Once again, injuries are taking their toll on the Miami Heat.
Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem may be back and healthy after an injury plagued 2010-'11 campaign, but the injury bug has struck once again with Dwyane Wade being the casualty this year. A foot injury he suffered in the third game coupled with a severe ankle injury only two games after his return from the previous injury have kept Wade sidelined for nine games this season already.
It's the first time since the 2007-'08 season when he only played 51 games that Wade has been hurt for an extended period of time. Dwyane's work with legendary trainer Tim Grover has greatly aided him to improve his durability and restore his athleticism. He had played in 76 or more games over the past three seasons.
It's not like the Heat are suffering though. They've lost one game in Wade's absence with that being a sleepwalker of a defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks. As depressing as it is to see the Heat trudging their way through games against the Bucks, Detroit and Cleveland, we can't forget that they also happened to defeat San Antonio, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia in the three games prior.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh led the way with each win coming by 11 points or more. The Heat were playing so well in the span without Wade that there was actual talk of claiming that the team was better without their former Finals MVP shooting guard. That talk was quickly dispelled of once the Heat lost to the Bucks, and the two close matchups against the Cavaliers and Pistons shortly after.
The Heat are used to this situation of playing shorthanded. They've never played together at 100 percent and they'll probably have to wait only a few more days before Wade returns. Even then, it still might take some time for Wade to get back into the rhythm of things, especially with how severe that ankle injury appeared to be.
There have been several silver linings in Wade's injury. Not only does it prove just how quality this team is overall as well as the depth, but it's also allowed guys like Miller, Shane Battier, and Norris Cole to get extended minutes. All three players needed the minutes to get used to the scheme of things, but it was extremely important for Miller and Battier as both players were dealing with previous ailments.
The greatest significance of Wade's injury, however, has been what we have seen from Chris Bosh. Remember him? He was the player who everyone claimed to be 'soft' and passive. We didn't really care that he left Toronto for Miami, aside from fans of the Raptors, but it was fun to pick on him because he was struggling, playing alongside LeBron James and had an awkward element to his game.
It was tough to be in Bosh's shoes last year. He wanted to win, that's why he came here and sacrificed the adoration of a large fanbase as well as a maximum contract. Even those weren't the worst aspects of leaving Toronto as Bosh would become a third scoring option between the dynamic slashing duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
It's tough to blame the Heat coaching staff for making Wade and James the primary scorers. They can handle the ball which means that they're going to dominate the possession, can change the momentum of a game in a matter of seconds and can take over at the right moments.
Not to mention that they've proven in the past before that they have the talent to make it deep into postseason, something that Bosh was never able to accomplish. Life sucks when Andrea Bargnani is your sidekick and Jose Calderon is the defensive stopper at the perimeter.
It's not as easy as it sounds to go from a first scoring option to a third and expect immediate success. This is purely a mental ordeal. Bosh went from being constantly fed and looked at on every possession for scoring, to practically being ignored for momentary stretches of the game. It's just the pace of the game sometimes. If the tempo is too fast, the game becomes grasped in the hands of Wade and James.
Bosh was the odd man out too many times last year. He still averaged 18 points on 50 percent shooting last year, but he was too inconsistent because he wasn't getting fed early enough to build up his confidence and get in an offensive rhythm early enough for it to carry on for the rest of the game. He's the type of player that needs to get going early.
You can't start giving the ball to him near the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second and expect him to immediately come to life. He's not J.R. Smith or Jamal Crawford, he's a star player who should be constantly getting fed the ball.
That's not fair to Bosh. Wade and James are the better players, absolutely, but that doesn't mean he should be treated as just any member of the supporting cast. The Heat formed a big three, not a big two. As fun and efficient it can be to watch Wade and James do what they do best, at some point you have to include Bosh so that the team could add some versatility aside from slashing.
Bosh isn't like your average power forward. In fact, he's one of the most uniquely gifted players at his size in the NBA. He possesses a superb jump shot, which is falling at an unbelievable rate at the moment, and also has the ability to drive at will. Bosh is ambidextrous and too quick for any defender to contain him. Most power forwards aren't that fast, and if they are Bosh can use a jumper or his added strength to take advantage.
That's the great thing about Bosh; he's nearly unstoppable when he gets going. If you allow him to get his shots early and often, he's not exactly going to stop making those shots. Take for instance in the Heat's win against Detroit, the team kept feeding Bosh and it resulted in the power forward netting his first six shots and spotting the Heat a seven point lead after one.
He was scoring in his usual variety of ways, jump shooting and driving primarily. What it showed was just how effective he can be when the team actually makes it a point to feed him the ball early in the game. With no Wade, there's no reason why Bosh should not be getting fed on every single possession.
Sure enough, Bosh has been playing stellar without Wade in the lineup. No, it's not because the Heat are better without him, but rather just because the team needs someone to step up in his absence. With the team missing out on 25 points per game each night, someone has to make up for that offensive assault and that someone happens to be Chris Bosh.
Since the Heat lost Wade in their loss to Denver, Bosh has played like the player we knew him as in Toronto. In the past six games, Bosh has scored 30 points or more three times and has shot 54 percent from the field or better in all of those games.
His rebounding numbers are disappointing, but his scoring touch in this six-game stretch has been unlike any other we've seen from Bosh since he joined the Heat. He's missed one free throw in his last 30 attempts and has been arguably the best mid-range shooter in the NBA this season. Give him a watch if you don't believe me. Bosh is hitting everything from outside the paint, including from beyond the arc where he is 4-of-6 in the past four games.
Every teams opposing defense will be primarily focused on LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. It doesn't matter if Chris Bosh has scored 50 points in his past ten games, defense's will always automatically lock on to those two slashers based on their reputations and names alone. Based on that alone, it's painfully obvious that the Heat should utilize Bosh to his fullest potential because of the defensive pressure put on James and Wade alone.
You'll notice it in every game. Bosh will always have one defender on him, while there are two defenders chasing either LeBron or Dwyane around on the perimeter. Instead of having those two waste their energy attempting to elude two or three defenders at a time, perhaps going to Bosh and having him be relied on as a first option for an extended period would be the right idea.
After all, what exactly is stopping this team from having Chris Bosh as the first option? What does it matter if Dwyane and LeBron are a second or third option for a night? In fact, why should it be determined beforehand who's going to be doing the scoring that night? It's much easier just to go with the flow and let the game come to you.
Bosh is the only player of the big three that needs to be fed in order to score. He can't just take over a game like Dwyane or LeBron can because he doesn't have the ball in his hands like they do. Bosh can't just dribble up court and take jump shots or drive, he needs his teammates to give him the ball and not much else because he's so effective at creating his own shot.
Of course, it doesn't just effect Chris Bosh, but everyone else on his team. If he's hitting shots from everywhere and driving at will, eventually defense's will have to defer some of their focus onto him. If that happens, Dwyane and LeBron get open, as do shooters and anyone else on the floor. It's all building off of the concept of attracting double teams and finding the man that's being left open.
Instead, the Heat choose not to do this. The offensive focus is too much on the driving abilities of LeBron and Dwyane, rather than the fundamental approach of Chris. Rather than aiming for versatility in their offense, the Heat would much rather continue forcing the issue with two players that are being tightly defended by an entire opposing defense.
There are five players on defense. Each and every last one of them is always thinking where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are. They know Chris Bosh is there as well, but the attention is focused on James and Wade because of how predictable the Heat's offense is. This team should never go through a stretch where Bosh doesn't have the ball.
A key principle of an offense is feeding your big man and the Heat can't seem to understand that logic at times. They'll go to him in the first half, but once the second half rolls around it's hero ball all over again with either a drive or a 30 foot jumper taking over. Even without a point guard, there are no excuses to why this offense should be rushed to take a jump shot as to avoid a violation.
There are too many scorers and playmakers for that to be impossible to happen. The problem is that they don't play the offense inside the perimeter. The majority of the time it's Dwyane and LeBron passing it to each other 25 feet away from the basket when Bosh is already within the perimeter and ready to take his defender off the dribble.
If you're not going to apply pressure within the perimeter, you're allowing the defense to catch its breath. They don't have to work as hard if all they have to do is make sure that they have two people up top to limit the drives of LeBron and Dwyane. Throw Chris Bosh the ball once in awhile and you'll notice that defense's will tend to stray away from the perimeter a little more than they planned on.
The main problem that lies with this team is their tendency to deviate from Bosh in the second half. Obviously they're going to give the ball to their top two scorers who have a higher chance of getting close the rim, but it doesn't exactly mean that they should just leave Bosh out of the picture just because they have a better chance of slashing and getting near the rim.
Every NBA defense expects that. You need to be unique in your decision making because players and coaches at this level are too smart. If they see something wrong, it takes them a few plays before it's patched up and the team has adjusted to it. Teams can adjust to driving, even if the players that are driving are the league's two best players.
However, they can't stop a player who has two consistent go-to moves. It's too difficult to play Bosh one-on-one because of the threat of the drive or the jump shot. Rather than continuing to force the issue with a James or Wade drive, why not allow Bosh to get himself as many shots in the second half as he did in the first so that he can feel that he's not being straight up ignored.
Take a look at every NBA champion and you'll see at least one domineering big man. The Spurs had Tim Duncan, the Lakers had Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol and the Celtics had Kevin Garnett. You can't have a team that does nothing but drive because that's too easy to stop. All it takes is simply packing the paint or creating a zone defense.
The Heat don't have many competent big men, but they do have one excellent big man in Bosh. They need to allow him to feel as a part of this team. Even when Dwyane Wade does make his return, that doesn't mean the team should immediately revert back to a Wade or James bust method of offense.
Allow these three players to thrive off of each other. Let Bosh be as much a part of this offense as Wade or James have been for the past season-and-a-quarter. He proved it last season during the Heat's Conference Finals victory over Chicago and he's proving it once again over this six game stretch where he's already three 30 point games, making it four on the year.
Not to mention, this guy is clutch. He's extremely underrated in those situations, but has shown that he is capable of saving his team from certain defeat.
Bosh is too versatile to not be utilized as someone who can go out and score 20 points per game. He is capable of doing that every single night if you asked him to, but you have to act like you want him to be a part of the offensive scheme first. Don't forget that Bosh, who is a relatively quiet guy, called out the organization last year and demanded that he got more touches.
Let that sink in. It tells you of how badly Bosh wants to make this work. He's extremely committed to what he signed up for, so it's about time that he was rewarded for his services. Bosh could be the X-factor of this team if the Heat are willing to allow him to become that. All he needs is the confidence instilled into him by his teammates and the coaching staff.
Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce didn't win a championship in their first year together because they ignored one of the players and predominantly gave the ball to two. They utilized a well-balanced effort amongst the trio where each player set up in their comfort zone and were equally rewarded with plenty of shots.
Last year, Wade and James each took nearly 18 shots per game. Chris Bosh only took 14. Understood that each player can only took so many shots per game and that there is only one basketball on the court, but it's not exactly fair to give one member of a big three four less shots than his two counterparts.
You don't have to make Bosh a first option. Just make him relevant and consistently in the offense from the first to the fourth quarter. No more desperate jumpers before the 24 second buzzer sounds, the ball needs to be fed to Bosh to add some much needed versatility to this team once and for all.