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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Starting issues

One of the primary points of conversation since the Game 4 loss has been the play of the starting lineup, which has been outscored 131-102 in the first four games of the series.

You'd think the problem is the defense, given that the Sixers have jumped out to big leads three times in this series. And while that is an issue, the Heat's offense is what's struggled most with that lineup.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas has done his part on the offensive boards (his postseason numbers are actually better than his regular season stats so far), but he's not getting those open 18-footers we're used to seeing him get when he starts. Bibby stare

Mike Bibby, on the other hand, hasn't been hitting at his usual pace, which is probably the biggest issue for the starters, especially when Bibby's presence on the defensive end isn't helping much either.

Bibby has hit just 4 of 19 three-pointers in the series (21 percent), which is way worse than his 46 percent clip from the regular season. Both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James continue to encourage Bibby to shoot the ball, so we'll see if this cold streak is a brief one or if it lingers.

Erik Spoelstra has no intention of switching up the starting lineup to include either Mario Chalmers, who played 31 minutes Sunday, or Joel Anthony, who's the most used center in this series.

Spo might have another option soon. Probably not for Wednesday's Game 5, but quite possibly for the next series against the team no one's allowed to speak of until after this series is over.

Udonis Haslem remains confident that he'll be back in these playoffs. He practiced with the team Tuesday, and it was a physical practice. And he believes it's a matter of "when" not "if" he'll be back. That would help the Heat's flexibility with frontcourt matchups, not to mention rebounding.


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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Smell the gym

Quick correction from the previous entry... When Doug Collins was complaining about one foul being called in 120 minutes, it was in reference to Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who combined to play about 120 minutes Thursday and were called for one foul combined.

On to Friday, there really wasn't much to it, other than Erik Spoelstra holding a light practice so his team could "smell the gym."

Spoelstra said he expects Mike Miller's role to be the same as it was Thursday, which means he won't play for the second straight game. He's totalled six minutes in the series, though Spoelstra insists the team will still need Miller as the playoffs go on. We'll see about that.

On a more positive note, Spoelstra was very complimentary of his centers, who were a huge part of Thursday's win. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had eight rebounds, all offensive, while Joel Anthony got plenty of credit for shutting down Thaddeus Young as well as for spearheading the Heat's defensive effort.

"I enjoy looking at his boxscore after every single game and seeing how unremarkable it looks," Spo said of Joel. "His energy is contagious. Hustle is a talent. It’s a skill."

As for the point guard play, which was less than stellar against the Sixers, to the point where the Heat finished the game without a point guard on the floor, Spoelstra said it shouldn't be a signal of things to come.

"I’m not too worried about it," he said. "That doesn’t affect my trust level about either one of them."

Mario Chalmers spent most of Thursday's game listening to Wade and LeBron yell at him for missed defensive assignments or poor offensive decisions. And he sat and talked with Pat Riley for a few minutes after practice was over Friday. He followed up his strong Game 1 with a pair of semi-stinkers in Games 2 and 3. Here's guessing he's due to finish out the series strong. At the very least, he'll want Dwyane and LeBron to stop yelling at him.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Heat-Sixers set

We learned a few things today.

Among them, the Heat are officially the No. 2 seed because, apparently, Doc Rivers gave in and didn't want to win Monday night in Washington. He didn't play his big four.

That means we've learned the Heat's first-round opponent, as well. It's the Sixers, because Philly's loss locks the Knicks into No. 6 and the Sixers into No. 7.

We've also learned that a well-run zone will still give the Heat problems, as it did late in the game against the Hawks. It took big three-pointers from James Jones to turn a tight game into a Heat win. Big Z fight

We also learned, officially, that Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a gangster. He has already smashed John Wall in  the mouth (right). And Monday he threw a dart at the small of Zaza Pachulia's back after the most inadvertent of elbows.

But back to the playoff series against the Sixers.

It lacks the star power and the drama of a Heat-Knicks matchup. And when it comes to offensive execution, it would've been easier to carve up the Knicks and their "defense" than it is to play against a Doug Collins defense.

But if you look at it in terms of potential sweeps, it's probably more likely the Heat could sweep Philly rather than New York, a team that can have either one of its superstars take over a game.

Assuming Louis Williams returns healthy from his hamstring injury, he and Thaddeus Young might be the toughest matchups for the Heat, especially when you consider they both come off the bench and the Heat's bench doesn't match up well with quickness and athleticism, except for maybe Joel Anthony. Jodie Meeks could present a problem as well. In the two games he played against Miami this season, he scored a total of 35 points on 13 of 26 shooting, including eight three-pointers.

The best part about facing the Sixers is that the frontcourt duo of Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes aren't exactly difficult to deal with up front. It allows Big Z to stay on the floor as long as Hawes is out there, which means the Heat offense should be effective early in games.

The Heat averaged 102 points and shot 47 percent against the Sixers in three wins this season, both stats right around the season averages.

Not the sexiest of matchups, but it might be the easier of the possible first-round opponents.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Playoffs start early

Smart approach for Erik Spoelstra, telling his team to treat these last four regular season games like a playoff series. It makes sense, given that a loss might mean a No. 3 seed, which might mean a second-round loss to the Celtics.

Whether that was the reason, or if it was Dwyane Wade's return, or if it was the way the Heat played against the Bucks, it was obvious the team was in attack mode against the Bobcats.

Wade had 16 free throw attempts, Chris Bosh had 10 and the team as a whole took just nine three-pointers. That turned into 56 percent shooting and 62 points in the paint. You could see the execution in the halfcourt has improved leaps and bounds from the beginning of the season.

There has been suggestions that Spoelstra was holding out until playoff time to unleash some halfcourt sets. That wouldn't seem to make much sense, unless you think of it this way: The team learning each other comes in phases. And in the early phases, it was easier to let them play with less restrictions, play fast, play instinctively. That way the players can learn each other's tendencies. And now that more halfcourt sets are in, not only is it easier to execute them, but it's harder to scout the Heat because the team hasn't spent all season running the same sets with the same options. If that's the way Spo had it planned from the start, it's a genius plan. If it's just the natural progression for a new team, well then that's just a bonus. Big Z

Pretty sure I like Zydrunas Ilgauskas being back in the starting lineup. The offense works better with him in it -- and as long as the other guys are pulling triggers and helping defensively, Z won't be much of a liability on the defensive end. If the Heat faces the Knicks, good chance it won't be long before Joel Anthony is on the floor. But Z offers a counter to Amare Stoudemire because he's just bigger and can tip in some misses. Regardless, the center spot is interchangeable, and Spo even said the minutes at the position will depend on matchups.

"I spoke to our centers about that," Spo said. "I was encouraged with what Z brought to the game tonight. He does help us stretch the floor."

After a bad game against the Bucks, it was encouraging to see Bosh recover with 27 and 10. Although the fact that Kwame Brown matched him with 23 and 13 is a little disconcerting, as is the fact that the 'Cats made a late push.

But then again, if the theme is treat these games like playoffs, the results were there: Aggressive offense, active defense and, most importantly, a W.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Back at it

Dwyane Wade hadn't been getting chances to close out games for the Heat, and he said he wanted the chance. Erik Spoelstra ran some plays for him, yes. But Wade's defense was just as important in closing out that game. Wade el heat

That clean pick of Kobe that ended with LeBron James' dunk might have been his most impressive defensive play of the season, considering it was Kobe and the moment in came, and that's saying a lot.

But the Heat was a lot more than Wade on Thursday. Mike Miller looked just as involved and active as he has in previous games. The only difference is a few shots went in. And Mike Bibby did more of what he's supposed to do, hitting a couple of threes and not turning the ball over in 22 minutes. Chris Bosh played aggressively, which is something you would think he'd continue after that result against that team.

It's kind of funny, actually, that the Heat had the support on Thursday, while the Lakers bench looked terrible outside of Lamar Odom.

I said way back in the preseason that Steve Blake and Matt Barnes weren't as significant additions as everyone said they were. And I know Barnes just got back recently, but he and Blake combined for five points, all on free throws. And Shannon Brown did nothing.

You'd hope this kind of win, after such a frustrating five-game losing streak, can catapult the Heat again. It's clear now the kind of effort it takes to win against quality teams, and the Grizzlies are playing very well right now heading into Saturday's game here.

Wondering if Spoelstra might consider starting Zydrunas Ilgauskas again. He's more effective on the offensive boards than Erick Dampier and he's not awful defending inside. He held his own against Andrew Bynum. And he gives the Heat an offensive element that Dampier doesn't, which opens things up for the big three. Z definitely was the more effective center on Thursday.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Slumping in more ways than one

Just watched the Blazers game over, and I'll spare you the 2,800-word breakdown, but a few things happened to stand out.

I'm gonna go body language school a little bit here, but what I saw live remained obvious while watching it over. The Heat looked drained for a lot of the first half. LeBron James, in particular, didn't appear his normal self in the opening quarters, and it's possible that this team slump has gotten to him personally. I mean, he has never had to admit to failing anything, and then he comes out after the Bulls loss and apologizes to his teammates for failing them late in games. That has to put him in a strange place. Bosh-kobe

And in the overall, this team slump has created an added and unnecessary pressure on every single long-distance shot these guys take. It's as if Mike Miller and Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers are taking game winners every time they put the ball up. This team looks a lot like the team that started the season 9-8. Way too much pressure to succeed at the moment.

As for Chris Bosh, he clearly wasn't getting the ball low in the post, but he never gets the ball down there. The only time I can remember in recent memory was one of his first touches against the Bulls, when he pinned Joakim Noah down there and scored quickly. The problem is, he's smaller and skinnier than LaMarcus Aldridge, so he either has to work relentlessly to get post position, or he'll simply get pushed out of there.

Other times, though, it's an issue of execution. One example, the Heat ran a play where they got a switch and Brandon Roy was on Bosh's back. Well, the Heat tried to get him the ball, but the spacing wasn't right and the play collapsed. Never got to Bosh.

Matter of fact, that's a regular problem with this team. The plays are designed pretty well, but the execution is missing. Part of the issue is not having a proper point guard.

Bosh might not want to shoot jumpers all the time, but he'll likely have to get his by driving the ball as opposed to getting it in the low post. Either that, or he's just going to have to fight for his space.

Lastly, there's the Erik Spoelstra question. Here's the deal. This team is better than it has shown. The role players are better than they have shown. Miller might be bothered by that thumb, but he's still better than what he has shown. And for whatever reason, Spoelstra isn't getting that out of them. Is it their roles limiting them? Is it their minutes? Is it Wade and LeBron not involving them enough? Is it the plays being called? Either way, they need to perform up to their standards. And I think part of that is they just aren't being themselves.

Now, Spoelstra probably needs to reconsider his use of James Jones. He played him less than two minutes Tuesday, and even Wade said in the postgame that Jones is still a very capable player. When he was getting regular minutes, he was drawing charges regularly, something no one else has been doing, and he was knocking down at least two three whenever he played 15 or so minutes.

That's a coaching decision that hasn't worked out that well for Spoelstra, as is the use of Erick Dampier as the starter. At least when Zydrunas Ilgauskas was starting, the Heat could counter his defensive issues by having an offensive threat on the floor. Right now, Dampier isn't offering enough defensively to counter the fact that he's an offensive liability. And for that matter, Ilgauskas was a terrific offensive rebounder near the rim, and Dampier's tip-outs aren't nearly as effective as Z's tip-ins. If Spo switches back to Z or uses Jones more minutes, it won't be an admission of failure. It would just be him doing the right thing. Whether that happens or not, I guess we'll see.

Friday, December 17, 2010

If he is LeChicken...

...then LeBron James just laid a golden egg. Not sure what the NY Post was thinking with the headline, but it certainly wasn't the most clever jab ever taken at LeBron. Lechicken

Sometimes it's scary when his jumper is going. Check that. It's always scary when LeBron's jumper is going.

And as much as people want to knock him for relying on that jumper too often, he seems to find it in games like this. He had it going against the Cavs, and he certainly had it going Friday night.

As much as LeBron took the hearts out of the Knicks, there were a couple other contributors that made a huge impact.

Joel Anthony was quick enough to annoy Amare Stoudemire, keeping him on the perimeter and contesting his shot every time. Stoudemire normally does most of his damage against slow-footed centers (as he did in the first and third quarters against Zydrunas Ilgauskas), but Joel is essentially a power forward, so Amare didn't have a quickness advantage. The most impressive part about Joel was his discipline defensively. His feet were always in great position, he didn't reach and he didn't leave his feet early.

On the other end of the floor, the Knicks really didn't take advantage of the fact Joel was on the floor. They only forced him into one shot attempt in 20 minutes.

Then there was Chris Bosh. He had a couple turnovers that were the result of over-aggressiveness, but you'll live with those, especially when he's shooting 11 of 19 for 26 points. He took advantage of the size disparity against the smaller Knicks. And while you'd love to see him grab more than seven boards, he was normally on the perimeter defensively, guarding shooters like Wilson Chandler most of the time, so he was drawn away from the glass. And, of course, when Carlos Arroyo shoots it that well, having a big impact in such a short span of time, that makes the Heat's life that much easier.

As much as the Knicks want to claim they're back, that team is still in the second tier of Eastern Conference teams. Not only do they have no one other than Amare who can create his own shot regularly, but it doesn't look like that team has any sort of game plan defensively. They doubled LeBron for a possession or two, but never looked certain of what they were doing. In order for this version of the Knicks to win a playoff series, it'll take a consistently red-hot shooting performance. And that's just not going to happen. Even if they trade for Carmelo Anthony, it won't put them on a championship level.

Best news of the day was Mike Miller announcing he's ready to return, although it does bring up a quesiton of when should he be inserted into the rotation.

Mike miller It would appear difficult to force him in there when things are going this well. But things are going so well that this might be the best time to do it, when the team can afford to deal with a little tinkering.

I know it would kill Miller to miss the Christmas game if he was ready to play, but with the Mavericks coming up Monday (we can assume Miller won't play Saturday in Washington without a practice under his belt), then the Suns in Phoenix and the Lakers on Christmas, it might make the most sense to wait until the 28th, when the Heat's back home against the Knicks.

But then again, if you slot Miller into James Jones' spot in the rotation, it's not as if he has to play many minutes or has too much responsibility in the early going. So it's not asking too much of him. Wouldn't be surprised to see him inserted for one half of duty while Jones tackles the other half. At least that way you can gauge just how effective he can be while still keeping Jones involved.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Best win so far

There's no question this was the first win on the road against a winning team for Miami. But there are other elements that make this win the best the Heat's had so far this season.

First, the Heat continued to rebound the ball well, and did it with different contributors. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 10 boards to go with his 16 big points, as the Heat outrebounded the Jazz 42-28, which is a huge number, especially on the road against a physical team. Last time these teams played, Joel Anthony was starting at center, which you would think would give Miami a better rebounding group. But Big Z was leading the way this time around. Z

"The biggest thing is rebounding," Ilgauskas said. "We're winning all the rebounding battles game after game after game. Before we were not. We have the same guys, but we're doing it with more effort, doing it collectively."

It also helps when the Heat is simply making shots. The Heat was 9 of 20 from three, including Dwyane Wade rediscovering his three-point shot, while the Jazz was just 1 of 14 from distance. These two teams were the two best in the league in FG percentage against, and yet both teams shot better than 50 percent Wednesday.

Most importantly, though, was Wade hitting nine of his 14 shots. In the Heat's 15 wins, Wade is shooting 20 percent better than he is in the Heat's losses. That's a huge number. Meanwhile, LeBron is actually averaging more points in Heat losses than in wins. It just goes to show you that when Wade scores, the Heat's probably going to win. Because the other components are usually going to be there.

When you look at the schedule now, it's hard to imagine the Heat not being favored in every game until Christmas. That doesn't mean there aren't some interesting games before then. The Heat plays in New York on the 17th, which suddenly becomes a battle of high-powered teams. And the Heat gets a rematch with Dallas in Miami on the 20th. You can assume there will be little to no bumping between players and coaches on the bench that night.




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