If LeBron James and the Miami Heat were hoping to wash off the stink of an embarrassing loss to the Detroit Pistons, they sure didn't show it against the Milwaukee Bucks, who took advantage of some sloppy Heat play in a 104-85 victory over the defending champs Saturday night.
Early turnovers and poor shooting put Miami at a 12-point disadvantage going into the half, and after a solid third quarter, the Heat gave up the ghost in the fourth. Milwaukee dominated in the final period, outscoring the Heat 35-14.
Nobody likes superstar apologists, but the fact is that Miami's Big Three were not at fault in this one. Sure, LeBron James kicked the ball around a little too much and Chris Bosh had a forgettable shooting night, but the Heat role players deserve the blame for Miami's second consecutive loss.
Brandon Jennings abused Mario Chalmers, who only countered with five points on 1-of-6 shooting, Shane Battier was a no-show and the Heat bench can't be described without the use of some select four-letter words.
Continuing a disturbing trend, the Heat relied on their ability to flip the intensity switch on and off as needed. Unfortunately for Miami, it was only in the "on" position during the third quarter. In the other three periods, the Bucks feasted on lazy passes and consistently won the hustle battle.
A couple of road losses aren't the end of the world, but Miami's back-to-back failures are certainly going to have Heat fans talking about the ongoing issues with the bench. Let's start the discussion with some grades.
Mario Chalmers: F
We'll say this for Mario Chalmers: He's consistent. After going 1-of-6 in the loss at Detroit, Chalmers scored just five points on 1-of-5 shooting in Milwaukee.
Chalmers is lucky that Norris Cole hasn't put together a good stretch this season, because his inability to make contributions on a game-to-game basis is becoming a real issue. On nights like this one, where the Heat veterans are struggling to find their legs, the relatively youthful Chalmers should be the one pushing the tempo and setting the tone.
Instead, he racked up more personal fouls (three) than field goals made (one) and never put any pressure on the Bucks' defensively suspect guards.
Occasionally, Chalmers has showed this season that he can put up solid scoring figures, but he was a total no-show. The Heat really needed something out of him against Milwaukee, and Chalmers failed to deliver.
Dwyane Wade: B+
Dwyane Wade certainly looked like he enjoyed his day off.
Although he probably would have preferred to to avoid his one-game suspension for a low blow on Ramon Sessions, Wade clearly benefited from the rest. He played with excellent aggression and looked particularly spry as he dominated Monta Ellis on both ends.
D-Wade went to work on Ellis early, punishing the notoriously undisciplined Bucks guard with well-timed cuts and savvy moves off the ball. In addition to embarrassing him on offense, Wade let the trigger-happy Ellis shoot to his heart's content on the other end. Like most smart defenders, Wade pushed Ellis to his weak (left) hand and allowed him to cast away from mid-range all night.
Overall, Wade poured in 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting while Ellis volume-shot his way to 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting from the floor.
Because Wade was so fresh, it would have been fair to ask more of him on the night. Instead, his performance was just very good, as opposed to great. So he'll have to be satisfied with a grade to match.
Shane Battier: D-
Well, Battier didn't turn the ball over. That might not seem like much, but on a night when most of the Heat were kicking the rock all over the place, Battier's goose egg in the giveaway department warrants a mention.
Otherwise, the Heat's occasional starter really failed to impact the game in a significant way. Despite being matched up primarily with the offensively limited Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels, Battier didn't exactly wow anyone with his vaunted shutdown skills. Mbah a Moute finished with 19 points.
When Battier's not frustrating opponents on D, he's got to at least knock down a few triples to remain valuable. Unfortunately for him (and the Heat) he hit just one against Milwaukee.
Battier, along with Chalmers and the dreadful bench, was the reason Miami lost this game. When the Heat are only getting three points in 28 minutes from their starting small forward, they're likely going to struggle to win.
LeBron James: B-
For the first time in recent memory, LeBron James actually looked tired in a game. After putting up 35 points in a loss to the Pistons and basically carrying the Heat all year, the King could only muster one brilliant quarter before presumably succumbing to fatigue.
James just didn't have it early, but the league's reigning MVP shook off a rough start and some uncharacteristic turnovers to single-handedly drag the Heat back into the game in the third.
James pumped in 14 third-period points on the way to 26 overall, but he wilted afterward, clearly running on fumes. Overall, LBJ's stat line looks good; he shot 11-of-20 from the floor and finished with seven assists and six rebounds. But he turned the ball over six times and couldn't quite take the game over when he reentered in the fourth.
He's certainly not to blame for the loss, and he earns a little slack for his season-long effort, but when a team's best player can't elevate the play of his cohorts, it's hard to reward him with a high grade.
Chris Bosh: C+
Much like the rest of his teammates, Chris Bosh didn't shoot the ball well in the first half, but he deserves credit for keeping the Heat in the game by doing some nice work on the boards. His three offensive pulls in the first period helped offset a dreadful-shooting quarter.
Overall, the results were mixed for Bosh, though. He pulled down 16 boards (including eight on the offensive end), but Larry Sanders hounded him into a 5-of-14 shooting performance.
Like James, Bosh looked a little worn out after being just one of two players on the Heat to reach double figures against Detroit. That fatigue, coupled with Sanders' manic energy and length, resulted in a forgettable performance from Bosh.
A 12-point, 16-rebound game is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and the Heat role players' complete disappearing act was the real cause of the loss here. So Bosh gets a relatively respectable grade, all things considered.
Ray Allen: F
In his return to his first NBA city, Ray Allen got a warm welcome from the Milwaukee crowd, who clearly still appreciated his leadership during the team's 2001 run to the Eastern Conference finals.
Of course, the assembled Bucks fans may also have been psyched to see Allen because they were aware of his recent shooting struggles. The Heat's sixth man had hit just 5-of-18 from beyond the arc over his last four games, and he stayed cold in Milwaukee.
Allen knocked down just one shot in six tries from the field and was 0-for-1 from beyond the arc in nearly 20 minutes.
Along with Chalmers, Battier and Norris Cole, Allen completely failed to show up against a team that he should have been able to exploit. Both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis have a tendency to fall asleep on D, which Allen could have taken advantage of. Instead, he barely scored, didn't defend and turned the ball over three times.
Bench Grade: F
Josh Harrellson? Really?
After logging a total of 10 minutes this season, Harrellson racked up 17 Saturday night. But based on his performance, it was clear that he was only seeing so much playing time because the Heat were without the services of Udonis Haslem. The seldom-used reserve finished with five points.
What's worse than five points from Harrellson in 17 minutes? How about the fact that he led the Heat bench in scoring.
That's right, Miami's reserves were that bad.
Mike Miller hit one shot and Norris Cole ran around a lot, but nobody on Miami's bench made a meaningful impact on the game. Unless you consider utterly negative impacts to be meaningful.
The bench gets an F for its performance, but that's only because there's not a lower grade available. Rest assured, if it was permissible to assign a Z, that's what the Miami subs would have gotten.