5 Things the Miami Heat Must Accomplish in Second Half of Season
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With accomplishments come expectations.
And so, what would otherwise be considered a strong first half of the season for the Miami Heat (28 wins in the first 41 games) has actually seemed a bit underwhelming.
That win total was actually fewer, by two and three games, than Miami had accrued over the first 41 games of the past two seasons.
“It’s just kind of weird,” Chris Bosh said. “Because any other team, any other year, it would be A-plus, great, we’re in first place in the East. But because we’re ourselves, we expect better. The only thing that we’re expecting is a championship."
That's the least of what Heat fans are expecting also.
"We have to get better in pretty much every area," Bosh said. "We have to clean up a lot of things.”
They do, though in game No. 42 they did, routing the Nets by 20. In the third quarter of that contest, they showed themselves at their best, outscoring Brooklyn 36-14 by swarming on defense and sharing on offense.
They'll need more of that in the weeks to come, to fend off challenges in the East, especially if Chicago (Derrick Rose) and Indiana (Danny Granger) get healthy, and the Knicks, who have beaten Miami twice by 20, manage to sustain their hot shooting.
“If we had more consistency on the road, we’d probably have more of a cushion, and we’d probably be knocking on the door of the best record in the league,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
It may be too late for that.
Still, there are some attainable goals the rest of the way.
(All quotes in this piece were collected through the course of the writer's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics were accurate as of Thursday afternoon.)
5. More Consistency from Mario Chalmers
Mario Chalmers appeared to have made strides, then slipped back again.
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Mario Chalmers deems himself in the league's upper echelon of point guards.
And, if you only watched certain sequences, or even games, you may be willing to indulge him for a minute.
Unfortunately, in his fifth season, there have still been too many minutes in which he hurts the Heat more than he helps.
Yes, he made 10 shots from deep against Sacramento.
In the previous eight games, he made seven.
Yes, he turned in a steady performance against Brooklyn.
But that came after Erik Spoelstra kept him off the floor for the fourth quarter and both overtimes against Boston.
Chalmers' play matters to the Heat, because he is a superior shooter to backup Norris Cole, and Miami needs one to contribute consistently so that less of the ball-handling burden falls to LeBron James.
Chalmers has shown improvement in some areas, notably his passing, as was evident when leading the break against Brooklyn, then combining with Dwyane Wade and James on a brilliant transition bucket.
"That's just a feel with those two guys," Chalmers said. "You've just got to deliver the basketball, on time, on target."
He's been a target himself, of his teammates as well as the critics, for mental lapses and poor outings.
If Miami can get more consistency out of him, it would go a long way.
4. Better Overall Effort on the Boards
Chris Bosh has been hitting the glass harder of late.
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Chris Bosh got tired of all the rebounding talk.
After every game, it seemed, he was asked to defend his low production, with the scrutiny heightened when Miami's team total trailed an opponent's by double digits.
Bosh has been better in that category of late, with 12 against Toronto and 16 against Boston...and no one paid it much mind when he had only four, but Miami outrebounded Brooklyn anyway.
Bosh will likely be up and down the rest of the season, since he's not exactly a bruiser, and he's not playing a traditional center role, often expected to float out toward the three-point arc.
So Miami must manage to rebound by committee, as it did when holding its own against Boston, Indiana and Oklahoma City in the 2012 postseason.
LeBron James continues rebounding at a career-best rate, and Udonis Haslem, even if he's sometimes overmatched, remains the top per-minute rebounder among the regulars.
Can others do enough in support?
Joel Anthony has some strengths, notably shot-blocking and screen-setting, but he has bad hands and is not always in ideal rebounding position. That made Chris Andersen's 10-minute, five-rebound stint against the Nets encouraging, even if sometimes ragged.
"That's what we've been waiting for, and it was good to see him out there," James said. "Just his size and his motor is going to really help us. Once he continues to get into game shape, which you can only do if you play, he gets his legs back under him, he's going to be really good for our team."
This team simply doesn't have the size to be a dominant rebounding group.
Adequate will suffice, considering Miami's other advantages.
3. Signs of Life on the Road
On the road, the Heat keep falling, and can't seem to get up.
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In the wake of the Heat's 105-85 romp in Brooklyn, which was inspired in part by Reggie Evans' disparaging comments related to Miami's lockout-season championship, LeBron James said something he hasn't been in position to say in many visiting locker rooms this season.
"We showed tonight what we are capable of, offensively, defensively, the whole package," James said.
So we know, as observers, that it's in there.
The problem this season is that, too often, Miami has failed to pack it on the road.
Even after the win against the Nets, the Heat are just 11-10 away from AmericanAirlines Arena.
Two seasons ago, when the core of this group was still coming together, Miami had 10 straight road wins in a single month, on the way to a 28-13 road record.
During the 2012 postseason, Miami found a way to win on the road in extremely adverse situations: down 2-1 to Indiana, down 3-2 to Boston, down 1-0 to Oklahoma City. And there have been some nice wins this season: at Atlanta, at Denver, at Golden State.
Still, the Heat (and their supporters) would enter this postseason with a bit more confidence, if they could see Miami get its road turnover trouble under control, and find a way to quiet more crowds.
2. Bench Takes More of the Burden
The Heat is still searching for the right mix on the second unit.
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You can make the case that the Heat have never had anyone quite like Ray Allen.
Miami has never had a serious candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, and while Allen won't win that, his 11.5 scoring average and 47.5 percent shooting have given the Heat an element lacking in many prior seasons.
Still, the Heat needs even more from the bench.
That doesn't necessarily mean scoring, since Erik Spoelstra never leaves his team without one of its top three stars on the floor. It means making the most of the opportunities those stars provide, and supporting the stars with defense, rebounding, hustle and occasional playmaking.
It means Shane Battier making more outside shots than he has of late.
It means Norris Cole providing on-ball pestering, while resisting some of his one-on-one or one-on-three impulses.
It means one of the backup bigs, whether it's Joel Anthony or Chris Andersen, offering energy, with Anthony's strong play against the Lakers an example of how he can disrupt an offense with his speed.
It means Allen rescuing Miami at times, as he has several times already this season, while not being such a liability on the other end that the rescuing is required.
Spoelstra speaks often of his team's versatility, and certainly he has plenty of dissimilar and potentially useful options.
But what the Heat need, night after night, is productivity, the sort not always measured by the scoresheet.
1. Reigning Above All? Healthy Stars
If LeBron James can stay on the court, it may not matter what's in the Heat's way.
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Dwyane Wade feels good lately.
That's been apparent by his mood, his words and his actions.
After offseason knee surgery, he said it would take time, and now he appears more willing to take charge during games, taking defenders off the dribble, taking his game toward the rim.
Wade has missed only one game in the past 10 weeks, and that was due to a suspension. That, considering his history, is an achievement.
“The biggest thing for me is as long as our team stays healthy throughout this process, and as long as we continue to understand that we can get better and that we need to get better, we’re fine,” Wade said.
That's probably true, since there is no clear other power in the conference, especially with some of the better teams beaten up, with Indiana and Chicago still waiting to see what Danny Granger and Derrick Rose, respectively, can give them, and Atlanta now without Lou Williams for the season.
Of course, one major injury could change the outlook and, while you can't prevent everything, that's why it makes sense for Erik Spoelstra to carefully manage the minutes and responsibilities of his Big 3 the rest of the way.
LeBron James appears indestructible, and he has overcome ailments and illness to play in every game this season. But if he's run down, he may be more prone to go down.
And Miami can't afford that.
It has won without Wade the past couple of seasons, and even survived Bosh's absence for a brief spell in the playoffs, though it may not have closed the championship deal without him.
He covers too many holes for the Heat to cover his loss for any length of time.
“I think we’re in a good position right now,” James said. “At times throughout the first half, we could have played better. At times, I thought we couldn’t get any better. We’re not where we want to be, and that’s a good thing. We shouldn’t want to peak at this point in the season.”
As long as "King James" is healthy and energized at the end of it (and still has his top two sidekicks), Miami should have a shot to reign again.