CHICAGO — It didn't matter if the Miami Heat remembered the past.
They were doomed to repeat it, anyway.
That should have been obvious to everyone well before the Chicago Bulls bludgeoned them on the boards Thursday in a rather thorough 107-87 beating. This team was always destined for this sort of trouble, at some point, due in part to its players, but also due to the way they are used.
"We've never been a great rebounding team," LeBron James said.
They never have.
"We've been able to overcome that," James said.
They did, in winning two championships.
And so, that's the reason why panic isn't prudent when it comes to assessing the Heat's current issues. Yes, Miami has allowed 13 offensive rebounds to both Detroit and Chicago in its past two contests, both losses. Yes, the Bulls, at one point on Thursday, had 10 offensive rebounds compared to the Heat's 10 defensive rebounds—a ridiculous ratio.
"They pounded us the entire night," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It was clear to see. We were just never able to overcome any of that physicality. They deserved to win this game...We have to own it, that's the first part about it. And we just have to be much tougher."
But, no, this doesn't mean the Heat are so fundamentally flawed that they are beyond hope.
"We've been here before," James said. "We understand that."
So soon so many forget.
"We talk about this every year," said Chris Bosh, who had two rebounds Thursday and is averaging 7.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, just 0.2 down from last season. "For sure."
Last season, they were actually worse in many of these areas, at least until it really mattered. They finished 29th in the league in second-chance points allowed, at 14.7 per game. They were outrebounded by 15 or more in eight regular-season games, including once by 20 against Chicago and once by 19 versus Indiana in a five-night stretch of January.
The team they're facing next, the Minnesota Timberwolves, outrebounded them by 29 in Miami on Dec. 18, 2012, a game the Heat somehow won.
That's not to say they should ignore the issue. Four different Bulls had at least two offensive rebounds, some of which were far too simple. Unimpeded penetration, by either Kirk Hinrich or Marquis Teague—neither half as dynamic as Derrick Rose—led to breakdowns, layups and putbacks.
The explanations are not as simple. The obvious answer is size, or the Heat's lack of it, particularly with Spoelstra sticking to a small, stretch lineup, even when a regular starter is absent—and with Chris Andersen, the Heat's best per-minute rebounder, missing this game for personal reasons.
The Heat can't get taller without rushing Greg Oden back, and it's reckless to endorse such an approach.
Certainly, Spoelstra won't.
Nor will he allow for excuses.
He'll put the onus on the players, because that's what coaches do.
"Is it an effort thing?" Spoelstra said. "Is it a block-out situation? Is it jumping? Multiple efforts? Is it put two hands on the ball and rebounding in traffic? We just have to do a better job of it...We're going to dig in and look at every single one of those opportunities from the last couple games and see how we can fix it."
Some players already seem to have some ideas.
That was apparent as they thoughtfully expressed their perspectives.
"Maybe we need to step back and take a look at what we're doing," Bosh said. "Why are we getting outrebounded? Because that's the question, is 'Why?' I'm more of a 'why'-type guy. And I think we're intelligent enough to look at everything, look at the film and see the reason why. And there is a reason. And we'll find it. And when we find it, we'll correct it."
Bosh acknowledged the Heat are "a step slow on defense," and that sometimes, one deflating offensive rebound allowed leads to another.
"Some of it is effort," Shane Battier said. "Not all effort. A lot of it, we get in rotations, and it's systematic. We put two on the ball, and the shot goes up, and we have guards trying to block out (Joakim) Noah and (Carlos) Boozer. That's sort of our design."
That aggressive defensive design, of course, has contributed to turnovers, fast breaks and two titles.
"And some of it is just basketball," Battier said. "When we're at our best, we really are tied together defensively, and we finish all of our defensive rotations to a block out on the body. And even then, we're fighting to stay even on the boards. And when we're not together—and we weren't together tonight defensively—it makes the rebounding a lot more glaring."
And it starts to get embarrassing.
"We've proven we can do it," Battier said. "We just have to be a lot more precise."
Battier doesn't think the Heat are dogging it.
"When we're out there, we're trying to do it," Battier said. "We don't have the edge yet to win big on the road yet. We don't. And that's apparent. That's something we need to develop and develop quickly. And that's why this road trip is important. This is never fun, but if we can learn from this ass-kicking, it will benefit us in the long run."
The Heat are 5-3 on the road this season and about to face mammoth front lines in Minnesota, Detroit and Indiana. Last season, they started 4-4, and then 7-8, on the road.
"Very similar to last year," Battier said. "We did not have the edge early last year."
We all know how it ended.
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