Miami Heat 'Fast Five': LeBron on Smallball, Bosh's Warning and More

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Miami Heat 'Fast Five': LeBron on Smallball, Bosh's Warning and More
Brian Spurlock/USA Today

Five quick-hitting items from the Eastern Conference finals, with Miami trailing Indiana, 1-0:

 

1. LeBron James Doesn't Easily Admit Inferiority in any Area

But when it comes to strength, one of the most powerful athletes on the planet recognizes that a few do rank above him. He made this admission Monday, following Miami's practice, when asked why he often chose to let David West operate behind him. Tasked with defending the burly power forward, James frequently chose to front in the post. 

"I always do, against bigger, stronger guys," James said. "There's not that many, but West is one of them. I don't want him to catch the ball, because he's very good once he catches the ball. If you can limit someone's catches, if you stop someone from catching the ball, then they can't score. They need the ball to score. So, you know, got to do my job."

So how many are there? Not many?

"No, it's like David West, Shaq, Zeus and my two boys, that's it," James said.

James was laughing as he said it. 

Rob Carr/Getty Images

He spoke more seriously during other parts of his media session, and it became increasingly apparent that he was uncomfortable with the strategy Erik Spoelstra selected for Game 1. This wasn't the first time that Spoelstra started Shane Battier at the other forward spot against Indiana. But generally Battier has been assigned to West, with James chasing Paul George outside the paint. 

"I'm a perimeter guy," James said. "I could do a lot of things, but I've made my money being a perimeter guy. And obviously, from the circumstances of our team, we're not the biggest team in the world, so I have to play big at times. I have to guard bigger guys, and try to do a number on them too. So it's challenging. But it's all right. I got to do it. At this point, I'm trying to get a trip to the Finals. Whatever it takes."

It didn't take Spoelstra long to change course, inserting Udonis Haslem as the second-half starter, putting him on West, and shifting James to George.

West acknowledged that, for James, it would be an adjustment.

"It's a little different," West said. "Obviously, he's used to guarding perimeter guys. So the job against someone like myself is a little bit different. Just try to stay around the basket, particularly on offense. He's got to guard screening action, which is something he may not be accustomed to."

To that end, West added: "When he's on defense, you've got to make him guard. You got to make him play defense, make him be aware every single possession."

James wasn't aware enough on West's first three baskets, losing him all three times to help somewhere else. 

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"I'm able to go spot minutes at the four; I'm able to be pretty effective," James said. 

But as a starter?

"It was a challenge for me," James said. "And I don't think, personally, I was in the right place at the right time."

You need not be Zeus to strongly suspect that he'll be back in his usual place—small forward—for Game 2. 

 

2. Erik Spoelstra has Been Inspired to Innovate in Indiana

After all, this is sort of where smallball started for the Heat.

It shouldn't be where it ends, even if a short hiatus is in order, just for Miami to get to more conventional, comfortable matchups at the start.

First, the history:

Two years ago, with Chris Bosh out for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Heat coach inserted Shane Battier as a starter next to project center Dexter Pittman. It took all of three minutes and 29 seconds, and a 7-2 deficit, for him to scrap the Pittman plan. But Battier remained a starter even as Spoelstra turned to Ronny Turiaf, and even after Bosh returned in the middle of the Boston series.

That quintet catalyzed the Heat's run to their first championship. Bosh, Battier, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers was a plus-10.5 per 100 possessions over the course of that postseason.

Last season, Spoelstra spotted that group quite a bit and quite effectively, using it 42 times for a total of 300 minutes, and it was plus-19.8 per 100 possessions, about twice as good as Udonis Haslem taking Battier's place and playing with the other four. 

By last postseason, though, it seemed that opponents had caught up to smallball, or at least to smallball when Battier wasn't making shots. So Spoelstra significantly reduced the usage of the 2012 NBA Finals lineup. 

The group played just 32 minutes together during the 2013 playoffs, and was a minus-15 in those minutes, shooting a collective 35.6 percent. By contrast, the same lineup with Haslem in for Battier was a plus-35 in 277 minutes. Even the smallball lineup featuring Mike Miller instead of Battier—which did work well in the NBA Finals—was a minus-4 during its 72 postseason minutes of collaboration.

This season? 

Well, Spoelstra bought smallball back, with mostly good results. 

The Bosh-Battier-James-Wade-Chalmers lineup played twice as many minutes (429) as any other lineup, and was a plus-49 overall, or a plus-5.7 per 100 possessions. Incidentally, that same group with Allen in for Wade was plus-13.3 per 100 possessions, likely due to the increased space that Allen provides James.

Those numbers don't point to any particular problem. And while the Heat were minus-12 with Bosh-Battier-James-Wade-Chalmers in 22 minutes against Indiana during the 2013-14 regular season, that's an exceedingly small sample size. Another smallball grouping, with Allen in for Battier, played just two minutes against Indiana this season, and six minutes in Game 1, and is an inconsequential plus-3 overall.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

What does all of this say for smallball?

It says that no big pronouncements should be made yet, regardless of what Spoelstra does Tuesday. 

 

3. Joakim Noah has Been up 1-0 on James' Heat Twice

Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan have both been up 1-0 once.

All lost Game 2. 

"They've lost Game 1s before, and won series before," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "It's well-documented." 

It is. In fact, only Duncan's Spurs won another game—two more, in fact, before falling in Games 6 and 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

"History doesn't help the future," Chris Bosh said. "It's just a story." 

Still, it's one the Heat can draw upon.

"We're not rattled," James said. "It's a seven game series. We're a veteran ballclub, and we've been down worse than this. We've been down 3-2 going back home in the Finals."  

Here's the most encouraging part for Heat fans, especially when it comes to the defense that Bosh said "sucked" on Sunday. 

It has, well, sucked before. 

In those four Game 1 losses, the Heat allowed 103, 105, 93 and 92 points. 

In the four follow-up Game 2 wins, the Heat allowed 75, 96, 78 and 85 points. 

That's an average of 14.8 fewer points per game. 

"Sometimes, things just go terribly wrong," Bosh said. "Sometimes, you have to find out that you're mortal, and you can bleed, and we understand that, we know that. Our defense can be just as bad as it can be good. We know that now, and we always get a reminder, to kind of really spark our fire inside our belly. We'll be alright." 

And, other than the lineup change mentioned above, they should probably avoid tactically altering too much. 

"That's the toughest part to do sometimes," Bosh said. "When you are very close to losing, you just have to trust in what you do, and stick with it. Teams that deviate from that, they don't like the situation we're in." 

James, asserting that "we're a team that gets better as the series goes on," acknowledged the "danger to overadjusting, overthinking things," and said some of the overthinking may have actually occurred in Game 1, in what may have been an allusion to Spoelstra's lineup decision. 

But now? 

"We don't overreact," James said. "And we understand that we are going to break down the film just as well as anyone in this league. And we figure out ways that we can get better. We had homecourt stolen from us last year in the Finals. And we didn't overreact to that Game 1, we figured out ways to get better in Game 2."

 

4. Chris Bosh is Getting Nudges From Everywhere

One of his former NBA coaches, Sam Mitchell—now a Sirius XM NBA radio host—has been consistently calling for Bosh to take his defender into the lane.

Even LeBron James, while identifying Bosh "as a space guy for us," added that "it'd be great if we can mix it up a little bit with him."

Statistically and visually, that appears to have some merit. The Pacers leave Bosh open more than any other team, but he shot just 42.9 percent against them this season, and missed six of his seven uncontested jumpshots on Sunday.

So, can he drive more?

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"I can, but I'm going to shoot it," Bosh said. "Yeah, I can. You can do a bunch of stuff. But I'm going to shoot the J, man."

Whether it's just inside or outside the arc.

He called Sunday "target practice," and believes he'll miss fewer targets now that he has a feel for the series, the arena and the atmosphere. 

"If it's uncontested shots, over the course of a series, if you continue to take them, it's going to turn in your favor," Bosh said. "I missed some wide open shots. And you miss them sometimes. But I know I'm not going to miss them (Tuesday) or probably for the rest of the year. And if I do, I know it's going to even out. I just need to have to stay aggressive and stay confident. If you continue to leave me open, you will eventually pay." 

Until then, he'll continue to hear it. 

 

5. Frank Vogel May Seem Calm and Professional in Front of the Media

But apparently, the Pacers coach is a bit more comfortable with dirty words than dirty hands:

"We've had some Dice Clay moments in the playoffs," David West said, smiling. 

Hickory dickory dock ... the Heat are on the clock. 

 

Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.

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