back sooner than he should have from an ankle injury, but it looks like the starting job is Chalmers to lose, with Marcus Banks and Shaun Livingston moving ahead in the rotation. Spoelstra said he wants to keep the rotation tight, so it makes you wonder when Quinn will play again.

Stat of the night: It's hard to pick on a night where just about everything went right. The Heat held the Kings to only 38 points until about three minutes left in the third quarter.

That says it all: "I know what a disaster is by the way, I just saw one," Kings coach Reggie Theus said after the game.

Next game: Saturday at Charlotte (7 p.m.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Heat Preseason Grades

No, preseason games don't count in the standings and are often dismissed as meaningless.

But that argument doesn't fly with the Heat. After an 0-7 preseason set the tone for a disastrous 15-67 campaign a year ago, the importance of this preseason couldn't have been overstated for Miami.

The addition of several new players - including rookie draft picks Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers - and the return to health of Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Shawn Marion made this past month matter perhaps more for this team than any other in the league.

Preseason grades are in for the team overall and individually.

Team grade: (C) - At a time of the season when performance outweighs results, the Heat finished 2-5 but could easily have gone 5-2. It lost two games in overtime and another by two points. Considering the Heat has as many as seven players who are either new to the roster or are in new roles, it was difficult to expect much from Miami at this stage of the season. Injuries also kept the team from progressing at the preseason rate it probably should have. After an 0-4 start, a 2-1 finish at least offered glimpses of potential and improvement heading into Wednesday's opener at New York.

Joel Anthony: (C-) - Team members have raved about the improvements Anthony made over the summer with the Canadian National Team and the big plays he makes in practice. But he has yet to consistently carry it over into the live games. Shot-blocking and finishing pick-and-rolls at the rim are considered Anthony's gifts. He did lead the team with 10 blocks despite playing just 13 minutes a game.

Marcus Banks: (B-) Banks was clearly the most consistent point guard from start to finish in the preseason. When given extended the playing time, he proved he could be a steady shooter (.479 FG%/.409 3pt.%), a solid defender (11 steals) and a player who could get into the lane. But his decision-making (19-15 assist-TO) at times left plenty to be desired.

Michael Beasley: (B+) - Toughness, skill, confidence, swagger. Beasley showed it all in averaging 16.4 points and 6.0 rebounds. The offense is there, although when the ball goes in to Beasley, it rarely got Beasleypractice kicked back out (team-high 93 FGAs vs. 10 assists). The defense remains in question. But when was the last time a rookie came into the league and perfected team defensive concepts? He not only handled the initial pressure of being the No. 2 pick, he basked in it.

Mark Blount: (D) - Had every opportunity to step up and fill the team's biggest void at center, but just didn't get it done. The seven-footer had just one rebound in three consecutive preseason games. He didn't even play in the finale at San Antonio. Blount has a nice mid-range jumper, but the last thing this vertically challenged team needs is for its tallest player to be floating around the perimeter spotting up.

Mario Chalmers: (B) - All you want from a rookie is progress from day to day. After a rocky start, Chalmers finished strong. He had nine assists in a win against Memphis and 10 against San Antonio. His shooting is a bonus. But Chalmers will continue to drive coach Erik Spoelstra insane if he doesn't stop gambling and freelancing on defense. Chauncey Billups, Devin Harris, Mike Conley, Chris Paul and Tony Parker provided a great league orientation for Chalmers.

Daequan Cook: (D+) You have to like his confidence. Because even when his shot wasn't falling - which was most of the month - he kept shooting and believing the next one would go down. The slump did affect other parts of his game. He had more turnovers (8) than assists (7). Cook shook out of an 11 of 38 shooting slump to hit 6 of 12 shots, including 4 of 6 from deep against the Spurs. But was it enough to keep the door to the rotation slightly cracked?

Yakhouba Diawara: (C) - Coaches continue to talk up Diawara's "defensive disposition" and ability to lock in on the opponents best offensive player. But aside from a couple of decent outings during the Europe trip, Diawara has yet to have that clear breakout performance on either end of the court. Diawara seemed like a rotation lock a couple of weeks ago. But with Dorell Wright back from knee surgery, Diawara might be relegated to spot-duty specialist.

Udonis Haslem: (A) - Despite playing out of position at center and on a banged-up foot, Haslem has Udwadestretch_2 risen to the challenge yet again of providing whatever dirty work the team needs. He has produced two double-doubles and has scored 14 or more points three times since he moved full-time to center. He's averaged 11.2 points and 8.8 boards. You have to wonder how long Haslem can hold up while giving up three inches and 40 pounds a night.

James Jones: (I) - Incomplete. The Heat's $4 mill-a-year mid-level investment is out for two more months to recover from wrist surgery.

Shaun Livingston: (B) - Simply give him credit for making it back after 20 months of recovery from that devastating knee injury he sustained with the Clippers in Feb. 2007. Livingston still drags the leg some as expected and lacks the explosion he once had. But he's shown glimpses of play-making ability that will only become more routine the more he plays. He averaged 6.5 points and 2.5 assists in two games.

Jamaal Magloire: (I) - Incomplete. Another of the Heat's hard-luck free agent pickups who was injured before he could be indoctrinated into the lineup. Magloire is out until Nov./Dec. with a broken bone in his hand he sustained in the second preseason game.

Shawn Marion: (C+) - Marion is still finding his way in an offense that will increasingly be catered to the abilities of Dwyane Wade and Michael Beasley. But earning his production through relentless energy and effort is nothing new to Marion, who has made a career out of stuffing the stat sheet. Still either the Heat must find ways to get Marion more involved or Marion must alter his game to take advantage of the different perimeter looks he'll get this season.

David Padgett: (P) - As in present. The undrafted rookie center out of Louisville is still here - for now. That probably won't be the case when attendance is taken Monday evening after the NBA's roster cut-down deadline. Padgett never really got an opportunity to do much in Miami. He's a smart, skilled player. But he's played sparingly in just three games and lacks the defensive presence the Heat needs inside to justify keeping him around at the expense of a veteran.

Chris Quinn: (C+) - Steady. Rock Solid. Runs the offense well. Erik Spoelstra repeatedly uses those terms to describe Chris Quinn's impact on the team. An ankle injury kept him out for two games and he has barely played since. But Spoelstra insists not to read too much into the limited playing time. Spo says Quinn's shooting, knowledge of the offense and mistake-free play have secured his role.

Jason Richards: (I) - Undrafted rookie guard is out of the season after knee surgery, and could be released - with a full season's pay - by Monday's cut-down deadline.

Dwyane Wade: (A) - Carried his explosive play from the Olympics right into the preseason and has averaged 19.2 points, 5.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds in six preseason games. He took the night off on Wadedunk Friday in the preseason finale at San Antonio to rest his surgically repaired knee. But Wade said it was just a precautionary measure to give him some time off. Wade certainly looks up to the challenge of carrying this team through the first part of the season until the rookies and new players get going.

Dorell Wright: (B-) - Like Livingston, Wright made it back to play in the last two preseason games after recovering from knee surgery. Wright is still slowed some by soreness in his Achilles tendon, but he looks ready to close the gap on Diawara in what will be a battle to be Marion's backup. He has to show he's ready to respond to the physical challenge of playing games on consecutive nights.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hornets 100, Heat 80 (Beyond the Box Score)

Nights like tonight show - even in semi-meaningless preseason games - just how far the Heat has to go to compete with the league's established playoff contenders. The result was a 100-80 loss to the New Orleans Hornets Thursday at the Mitchell Center on the University of South Alabama campus.

Full disclosure: This wasn't the outright clunker the score would indicate. Miami rested several of its key players, including Dwyane Wade, who played just 26 minutes and closed with 11 points. None of the Heat's starters, which included rookie Mario Chalmers at the point, played more than 29 minutes.

Still, this one got away from the Heat during the meaningful minutes of the game, when the rotation players for both teams were still on the court. We go beyond the box score to evaluate the game.

Player of the Game: Dorell Wright - In his first game back from knee surgery, Wright finished 4 of 7 from the field for 9 points, five rebounds and an assist in 19 minutes. Again, think baby steps. In a game where no one else really stood out amid a sleep-walk performance, Wright's energy and timing were encouraging as he worked out the kinks in his game. If he gradually progresses at this pace, it might not be long before he has a chance to unseat Yakhouba Diawara as Shawn Marion's backup.

Surprise, Surprise: Shaun Livingston - Keeping with the "Comeback Kids" theme, Livingston took his biggest step yet in his return from that devastating knee injury he suffered with the Clippers 20 months ago. Livingston had modest numbers: Five points, three assists and four fouls in 18 minutes. But more important for him was the fact that he survived his first test in game action. "I got in there and I said, basically, I know how to play. It's been a long time. I just wanted to play and play confident. Play like I knew I belonged. And not that I don't belong in this league anymore because of what happened."

Tough night: Daequan Cook - Hate to keep harping on the kid, but it looks like Cook might have already played his way out of the rotation. At least for now. Even during a game in which coach Erik Spoelstra made liberal substitutions and played nine players in the first 15 minutes, Cook didn't get any burn until late in the fourth quarter. Cook missed the only two shots he took in six minutes of playing time. In five preseason games, Cook is now 11 of 38 from the field, including 3 of 17 from 3-point range.

Coach Speak: "Rio (Mario Chalmers) did some good things. And he did some other things where he just wasn't disciplined. Particularly defensively. He really needs to become more rock solid and follow the system and not make it up. When he makes it up, no one else knows what's going on" - Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, on Chalmers first start at point guard. Chalmers had 10 points, five rebounds and two turnovers without an assist in 26 minutes.

Next up: Heat at San Antonio Spurs, 8:30 p.m.



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