Here are five quick-hitting Heat items for the first week of March:
1. Erik Spoelstra isn't especially stubborn.
Yet, early in the season, he made it clear to Bleacher Report that he wanted his players to push through any struggles with the taxing defensive system, because of the playoff payoff—when they would be the one team accustomed to exerting maximum energy.
His players, however, kept leaning on him to consider a temporary timeout. The results made a compelling case, too. Through the end of January, the Heat allowed 46.1 percent shooting, tied for 21st in the league, per NBA.com.
And while he advised this weekend against too much being made of his strategic tweaking, and its effect on the defensive upturn, he did acknowledge the reasons why he relented.
"Some of it, we've had to adjust, but the challenge is adjusting it to within the confines of what we do," Spoelstra said. "Everybody knows how we play. And I talk about that commitment to the effort and the activity, that has to be our lifeblood, to be able to get to our game and play to our strengths..."
Those strengths include the Heat's overall savvy and quickness, especially in terms of playing passing lanes.
"In our fourth year of this, teams are getting a little bit better of playing out of our rotations, and moving us around a little bit too quickly," Spoelstra continued. "Where in the past, we could blitz teams and catch them by surprise. Now, there (still) aren't really any other teams that play this style. So even as you want to prepare, there's just less time to prepare for it. However, we've had to make some slight ones, so we aren't always in rotation, as teams start to get better in attacking our defense."
So many of them got so much better that it was almost as if they had studied it together. Spoelstra countered by taking out some of the blitzing, especially by the bigs.
"We had to change it up a little bit," Chris Bosh said. "That was a hole in our defense because we kept giving up the short roll, and playing guys like Atlanta early, they are immaculate with it. They were just making plays. Chicago, we were just getting hurt. So we had to kind of tweak it a little bit, stop jumping out, and kind of catch the blitz a little bit. Don't just leave your guy. We were leaving our guys 25 feet away from the basket. We've got to be aggressive in spots. You know what I'm saying."
Dwyane Wade certainly did when asked about it. He was a proponent of the change, which he said is mostly for the bigs, but also affects the guards, because they need to stay with their own man longer.
"We're known to be an aggressive team, and sometimes it's hurt us, because teams know how aggressive we are going to be," Wade said.
He spoke also of "a lot of teams short-rolling us, because they know how aggressive we are going to be, they bump into that mid-area, and it's a tough area."
Wade recalled Spoelstra's reworking coming after "we killed on that" in a Jan. 2 loss to Golden State.
"So making the adjustment of being aggressive but being smart with it has helped us a lot," Wade said. "It has allowed to be able to keep the ball in front of us a lot more, and keep bodies in front of the ball the majority of the time."
Shane Battier believes this has allowed the team to make better choices.
"I think there are certain players in this league that it's really beneficial to be aggressive against, and there are other players where their skill is not beating you 1-on-1 but getting people involved," Battier said. "Where we got in trouble earlier this year, we were really aggressive on the non-scorers, and we were putting two on the ball in a lot of situations, and they would kick it to an open man, and all of a sudden we're at a deficit. We're in a 4-on-3 situation against a guy that it was unnecessary."
In his view, there is still a place for extreme aggressiveness. Just not every possession.
"It's just a clarity of what we're trying to accomplish against different personnel," Battier said.
And they have accomplished more. Statistically, they have improved, as evidenced by them allowing 42.6 percent shooting since the start of February, second-best to Indiana during that stretch, per NBA.com.
And, visually, it's clear that some of the short-rolling issues have stopped.
"Yeah, the short roll is a dangerous play," Battier said. "Because any defense, the best way to attack a defense is to get the ball to the middle of the floor. And when you're aggressive on the pick-and-roll defense against a non-threat especially, where they are looking to pass, you give up the short roll. And then depending on the player, they have a menu of things they can do. They can take one dribble and they are at the rim, they can kick to three-point shooters. And it puts unnecessary pressure on your defense."
Which Spoelstra, with a subtle tweak, helped relieve. For now. Eventually, when it counts, Miami will go back to what it has always done, due to the belief that the team's speed, coupled with the ball in the wrong man's hands, will lead to turnovers and other positive defensive plays for Miami. Even if some Heat players positively dread returning to that style.
"Yeah, it sucks," Bosh said. "I'm not gonna lie. It always sucks. But eventually you get used to it. That's what makes us unique. It's not easy. But when we need it, it works. Just like Game 7 last year against Indy, we could sniff out traps, we were flying all over the floor. When we have that opportunity for huge energy games, I mean, we can use it to our advantage."
2. Michael Beasley hasn't broken.
That's one of the stealth storylines of this Heat season.
While he has gotten far less of the spotlight as his minutes have shrunk, Beasley appears to have accepted his limited role as well as more veteran, typically more mature, players during the Heat's "Big Three" era. There have been no complaints publicly, and seemingly none privately, about his professionalism, a stark contrast from his first Heat tenure. He has gotten to the gym on time, if not early, and he has been a regular in pre-game 3-on-3 battles with the other out-of-rotation players.
"Everyone likes to have fun here," Beasley said. "But I think I've found that line."
He finally knows where he, and his head, should be.
"Just staying in the gym," Beasley said. "I can play 20 minutes a night, or I can go 10 games without playing. That's just how good our team is, how our rotations are set up. I can't miss my opportunity when it's called. It's always going to come back around, but (Rashard Lewis) told me best, 'If you miss your opportunity, then there's the reason you're not playing.' "
Saturday night, he got a rare extended one, playing 22 minutes and scoring eight points in the Heat's 112-98 win against Orlando. While he made some mistakes, he did appear to play with more purpose and confidence than in some other recent stints.
Still, afterwards, he took the same tone that he has all along.
"I don't want to get complacent," Beasley said. "I don't want to look too much into it. I've just got to continue to work. But I just think...I got to go out there and stop thinking so much. Because when I think, the ball stops moving. Or I think, rotations don't get done. Just go out there and let my instincts take over."
Four years ago, when he was gunning at a rapid rate, it would have been preposterous to think that could be an issue. But Beasley has reprogrammed himself to try to fit in with this more gifted group. And he may have gone too far. Now, he tends to overpass.
"That's definitely the thinking that I'm talking about," Beasley said. "I'm trying to get to second situations, but sometimes I am the second situation. So like I said before, the more I let my instincts take over, the better off I'll be."
The Heat should welcome that.
3. Greg Oden could make Eeyore appear ebullient.
But the Heat center, while often looking and sounding so down on himself—such as when he blew a dunk in an otherwise-strong performance Saturday night—continues to get the Heat organization rather excited.
At the organization's annual charity Family Fest on Sunday, Heat president Pat Riley spoke of how happy he is to see Oden on the court, saying, "I root for him more than I've ever rooted for anybody."
That's true of teammates, too.
Players have encouraged Spoelstra to use Oden more extensively when possible, because they like playing with a true big who can do so much of the dirty work. It's a different experience from the one they have had since the first season of the Big Three, when Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire got some minutes in the pivot. And, of course, Oden has a higher upside than all of them.
It hasn't necessarily shown in all the stats yet, though Oden has crept to a plus-5 overall in his 13 appearances, and his defensive rating of 100.6 is second on the team to Chris Andersen. And even one statistic, generally seen as a negative, is welcomed by teammates:
Oden is averaging one foul every 3.8 minutes.
"But we love that, because he's not giving (anybody) and-1s," LeBron James said. "He's hammering guys when they get into the lane."
And if Oden does it, they don't need to.
4. DeAndre Liggins spent the postgame Saturday exchanging phone numbers with some old friends from the Orlando Magic, including former Kentucky teammate Doron Lamb.
"He just asked me why I didn't play," Liggins said.
He might not for a while.
Still, if anyone's ever been happy to be somewhere, this is the guy.
Just listen to his Tuesday.
"We lost and I didn't play well," Liggins said. "I was mad. And Coach (Pat) Delaney said he got something to tell us. I was like, 'Oh, here we go.' We assumed our flight got cancelled. So my head was going like, 'I didn't play well, we got a cancelled flight, we got to stay in Indiana for two days.' And he says, 'The Miami Heat are going to call up DeAndre Liggins for 10 days.' I was like, 'Oh my God! I just played terrible, we lost.' "
Liggins worked hard for the Skyforce, averaging 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals, but he wasn't expecting a promotion. After all, the Heat had a full roster until trading Roger Mason, Jr., they were still looking at buyout candidates (with Caron Butler later choosing the Thunder) and they had never called anyone up since making Sioux Falls their exclusive affiliate.
But now he's here.
For at least one 10-day contract, and maybe another, as Miami tries to develop a defensive wing.
And he's sometimes guarding LeBron James in practice. That might intimidate others, but Liggins drew Kevin Durant as an assignment during his short stay with the Thunder last season.
"You play tough defense, you've just got to live with the results," Liggins said of James. "He hit a jumper over me one time, and I was like, 'Oh my God.' He was like, 'It's OK, Dre, it's OK.' "
So is spending a week, or more, with the champions.
5. LeBron James wasn't the only one who expressed little public sympathy for Carmelo Anthony's plight, playing with the fumbling, fading, exasperating New York Knicks.
While Chris Bosh called Anthony "a competitor," he didn't weep either.
"We've all been in those situations where it just seems like anything you do, it's just seems like anything you do, it's just not working," Bosh said. "It's a tough situation, you just have to grit your teeth, and keep your head down, and keep working. That's the tough side of the fence sometimes, man."
Bosh knows that side.
"Oh yeah, way worse," Bosh said. "Way worse than that, buddy."
Bosh laughed when it was suggested that playing with James "makes it a little easier."
"You know, I started off a season 1-15," Bosh said. "You do that, you know nothing's gonna happen. It's like, well, golly, we got 60 some odd games left and we're in the pits. It sucks. It just really sucks, man."
Miami has played 56 games this season.
And still hasn't lost its 15th yet.
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