Five quick-hitting Miami Heat items as the team tries to get it together:
1. LeBron James and Chris Bosh have had enough.
But of whom?
That's the natural next question after Miami's 105-95 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, a team that was without four of its expected rotation players from the start of the season, including its starting backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon. That team somehow scored 60 points on 60 percent shooting in Saturday's second half, prompting James and Bosh to lash out publicly in a way they rarely do.
Bosh spoke of the absence of emotion, about how there's no communication, no urgency and no passion, as "we just show up and do whatever," with the same attitude after a win or a loss.
"We're not expressing ourselves in the locker room or on the court," he told reporters. "So I figure I'll be the first one to say 'we suck.' We need to turn it around. And if we don’t play better, we'll be watching the championship at home."
James spoke of the preponderance of excuses, shooting down those related to the rugged schedule, the energized opponents, the assorted ailments, the lineup changes.
"Guys who are on the floor need to produce," James told reporters. "It's that simple."
And so, here's a simple suggestion: It needs to start with the two of them.
There's nothing wrong with these outward expressions, especially because this Heat group never publicly embarrasses anyone personally. (That starts with their coach, who praises individually but critiques collectively. James leads in an inclusive manner; when reporters ask him about lineup combinations, he'll say he likes everyone, so no one feels left out.)
But in this time of trouble, both All-Stars need to search inward first.
What about Dwyane Wade?
Well, Wade is on his own clock, and that's how it needs to be so he is as prepared as possible to endure the playoff grind. He's missed 18 games already, and he will miss more. So James and Bosh need to seize control. And they need to watch some of what they say, as well as what they do.
After all, earlier this season, Bosh freely talked reporters off the ledge, explaining how the Heat were on their own pace, with the plan to be ready when the time was right. James frequently hinted about the difficulties of playing with varying combinations. And both have given life to the premise that opponents play better against the Heat, and how taxing that has been.
But the reality is, the Heat are too often making average opponents look elite.
And while the lack of continuity has led to some lack of cohesion, some of the most disturbing defensive possessions Saturday occurred after Udonis Haslem and Toney Douglas left the third quarter with early fouls, and the quintet of Bosh, James, Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers was on the floor.
That combination has played 191 minutes this season, the second most of any group on the team, and twice as many as the third-most-used group.
And here are six plays during their third-quarter stint together, in which Allen, Battier and Chalmers are repeatedly beaten off the dribble, and Bosh and James are too late to react. This all came, incidentally, before James sprained his ankle on the other end.
First, Brian Roberts drives baseline to find Anthony Davis for a jumper:
Second, Luke Babbitt drives down the lane and hits Al-Farouq Aminu for a dunk:
Third, Babbitt takes a skip pass and nails a three-pointer, as Allen gets caught in the paint in transition:
Fourth, Tyreke Evans slips a pocket pass to Davis for an easy layup:
Fifth, the extra pass gets Roberts an open three-pointer, as everyone on the Heat scrambles:
Sixth, Anthony Morrow is left alone in the corner in transition:
We'll spare you some of the ugly stuff that happened later, with other groups, with Michael Beasley losing Morrow in transition, Austin Rivers driving easily past Norris Cole, and Alexis Ajinca working over Udonis Haslem near the hoop.
The point is, there's a problem.
Bosh and James have given voice to it.
Now they need to give life to some solutions.
2. Eric Reid, in his 26 seasons as a Heat broadcaster—the first as the analyst, and the last 25 as the play-by-play man—has been known for his sunny on-air disposition, usually finding some sort of silver lining.
And here's what he said on SunSports on Saturday:
The reality sometimes can slap you right in the face. And the reality this year is the Heat have become a mediocre team on the defensive end. This is not the championship-caliber defense that we have grown accustomed to watching Miami play. And a little bit of concern. Because you wonder, can you just flip a switch and revert back to the kind of defense that won you two straight titles?
He could have dropped the mike right there and bounced over to Bourbon Street.
Nothing more needed to be said.
3. Pat Riley clapping.
That's the lasting image from the Heat's troubled, truncated 2006-07 season. It was Game 4 of the first round of the East playoffs, and the Bulls were sweeping the weary Heat off their own floor.
As Riley finally pulled his players from the court, he applauded out of respect, for what they had done together the season prior, when they won the 2006 championship. The crowd, eventually though half-heartedly, followed the coach's lead.
Are we headed for a similar scene, with Erik Spoelstra mimicking his mentor?
Or will the Heat go a better way—the way of the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers?
Those are the two comparisons that will become commonplace now, especially if Miami slumps to its worst winning percentage of the Big Three era. The Heat currently stand at .691, after .805, .697 and .707 the past three seasons. They're on pace to go 57-25, but a challenging final month may leave them closer to 54-56 wins.
That would still be better than those 2006-07 Heat, who went 44-38—or even the 2005-06 champions, who went 52-30.
But the most apt, optimistic comparison may be those 2001-02 Lakers. That team, trying to win its third straight title, looked lethargic for long stretches of the season and finished 58-24 with Shaquille O'Neal missing 15 games (Dwyane Wade has already missed 18). Then it went 7-1 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, survived Sacramento in seven games in the Western Conference finals (winning Game 6 controversially and Game 7 on the road) and swept New Jersey in the NBA Finals.
That's the Heat's best hope, though there's no promise of favorable calls the likes of which those Lakers got against those Kings. The current Spurs, Thunder, Clippers or Rockets would figure to be far more formidable than those Nets.
4. Greg Oden is one of the feel-good stories of this, or any, NBA season.
"So happy," said Mike Conley, his former Ohio State teammate and the son of Oden's agent. "So happy for him. There's nobody more deserving than him to have a chance. ... He's just been on the wrong end of the stick for his years in the league."
This is so true, and it's why even the slightest criticism of Oden's return should be couched and put in proper context. Miami was a perfect fit for Oden in a recovery and rehabilitation sense. The Heat, coming off two championships, didn't need him right away, so he could take his time. And Conley sees some of Oden's natural instincts coming back, including "timing shots and getting rebounds and getting his feet right to go up and dunk. ... It's just going to take a little more time."
And while Conley believes that there was "no better place" than Miami for Oden, with its "great group of guys," it's worth noting it was probably not a perfect fit in one sense—an introvert joining a team of extremely outgoing personalities. It's become clear that Oden's assimilation has been as much a challenge for his teammates as it's been for him, not only because of his uneven playing time, but also because of the reserved way that he carries himself.
Oden, understandably in light of his injuries, is not the most upbeat person, as even Conley acknowledged: "Yeah, he won't give himself any credit, even if he was setting the world on fire. He's not going to let you know. He's just a quiet guy, and to himself, and he always expects a lot out of himself."
Quiet is fine. Plenty of quiet guys have played a major part in NBA title runs. There just aren't many of that type on this particular team. Look at the way they reacted to seeing Mike Miller—the ultimate extrovert—Friday night in Miami. Oden will never be Miller in that sense, so it's incumbent upon the Heat leaders to help him find his place.
The better he plays, the better he'll feel, the better for everyone.
At the moment, though, they still speak of him more like a curiosity than a known quantity.
"He lets us know when he wants the ball, the way he ducks in," Wade said. "I think he's still trying to figure out when he can be aggressive, as in duck in, and sometimes getting out of the way. It's not there yet. Even though he started a few games, he hasn't played that many minutes with us. That's going to be something that we're going to have to keep learning on the fly. He doesn't talk much. So it's hard to go to him to figure out what he likes. So we've just got to figure it out on the court."
They need to do that with little time left in the season, and—due to a compressed schedule—limited practice time possible.
5. Mike Miller didn't do much against the Heat on Friday, other than smile and hug, scoring just three points.
Meanwhile, Toney Douglas made his fifth start of the season, with his minutes sliced in the second half after he picked up three fouls in the first 1:58 of the second half.
Douglas has played 80 minutes in his five starts, averaging 16.1 minutes, 5.6 points and 40 percent shooting (35.7 percent from deep). His plus-minus numbers as a starter have been pretty good, in part because of the company he keeps.
But his offensive rating (103)/defensive rating (113) differential is a minus-10 in that small sample size.
Miller started 17 games last season.
Miami's offensive rating was 118 in those stints, and its defensive rating was 105.
Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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