How Would the Miami Heat Cover for Shane Battier's Absence?
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Shane Battier isn't often at a loss for words, and usually they are multi-syllabic words that are rarely seen outside of the Spelling Bee.
So when the self-proclaimed NBA Scrabble champion ducked out of the locker room early Saturday night, prior to speaking to reporters, it was enough to raise some concerns. Late in the third quarter, he had left the game for good, hobbling to the locker room after getting entangled with teammate Udonis Haslem.
His Twitter followers certainly had questions so, before the night was out, Battier answered them.
"Thanks for all the notes peeps, I will be alright. My knee got caught in a weird position as I got tangled up. Mild sprain. Be back in a few."
Why does it matter? It matters because Battier has done excellent work this season, sacrificing his body to bang with power forwards, and hitting 45.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
"I can't speak enough about Shane's impact on this organization in the last year and a half," Erik Spoelstra said recently. "It's one of the reasons why we recruited him so hard. We wanted him as a part of this organization for the past five or six years, and we waited for our time in free agency to be able to make it happen.
"He does so many of the little things, his mental stability, his leadership. And he has a way when you leave him open, he'll make big ones."
So how would Miami fill his big hole, even if it's just for a short time?
(Note: All quotes were recorded in the course of the author's coverage of the team for The Palm Beach Post. All statistics are updated as of Sunday night.)
Option 1: Slide in Udonis Haslem
It's been a busy week for the Heat's old reliable.
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When the Heat honored Udonis Haslem last week, for breaking Alonzo Mourning's franchise rebounding record, it seemed a bit like the organization was going back in time.
Sure, Haslem still has a role for the team in his own city, but that role has been significantly reduced in recent years, after his foot injury cost him most of 2010-11 and as Erik Spoelstra has moved to more of a "position-less" philosophy, with more of a premium on offensive versatility.
Through the season's first 13 games, Haslem has averaged 17.5 minutes, down from his career average of 30. That's been the case even though, at 6-foot-8, he's the only "big" who has been playing off the bench much at all, with Joel Anthony seeing at best occasional action.
Haslem doesn't get off the ground as quickly as he once did and, after struggling with his jumper throughout last season, he's 6-of-16 from anywhere outside the rim area this season.
Still, he remains the highest per-minute rebounder of any of the regulars, and that's the trait that would come in handy.
Using him as a starter would save LeBron James from dealing with bulky players at the start of each half, and still give Erik Spoelstra the options of Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller and even James Jones if he wants to go smaller as the game progresses.
Haslem didn't watch the highlight video that honored him when he broke that rebound record last Wednesday.
"I never want it to be about me," Haslem said.
In this case, when it comes to serving as a fill-in starter, it could be.
Option 2: Lean on Lewis a Little
Lewis has shown, after two years of inactivity, that he can still shoot.
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All along, Erik Spoelstra has insisted that he wasn't expecting Rashard Lewis to fully return to form until much later in the season.
Patience made sense, considering that the two-time All-Star hadn't been a factor for the past two seasons, due to knee trouble...and considering that Lewis didn't appear to have his legs early in camp, leaving many shots short.
Even so, Spoelstra was giving him a regular dose of 10 to 20 minutes through the first 11 games of the season, and Lewis, while sometimes a step slow defensively, did demonstrate that he still possessed a lethal long-range stroke, connecting on 15-of-28 from behind the arc, and 6-of-10 from just inside.
Lewis says he's fine, and Battier's absence would be a fine time to get him back out there. Lewis is not much of a rebounder, but neither is Battier, and Lewis is at least Battier's equal as a shooter.
Plus, since he hasn't been in the rotation the past two games, that would allow Spoelstra to keep Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem in their current reserve spots.
"I'm just waiting my turn," Lewis said.
Perhaps it's now.
Option 3: Miller Time?
Mike Miller has been ready to launch all season.
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The past two seasons, Mike Miller probably shouldn't have been on the court.
Whether it was his left thumb, or his right thumb, or his sports hernia, or his back, or even his shoulder, there was always something that had him looking like less than half the man the Heat signed as a core piece of its complementary cast to the Big 3.
It's just Miller's luck that, now that he looks spry, Erik Spoelstra keeps looking the other way.
Spoelstra simply has more options that he did the past two seasons, and that's meant that Miller was essentially out of the rotation until two strong performances in Dwyane Wade's place have gotten him back in the bench mix.
Miller is a superior passer and rebounder to Battier or Lewis, and he competes on the defensive end. Plus, Miami is 3-0 with him as a starter.
For those reasons, he appears the logical choice, but since he can't really guard traditional power forwards (at least not while remaining in one piece) that would leave those duties to LeBron James, and James made it known last season that he'd prefer not to start at that spot.
James has softened his stance some on that since, and he appears to enjoy playing with floor-spacers, a term for which Miller certainly qualifies, especially that, in the name of his energy drink, Miller has been much more willing to "let it fly" of late.
Option 4: A Call to Anthony?
Joel Anthony's rim protection is something the other options don't offer.
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Joel Anthony never liked starting all that much.
He does like to play, however, and he hasn't gotten a chance to do a lot of that lately. In an attempt to exploit the vast offensive riches on the roster, Erik Spoelstra has gotten away from using one of the most offensively-challenged players in the league.
Still, Anthony, who has played in only nine of 13 games, and in no more than seven minutes in any of them, does have two useful skill sets: he's a superb shotblocker and an exceptional screen-setter.
Plus, while he doesn't rebound, he is a long 6-foot-9 who can make Tim Duncan (Spurs) and Kris Humphries (Nets) work at the start of the two halves each of the next two games.
Then Spoelstra can take him out, and go to Rashard Lewis or Udonis Haslem before James loses his mind after Anthony loses possession of a perfect pass.
One potential problem with Anthony's insertion is that he and Chris Bosh didn't fit all that well together as starters before and, while Anthony doesn't play much like a traditional center anyway, just the sight of the two of them together may raise questions about whether Bosh is "back" at power forward.
This is for sure: it's more likely that Anthony starts than Spoelstra goes with Ray Allen, who has become comfortable as a sixth man supreme, or James Jones, who has fared well as a fill-in before, but has been banished to the back end of the bench.
Option 5: Go Game to Game
A group effort may be required if Battier's out a while.
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It has been one of the welcome progressions in Erik Spoelstra's coaching style:
He has chosen to dictate, rather than react.
That has meant putting out a small lineup, and daring opposing coaches to stay big. In many cases, those coaches, even if outrebounding the Heat, have eventually relented, and tried to match up with Miami. As evidenced by the Heat's 10-3 record, that has not been a winning strategy.
Shane Battier's sacrifice has made a lot of Spoelstra's steadiness possible, because Battier has occupied everyone from Zach Randolph to Blake Griffin without complaint. If Battier is out for any length of time, Spoelstra may need to alter his lineups based on the opponent.
Against the Spurs and Nets?
It might make sense to start Udonis Haslem, considering that Tim Duncan and Kris Humphries could bludgeon Rashard Lewis on the boards.
Against the Wizards?
Well, it doesn't much matter.
Against the Knicks?
With Carmelo Anthony at power forward (and considering the way Anthony blew by Lewis repeatedly in the last meeting) maybe Spoelstra goes with LeBron James at that spot, and dusts off Mike Miller.
All of this might lead to one thing: more appreciation for Shane Battier.