MIAMI — Chill.
That was the message from the Miami Heat's managing partner, Micky Arison, earlier in the month.
That was the message from LeBron James after Miami slogged past the short-handed Boston Celtics, 93-86, on Monday night, during a postgame interview with Jason Jackson of Sun Sports:
"Heat Nation, we got a win. We can calm down now."
And perhaps there's a tad too much panic in these parts, considering that the Heat, at 30-12, are actually two games ahead of last season's pace and have run laps around everyone in the East other than the Indiana Pacers.
Still, there's a good chance that Heat fans will chafe, rather than chill, in the coming weeks.
That's because the Heat's easiest stretch is behind them.
Entering Wednesday's play, there were 10 other teams with winning records—two in the East, eight in the West. The Heat have played only 10 games against those teams and are 7-3. They are 6-2 against teams that entered Wednesday at .500, though those teams (Chicago, Washington, Toronto, Denver) weren't all .500 at the time. And they are 17-7 against teams that entered Wednesday under .500.
In the final 40 games, however, the tilt is toward the top.
Sure, the Heat start with the lowly Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, but this weekend the San Antonio Spurs visit and next week they host the Oklahoma City Thunder. For each opponent, it's the first of their two showdowns with the defending champions.
The Heat also have yet to play either of their two games against the Houston Rockets, and they still have one meeting left with the Golden State Warriors (road), Los Angeles Clippers (road), Dallas Mavericks (road), Portland Trail Blazers (home) and Phoenix Suns (road). Plus, there are two games left with the Memphis Grizzlies (at .500 and rising, and always a matchup problem), two left with the Pacers and one left in Atlanta. And there are six other games against teams that entered Wednesday at .500.
So, that's 22 of the final 40 games against teams currently at .500 or better, as compared to 18 of the first 42.
Of course, there's no way to know if those teams will all hold their current positions, and the Heat generally raise their level against contenders on national television. So we'll see. The best way to get fans to do more chilling is for the players to do less of it.
What's with Wade?
I still support that strategy.
History won't remember Wade's cumulative regular-season statistics—not when compared to his championship celebrations.
Still, as Wade has scored a total of 16 points over the Heat's past five games (playing in two, then missing three), Wade felt compelled to take to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon:
It's understandable that fans would be getting edgy about his status, in light of two realities.
One, the Heat's calculated gamble to amnesty Mike Miller has backfired thus far, as Miami has gone 6-6 in Wade's absence as compared to 11-2 last season, with Ray Allen's ascent to the starting lineup compromising the defense and the bench.
As James finally said publicly on Tuesday: "Last year, when D-Wade went out, we had Mike Miller to step in. Mike Miller was in the system for a while, so we could automatically fill that void. Now, with D-Wade out, it’s given more opportunities to guys that haven’t been in the system as many years or as many situations as Mike Miller."
Secondly, the Heat have tended to be anywhere from vague to misleading when it comes to disclosing Wade's health. We have frequently learned later—sometimes from Wade himself, sometimes from sources close to him—that a situation was more serious that the team initially let on, or even that he'd had some procedure (from draining to OssaTron) performed.
That's why his next 9-of-16, 22-point outing can't come soon enough.
The bumping of Battier
It may be a while before Erik Spoelstra can decide on any sort of settled rotation in light of the need to manage Wade and Greg Oden, while also testing his trust limits with Michael Beasley, who is impacting the minutes of Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis, among others.
One of the surprises this season, however, has been the way Spoelstra has used Shane Battier, the veteran forward who so often closed contests in his first two Heat seasons.
Battier has played in 36 games and started 31 in what is almost certainly his final season before becoming a broadcaster, politician, ambassador, businessman and just about anything else anyone could imagine. But he has played in the fourth quarter in only eight of those games, and for a total of only 45 minutes. Spoelstra has chosen to close with just about anyone and everyone else, which is odd only because he relies so much upon Battier as a communicator—a steady, experienced hand on both ends.
Perhaps that will change.
Perhaps it is just preservation for the playoffs.
But if it isn't, at least Battier has the authority to decide who opens and closes at his popular charity event, Battioke, on Monday night.