NBA Playoffs 2012: 6 Reasons Miami Heat Are Doomed in Round 2
The Eastern Conference Semifinals officially kicked off this weekend, with many saying this round will simply be a way for the Miami Heat to stay loose on their run to the Conference Finals. The Indiana Pacers, this year's third seed, were one of the bigger surprises of the NBA season as they rode the signing of David West and the growth of players like Paul George and Danny Granger to a 42-24 record and a 4-1 series win over the Orlando Magic, but they still seemed like a safe opponent for Miami.
However, the Heat taking the series is by no means a foregone conclusion. They played well in their 95-86 home win to open the series, but the issues that plague the Heat have yet to disappear. For as good as the team looked dispatching the New York Knicks in five games in the first round, they are far from a perfect team and have problems that could potentially make them quite vulnerable.
When playing to their full capacity, the Heat are a very tough team to conquer, but as we've seen over the past two seasons, they are certainly not unbeatable.
Let's take a look at six reasons the Heat may be in trouble here in the second round.
No. 1: Chris Bosh's Injury
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With time winding down in the second quarter, Chris Bosh elevated in the lane and packed in an impressive dunk over Roy Hibbert, but promptly crumpled to the ground upon landing. At first glance, it appeared nothing had happened to Bosh, or that maybe he landed strangely on his left leg, but as he struggled to run the floor and meet his man on defense, it was clear something fairly serious had occurred.
Bosh was escorted to the locker room prior to the end of the first half and was ruled out for the second half of the game with a lower abdominal injury. Little-used reserve Ronny Turiaf started the third quarter and gave the Heat some decent minutes of banging in the paint and doing dirty work, but there was clearly tension in the air at American Airlines Arena.
Though Bosh is often maligned by basketball fans as not being on the level of James or Wade, he is still an integral part of this Miami team. With their dearth of size (which we'll discuss later) they need Bosh, who can play both power forward and center, on the court. His ability to draw his defender outside of the paint is key for the team as it allows slashers like Wade to move under the basket because the big man is out on the perimeter.
It is unclear quite how serious Bosh's injury is, but since the Heat were down six at the half and did not put him back in, it can be assumed that he definitely tweaked something. If Bosh misses any time, even a single game, it would be a difficult obstacle for the team to overcome.
Udonis Haslem is a disciplined defender and a gritty rebounder, but he doesn't have the size to guard Roy Hibbert and his jumper isn't nearly as reliable. The rest of the Heat's bigs are simply not the kind of guys you want to be starting in the second round of the playoffs.
With Bosh at less than 100 percent, the Pacers can continue to pound the ball inside and attack the paint, a major advantage of theirs. While it is still unclear just how severe Chris Bosh's injury was, look for that to be a major storyline in the series going forward and potentially a reason the Heat end up defeated.
No. 2: The Size of the Pacers
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There is no question that the Heat's reserve big men played extremely well tonight, but if you're Eric Spoelstra, can you really count on them to play at this level for an entire postseason series? Joel Anthony had nine points and seven rebounds while making all four of his shot attempts from the field, but that seems unsustainable for a player with as raw an offensive game as Anthony.
Turiaf had four points and three boards in 10:19 of playing time, but is that concentrated burst really indicative of what he'll give them in the future?
One of the Pacers' biggest strengths is their size and dominating front line, anchored by 7'2" All-Star Roy Hibbert. Despite Indiana's struggles in the second half of the game, Hibbert finished with a very respectable 17 points and 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive end. Hibbert presents a matchup nightmare to a team like Miami, and he has developed a very sound offensive game, including a terrific drop step and very soft hook shot.
Power forward David West also put up nice numbers, scoring 17 points as well while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out three assists. If the two of them can play this well for the rest of the series, Indiana is still in extremely good shape to pull off a major upset.
The team also has capable bench forwards in Tyler Hansbrough and Louis Amundson who are extremely active out on the court in limited minutes. When you factor in Danny Granger, a solid rebounding small forward, and the 6'10" Paul George who lines up at the two-guard, Indiana is easily one of the league's largest teams.
The Pacers' size clearly bothered Udonis Halsem, who scored just two points and missed all four of his field goal attempts. With Bosh's status uncertain for the future, the Heat will need some offensive production from Haslem, who looked uncomfortable on the floor with the towering Pacers.
The Heat had some great activity on the boards, with James snaring 15 and everyone who played stepping up on the glass, but unless they can keep up that kind of gritty play, the advantage inside should go the way of the Pacers.
Size is often something that figures heavily into the playoffs; teams can overcome a lot of obstacles if they can dominate the game from the four and five positions. While the Heat certainly have advantages at the shooting guard and small forward positions, their reliance on small-ball play could come back to haunt them as this series goes on.
No. 3: Their Reliance on Isolation Offense
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It has been said before, but it's worth repeating that Miami's isolation-heavy offense that has been successful at times can also be their undoing. The team goes through stretches where they are absolutely stagnant in the half court and can allow their opponent to go on a scoring run if they are not careful.
The Heat had a sizable lead in the third quarter before one of these such droughts, and Indiana was able to pour in some quick baskets and tighten up the game. Miami had only 16 assists on the afternoon, with James leading the way with five dimes.
Against the Knicks—another team very reliant on one-on-one offensive plays, particularly with Carmelo Anthony—ball movement was not an integral part of the game. The team allowed Anthony to jack up 25 or so shots a night. However, the Pacers' identity is rooted in ball movement and unselfish play—something the Heat should look to match.
Frank Vogel has built his team on the idea of passing up a good shot for a great shot, something Miami doesn't always seem willing to do. Although James and Wade combined for a stellar 61 points, it also took them 49 shots to do so. James was 12 for 26 while Wade was a disheartening eight for 23. The pair made their living at the foul line, but swinging the ball is something that can always be relied on to create offense.
Normally reliable spot-up shooters like Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and Shane Battier were a combined one for nine from the floor and these are the kinds of players who benefit from moving the ball and capitalizing on defensive mistakes in order to create open perimeter shots or driving lanes.
Led by Hibbert, Indiana's defense has been formidable all season, and in a game where James and Wade can't get to the line on command, the team is going to need to share the basketball in order to put up points.
No. 4: Granger and George Won't Be That Inefficient All Series
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Throughout the regular season and the playoffs, Danny Granger and Paul George have been two of Indiana's most consistent scorers. Granger's smooth jump shot and ability to get to his spots on the court has allowed him to put up solid numbers, while George's unmatched athleticism, coupled with improved range has made him a serious offensive weapon for the Pacers.
In the first game of this series, the pair made just two of their 15 shot attempts, had six collective rebounds and 10 personal fouls. Obviously some of that can be attributed to the defense of Miami and James in particular, but Granger and George are two of the league's better scorers and one has to assume that they will make adjustments from the first game to the next.
George was in foul trouble early on and never quite developed a feel for the game, as evidenced by his having only five shot attempts, while Granger was guarded well but also had some looks that simply didn't go down.
Just as the Heat can't necessarily count on the kind of production they got from someone like Joel Anthony, it is unlikely players as gifted as George and Granger will go this quietly throughout the series. Granger has certainly struggled against Miami this year, in four regular season meetings he's averaged 13.3 points on 34 percent shooting, but even that would be enough scoring for a balanced team like the Pacers to work with.
As for George, I believe he will have a tremendous game on Tuesday night. His size and athletic ability at the off-guard position makes teams struggle over how to play him defensively. If they use someone of the same height, he can drive around them or run them ragged off screens. And if they use a quicker guard, he has the frame to simply rise up and shoot over them. The Heat can put LeBron on George, but Wade doesn't have the height or strength to guard Granger for an entire game.
Considering how poorly they played and the Pacers still only lost by nine points, the Heat could be in trouble if the shots start falling for Granger and George.
No. 5: Production from the Point Guard Position
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The point guard position has been one of the Heat's biggest weaknesses during the James-Wade-Bosh era. Besides their lack of a true center, the inability to find consistent production from the one spot has easily been the achilles' heel.
Starter Mario Chalmers can play tough defense and hit a timely three-pointer once in a while, but he really isn't a great playmaker and will often gamble for steals when he shouldn't. Rookie Norris Cole had some solid moments, particularly in the beginning of the year, but its extremely risky to count on someone in their first year in the league as a core contributor on a team aspiring for a championship.
Against a team like the Knicks who were starting a banged-up Baron Davis at point guard for the majority of their series, it was easy to get away with this tandem, but the Pacers boast a much more talented pair at the position. The Pacers have two starting caliber point guards in Darren Collison and George Hill, who bring different things to the table but are each capable of leading the team to victory.
Hill is a scoring guard who looks for his own shot and can put up points in a hurry. He's averaged 14.2 points during the playoffs and shot 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. Darren Collison is more of a facilitator, averaging 4.6 assists in limited minutes while also scoring 8.8 points per game and hitting threes at an identical 42.9 percent clip.
Miami can obviously get away with making LeBron James or Dwyane Wade the primary playmaker for stretches, but I'm sure they would be more comfortable if they had a point guard they could count on to consistently notch double-digit points or hand out five assists per game.
Hill was in foul trouble and couldn't really develop a rhythm in this first game, but if he and Collison can find their game early in this series, the Heat would almost certainly struggle to match their production.
As long as Miami is getting out in transition, they don't need to rely as much on half-court offense, but if the Pacers can slow the game down, then the Heat's lack of a pure point guard could come back to haunt them.
No. 6: Lack of Depth
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One of the main strengths for the Indiana Pacers is their depth and ability to throw a myriad of different looks at their opponents.
They can execute in the half court and slow the game down by pounding the ball inside with David West and Roy Hibbert, or they can push the ball up the court and create transition opportunities with George Hill and Paul George.
The team's bench has some talent that can carry them for stretches throughout a game. Darren Collison, as I talked about earlier, is a starting-caliber point guard they have the luxury of using off the bench. Recently acquired Leandro Barbosa is still a very capable scorer due to his deceptive quickness, and he is very talented in transition. Louis Amundson and Tyler Hansbrough are both extremely scrappy players who claw for every possession, and Hansbrough is an improved offensive player who can occasionally step out and hit a perimeter jump shot.
The team plays defense at a very high level, particularly when they can funnel opponents into the paint for Hibbert, who has become a truly dominant shot-blocker this season. They never have to lean too heavily on one player for scoring and tend to play their best basketball when everyone on the court is involved on both ends.
The Miami Heat, as basketball fans have discussed time and time again, are really reliant on the magic of Wade, Bosh and James for their production. Though they took some steps in signing Ronny Turiaf and Shane Battier this season, they still have some serious depth issues. If Bosh's injury is serious, this could be a major obstacle for the team down the stretch of this series.
Indiana is extremely physical offensively and defensively, they have no problem doling out a hard foul to avoid an easy basket or diving on the floor for a loose ball. This kind of play can often wear a team down to the point where their starters will need a rest, and Miami often struggles without either James or Wade on the court to control the game.
Yesterday, James played 43 minutes and Wade played 40, each certainly taking their share of contact. Over the course of a series, this takes a toll on a player's body, but for the Heat to be effective, they must leave their superstars out on the floor for practically the entire game.
If Miami cannot find a way to better preserve James and Wade, they could start showing some physical deterioration, which would play right into the hand of the deeper Pacers squad.