Following their loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, the Miami Heat lucked into a favorable stretch in their schedule. Seven of their next eleven opponents are under .500 on the season. Fortunately for fans, not all of those match ups are without intrigue. Sandwiched between expected wins against the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks, is the return of LeBron James to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Thursday. Hooray for TNT. They face the division foe Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, so they're hopeful they can build momentum during the week with some decisive victories over lower level teams.
But the thing is, be they elite or bottom dweller, teams have placed a big, bold bulls eye on the “Big Three.” Most teams seem to be golfers at a driving range, who are teeing off at that one guy scooping up golf balls in his tiny golf cart, the Heat.
All season long coach Erik Spoelstra and the “Big Three” have been defending their poor play by going on about chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Even going as far as to say they won’t gel completely until January. Really? They’ll begin gelling when Mike Miller steps onto the court after four months off due to injury? Unlikely.
But one has to wonder how long it takes for three superstars to develop that ever-elusive “chemistry.” They were already friends before becoming teammates on the 2008 USA Olympic team. I’m sure they’ve had their share of pick-up games throughout their careers. But maybe they didn’t hang out enough in the off-season after their circus show of an introduction. Maybe LeBron James was too busy filming his “What Should I Do?” commercial. Maybe Dwyane Wade was too busy riding motorcycles through glass doors in his “James Bond-esque” commercial.
Maybe Chris Bosh needs to film a commercial.
Whatever it is, coach Spoelstra must be looking over his shoulders following every loss to teams they are expected to face in the playoffs. There’s no doubt they’ll make the playoffs. How hard could that be? Half of the Eastern Conference is under .500. Still, many in the media have speculated that Pat Riley might take over coaching duties. That has to have Spoelstra throwing furniture around his office. Aside from losing his hair, what happens to Spoelstra’s career if he can’t win with three All-Stars? Even Ms. Cleo could figure that one out.
Overall, the Heat are outscoring their opponents because they have three scorers for forty minutes per game. They rebound well, so all the blame can’t be placed on their no-name big men down low.
So what’s really going on here? Why can’t the Heat win consistently? Three factors play a large roll here.
They have to play tougher. Their stars are getting fouled hard, Joel Anthony is flying around the court like a rag doll, and there’s no retaliation. Teammates stand with their hands on their hips looking befuddled. They have to stand up for themselves instead of looking for the referees to bail them out on every play. While a player is throwing his hands up in frustration, the opposing team is getting down the court with a five on four.
They don’t turn the ball over, but entering Wednesday, their assist numbers are only 23rd in the league. They don’t have a point guard who can run an offense from the first quarter to the fourth. Or call the right plays and find teammates who have mismatches in the half-court set. Dwyane Wade entered the league as a hybrid 1-2 guard, but has long since left that behind. LeBron James tries to act like a point guard, but really, he only dishes the ball if he gets stopped deep in the lane. And that’s fifty-fifty at best. Using the “give the ball to the hottest player on the court and isolate” play doesn’t always work. Teams will catch on to that pretty quickly.
Thirdly, they always seem to fall behind midway through games, They then have to expend a ton of energy cutting the lead down to a manageable margin. But once their opponents get their fresh starters back in the game, their run ends abruptly.
The Heat needs to approach every game with more fire. The same fire they had when they proclaimed they were out to win “not one championship, not two championships, not three championships…” They need to put up points early on their opponents and demoralize them. The longer you let the likes of the Mavericks, Jazz, Magic, and Celtics hang around, the more confidence they build. But as for now, the Heat are in trouble against potential playoff teams.