The Miami Heat seemed to flop out of the gate to start the NBA season like a moose trying to run on a frozen lake. They steamrolled over the Chicago Bulls on opening night, and then seemed to hit the snooze button to wake them up come May 2014 or so.
But a pair of humbling losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics (at the buzzer!) and LeBron James saying their defense was poop (he didn't actually use the word "poop"), and suddenly things got back to the way they should be. Namely, the Heat wrecking faces and getting back to their winning ways.
Yet, lost in the early season roller coaster ride are some pretty pleasant surprises that, frankly, no one really saw coming. And when it comes to the Miami Heat, anyone balling out of his mind not named LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade is not only a bonus, but also a warning shot to the rest of the NBA.
The Transfiguration of Michael Beasley
So, this came out of nowhere. This is a focused Michael Beasley. A grounded Michael Beasley. A Michael Beasley who is shooting out of his mind and making defenses actually have to give a crap when he's on the court. Beasley has always been a prolific scorer (or at least at the NBA level has shown potential to be one). He's never been terribly efficient.
But he has started out the season en fuego. He began the season shooting a white-hot 60 percent from the floor and has done everything he can to lock himself up into the regular rotation.
When guys like Udonis Haslem and Ray Allen had to sit out to rest their tired old bones, Beasley stepped up and made most of the playing time given to him. Like on November 12, when he dropped 19 on the Milwaukee Bucks in 20 minutes of play, going a scorching 8-for-12 from the floor.
He also dropped the hammer on the Bucks on a gorgeous alley-oop connection with Dwyane Wade.
With quick gander at some numbers, what immediately hops out are Beasley's field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Both are way above his career.
Now, as much as ever, sample size is key. But considering the fact that he's now on a team where he's clearly not being called to be The Guy, not to mention that he's still only 24 and his teammates won't tolerate any knuckleheadedness, Heat fans have to be through the roof at what they're seeing from their former No.2 overall pick.
There's still a lot of basketball left to be played, and Beasley is a guy who can easily get lost in his own head and wander around in there like an old man roaming a sock aisle at Ross. But he's in the right position, with nothing left to lose. The scorching numbers are not sustainable, but the strong play and focused energy are definitely a pleasant surprise for the World Champs.
Erik Spoelstra needs to continue RELEASING THE BEAST!
Rashard Lewis Is More Machine Than Man Now; Twisted and Evil
This isn't the Rashard Lewis the Heat bought off the used car lot last season. This is a new and improved model. One that strikes fear in opponents with that awkward three-point launch and deceptively solid defense. One that is a force to be reckoned with. One that can crush the Rebellion with one swift stroke.
Like Beasley, Lewis has made the most of stepping into things when the regular guys had to sit out to nurse injuries.
Last season, Lewis seemed to be a guy Spoelstra would throw at defenses as a sort of smoke pellet, like the one Batman uses to disappear into the night when he's grown tired of fighting. This year, however, Lewis is a force. He's shooting 50 percent from the field, including 47.6 percent from 3-point range. He's crashing the boards, and he's been consistent on the defensive end.
The major difference thus far for Lewis has been his health, which came full bore on November 16 against the Charlotte Bobcats when he played 33 minutes and led the team with nine rebounds. In recent years, Lewis has been like that old guy with a knee brace at your neighborhood pick-up game who stands in the corner all game and knocks down long jumpers.
But this year, Rashard has discovered a newfound commitment to attacking the rim—something the dinged up Lewis of the past would forego.
Lewis is looking for the most efficient shot with higher percentage results. And when he's not finding them he's looking to distribute.
The wear and tear of a long NBA season will likely catch up with the 34-year-old Lewis. And Michael Beasley seems to be the number one contender to take his minutes. But Lewis is on a straight up tear right now.
The Unbearable Lightness of Mario Chalmers
Let's overlook the WWE move on Dirk Nowitzki for a moment, and sit back and take in the fact that Mario Chalmers—the Mario Chalmers, the same guy who throws passes four rows into the stands, dribbles the ball off his foot for no good reason and is always at the receiving end of a spittle drenched chewing out from the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade—is playing the best basketball of his six-year career right now.
Oh yeah. That's right.
Rio is currently averaging 10.4 points, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Best of all, he's down to just 1.9 turnovers per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is one of the best in the NBA, which is bananas if you've been keeping up with Mario's NBA career. He's also shooting 55.7 percent from three-pointlandia.
In the Heat's November 19 game against the Atlanta Hawks, Mario shook Miami out of their malaise by hitting a pair of treys in the third quarter that helped his team open the floodgates to the eventual win. He also scored 12 points in that period alone. Likewise, when the Heat needed offense against the Washington Wizards in their November 3 game, it was Super Mario to the rescue.
This newfound awesomeness has also come with a bit of aggression. Chalmers has been tagged with two Flagrant 2 fouls so far this season after taking a metal chair to opponents' heads (figuratively, of course). He was forced to sit out one game after introducing Dirk Nowitzki to his forearm. He was fined 15 grand for doing the same thing to Blake Griffin.
Calm down, Mario!
Still, Mario is plowing through defenses right now. He's hitting timely threes and is on a personal mission to lead the league in steals.
Then there's this.
Somewhere along the way, Mario is inevitably going to do something dumb and get yelled at by LeBron. But if he can keep up his play and make this the best season of his career, the Heat are going to be a wrecking ball.
Because when Mario Chalmers is among the most deadly players on a team featuring LeBron James, the prediction for the rest of the NBA is PAIN.