Miami Heat: 10 Lineup and Rotation Tweaks to Make Them Championship Contenders
It was nearly a week and a half ago that the Miami Heat were already being considered one of the biggest busts of all time.
They fell to 1-7 against teams with records above .500 following a 106-95 loss on the road to the Dallas Mavericks and were 9-8 overall, a record that was much different than the 15-2 or 16-1 that most people expected through the first 17 games of the season.
Not only that, but LeBron James bump into Erik Spoelstra displayed some hostility and frustration that was felt by the players and the organization.
Since that loss and a players only meeting held immediately after, the Heat have reeled off five consecutive wins with each win coming by double digits. Their most impressive win was the 118-90 beatdown they gave to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which was LeBron's first return home since leaving the team in July.
Only one of the wins, however, was against a team with a record above .500, and that was the Atlanta Hawks, who were playing without All-Star Joe Johnson.
Nevertheless, the Heat have utilized this easy stretch to their advantage, as the wins have given them a boost of confidence while allowing the team to build up a chemistry that had been absent for the first half of the season thus far. Rather than the team taking errant jump shots, they are attacking, drawing fouls and creating a more fluent offensive system that the team can actually depend on.
Even with the current five-win streak giving the team confidence and a 14-8 start, the Heat still haven't beaten a team an elite team at full strength aside from their 96-70 win over the Orlando Magic early in the season and are yet to be seen as championship contenders until otherwise. With games against Utah, New Orleans, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers on tap over the next few weeks, the Heat get ample opportunities to prove themselves.
Obviously there are still adjustments this Heat team needs to make before it can be considered a contender again. A number of problems have been prevalent over the course of the season so far, and they need to be extinguished so that the team can begin to adjust to a consistent and permanent lineup, as well as the rotations that need to be tweaked.
14-8 might not be what everyone expected at the beginning of the season, but with the Heat gaining momentum, they can't slip up now and give it away. There are a few tweaks the Heat could do to improve their season, and if Erik Spoelstra wants to keep a job for now, this is what he'll need to execute.
LeBron in the First Half and Dwyane in the Second
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One of the biggest concerns coming into the season was just how well Dwyane Wade and LeBron James would play together.
The concern was because they have similar styles, they wouldn't both be able to flourish with each other on the floor at the same time. Considering they are both slashers and drivers with an average jump shot, it was an obvious concern that there would be room for only one at a time in the lane.
What we didn't realize was that there was an obvious solution that is already beginning to be implemented into the team's offensive system.
Because the Heat have two of the most explosive players in the league, they are able to go off at any time and any moment, which is a benefit that no other team has. Thus the reason why Wade and James time attacking and commanding the ball should be split up in the first and second half.
The plan is to allow LeBron James to play at his pace in the first half while allowing Dwyane Wade to control the tempo in the second half. It gives each player the ability to control the offense while switching up defenses and forcing the opposition to adjust to James and Wade's tendencies. With one player controlling the ball and the tempo, it allows the other to find easier opportunities to score, as more attention is focused on the player who is controlling the ball.
With Dwyane in control, it forces defenses to be on their toes at all time because of the possible mid-range shot that has been automatic of late or the always possible threat of driving that has molded Wade into the player he is today. With LeBron at the helm, it opens the floor a lot more, as he has become one of the better players in the league at finding players for easy scores, while finding plenty of scoring opportunities for himself as well.
The reason why Wade should control the second half is because of the fact that he knows the offense better and has been more consistent late in games than LeBron over the course of their careers. LeBron has no trouble starting a fire early in the game as he uses his explosive ability to set the tone and pace for the rest of the game, while allowing Wade to take over in the second half to finish the job that James started.
Mario Chalmers as the Starting Point Guard
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Following their win against the Milwaukee Bucks, it would be tough to still believe that Mario Chalmers should be the starter considering current starting point guard Carlos Arroyo just scored 18 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting.
When it comes down to offense and defense, however, there is no better answer at the moment than Chalmers.
The Heat have been constantly scorched this year by elite point guards, as they've allowed the likes of Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul to go off and have their way with the Heat's defense. The astounding point guard play by the opposition is accredited to the fact that they are constantly able to beat Arroyo or Eddie House off the dribble, allowing them to get into the lane and dictate the offense to their specifications.
Chalmers isn't exactly the answer to the struggles on the defensive end for the Heat as far as the point guard spot goes, but it's the best they have and is a legitimate answer to the problems that have arisen over the first 22 games of the season.
With Mario's minutes increasing over the past few games, it is obvious that Coach Spoelstra is testing out just how well Chalmers can play the 1 spot compared to Arroyo and House. They have already begun the process of instituting Chalmers back into the rotation, as House's role has nearly completely diminished.
At only 24, Chalmers has room to grow on offense and defense alongside the big three. He has proved a few times over the past five games that he has what it takes to be the starter on this team, but he has also offset that with numerous mistakes on both sides of the ball that strain his performance. His decision-making with the ball could be suspect at times, as much as any inexperienced point guard, but he does have a high enough basketball IQ to make up for his mistakes.
However, the one aspect of Chalmers game that is needed most is his defense. Unlike Arroyo and House, who are too slow to keep up with point guards, Chalmers has the speed and ability to keep up with guards that usually blow past Arroyo or House. Not only that, but Mario contains an astounding ability to control the passing lane by limiting passes into the paint. Of the past six games that Mario has played over 15 minutes in, he has a steal in all but two of the games.
Chalmers might not be the best option, but he is the only intelligent option that could start at the point, and he should be utilized as such.
Keep Chris Bosh a Power Forward
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Nobody on this Heat team has reacted to criticism better than Chris Bosh.
Already deemed the third wheel and being at the center of trade rumours in the first few weeks of the season, Bosh has stepped it up more than anyone else on the team with quality and consistent performances from a scoring and rebounding standpoint.
He has recorded two consecutive double-doubles and has six to his name this season with all of them coming in the past 14 games.
Chris has begun to settle into his niche as a mid-range shooter and occasional driver and is currently averaging 18 points and little under eight rebounds in his first season with the Heat.
Compared to the 24 and 10 he was averaging last season, you'd think it was disappointing, but he is almost right where the Heat want him to be. Considering Wade and James are both averaging over 20 points per game, another 18 points from Bosh is as much as the Heat could ask for from their All-Star big man.
His rebounding has dipped further than the Heat had anticipated, but he has been steadily increasing his rebounding production and will soon be the team's leading rebounder if he keeps up the same pace. The injury to Udonis Haslem has opened the door for Bosh to prove himself worthy of being recognized as the sole rebounding big man. With centers like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony and Erick Dampier playing alongside Bosh, he should have no trouble securing as many rebounds as he can.
If there was any positive out of the Haslem injury, it was the fact that the Heat no longer push Bosh into the 5 spot as the team's center. When Haslem was in the rotation, Coach Spoelstra would have Udonis run as the power forward while pushing Bosh to center late in games. It's hard enough for Bosh to match up with bigger power forwards of the league, but to move him to the center position only gives the opposition an even bigger mismatch.
Bosh is only beginning to adjust to his role on the team, and he should be played solely as a power forward and nothing more. The small lineups the Heat run should be a thing of the past now that Haslem is out and Dampier has joined the team, and it leaves room for Bosh to remain a power forward while becoming the rebounder that we envisioned at the start of the season.
When He Returns, Play Dexter Pittman
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For those that don't remember, Dexter Pittman was the 6'11", 325-pound behemoth that the Miami Heat drafted with the 32nd pick in the draft out of the University of Texas.
Since being drafted, he has been sent to the D-League to play for the Sioux Falls Skyforce to help develop his basketball skills.
It came off as questionable when the Heat were having serious issues in the paint and refused to take Pittman off the inactive list, but it is now seen that it was for obvious reasons, as the organization clearly saw that he was not yet ready to partake in the NBA.
Over the course of a few months, Pittman has already dropped 30 pounds and is down to 295. It's quite the transformation for Dexter, who weighed nearly 400 pounds in his senior year at high school.
One of Pittman's greatest attributes has been his ability to stay committed to the weight loss program he has been on for years, as he is shedding weight at an impressive rate and is exhibiting that he is in fact committed to playing for the Heat as well.
Aside from the 35-year-old Dampier and the even older Jamaal Magloire, the Heat don't have any sort of presence on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. In fact, as far as offense goes, Dampier's basket late in the game against Milwaukee were the first points a Heat center had scored in two games. In four games with the Skyforce, Pittman is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds, four offensive, per game. He is still having trouble with fouls, as he is currently averaging four per game.
Nevertheless, Pittman has the ability to become a center worth having in a league devoid of capable big men. On a team like the Heat where the starter is a 7'3" stiff in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Pittman would come up huge in a rotation that can use all the size it can get. It greatly benefits the defense to have a big man other than Dampier to stop opposing centers, and it benefits the offense to have a center that can actually catch a ball and finish.
Catching a ball and finishing sounds easy enough, but when you watch Joel Anthony play, you'll say otherwise.
Erick Dampier as the Starting Center
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It's going to happen sooner or later, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas isn't helping himself out after three consecutive games of scoring a grand total of zero points.
Even with Ilgauskas not performing up to standards and having recorded zero points and seven rebounds over the past three games, the Heat have yet to be affected by the ineptness of their starting center.
With five consecutive wins, the Heat are living off their talent and a developing chemistry to win games, but they still need to address the issue under the basket, where they still have a gaping hole as far as size goes.
Enter Erick Dampier. At 35 years old, Dampier's best years are far behind him, but it does not mean he can't be a beneficial part of this team. A key issue to the Heat so far has been their lack of a post presence and their lack of boxing out when rebounding. Bosh can only do as much as a lanky power forward can do, Ilgauskas does not contain the ability to jump and Anthony has hands that resemble spatulas lathered in butter.
While Dampier isn't the greatest offensive presence, he is a strong, defensive-minded center who would be utilized mostly as a body. It doesn't seem like too much to ask from Dampier, but it is all the Heat need from their most recent signee, who has spent 13 years in the league clogging the paint for the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors. The Heat's lack of a presence in the middle has allowed the likes of Emeka Okafor and Al Horford to have career games.
Compare that to Andrew Bogut's dismal performance where he was primarily defended by Dampier, which was an extreme positive for the Heat, who were expected to be worked over by the Australian but instead saw him as a non-threat. Erick's defense was extremely beneficial to the Heat in their win over Milwaukee, and with games against Okafor and Amar'e Stoudemire coming up, it will be a sign of things to come if Erick can continue to impress on defense.
When Mike Miller Returns, Use Him As Much As Possible
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The Miami Heat are beginning to find their identity as a dangerous and volatile slashing team that was created to carve up opposing defenses with their ability to drive, as well as their ability to draw double and triple teams to free up players that aren't named LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.
Mike Miller has been the only Heat player excluded from the fun so far, and he is the one most likely to benefit from the big three.
Due to a freak injury during a practice prior to the start of the season, Miller has yet to play in a regular season game and is set to make his debut with the Heat in either late December or early January. He announced that he would try to make it in time for the Heat's showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas, but the chances of that happening now are highly unlikely.
One of the largest problems with this Heat team has been its inconsistencies on the offensive end. When LeBron and Dwyane constantly attack the rim, defenses will adjust by crowding the paint and converting the two slashers into jump shooters. The Heat lack a consistent jump shooter now that Udonis Haslem has departed and now must rely on Bosh, Wade, James and Arroyo for their mid-range game.
There are only two pure three-point shooters in the current rotation, James Jones and Eddie House, and both are far too inconsistent to rely on. Miller, who shot 48 percent from deep last season, is the answer to the Heat's stagnant offense, and it has been very unfortunate for the Heat that he was the first to go as far as an injury. Mike not only represents a threat from deep but is terrific at hitting from mid-range off pick and rolls as well.
Considering the Heat run a countless number of pick and rolls on offense, there should be no problem for Miller when it comes to finding open shots. He'll be able to play alongside James or Wade, as he represents the sole consistent scorer off the bench and gives the team the shooting and offensive boost that they have been lacking for the first 22 games of the season.
It'll most likely take a few weeks for Miller to get his shot back, but the Heat need to utilize him as much as they possibly can to work him into the lineup so that he may build up chemistry with his new teammates.
Play the Inside-Out Game with Bosh
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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade drives, Chris Bosh mid-range and James Jones three-point shooting have turned this Heat offense from stagnant to fluent in the span of only a few weeks. What else can this team possibly do improve?
Last year's Heat ran a very impressive inside-out game with Wade or another point guard passing the ball back and forth to then-Heat center Jermaine O'Neal. It would keep defenses on their toes as they would face the threat of an O'Neal jumper or drive, a possible Wade drive or a player finding Wade on a cut.
The offense wasn't always fluent, considering there was one scorer, but the inside-out game worked.
We haven't seen too much of this from the Heat offense this year, however, as the chemistry they have been building has been focused more on driving and the pick and pop game rather than running an inside-out with Chris Bosh and a guard/forward. It's an offensive game plan that any player could flourish in, as any player that's passing the ball back and forth with Bosh will most likely find an open shot in the end.
With Bosh commanding a double team after backing in long enough, it leaves room for either the other player or a possible cutter to find an easy score. Players like Eddie House, Mario Chalmers or Mike Miller would greatly thrive in the inside-out game, as they all need to work on their shots. Bosh's ability to draw double teams would allow plenty of room for open jumpers for the three struggling shooters.
The lineup is tweaked by allowing struggling players that have found seats on the bench to improve their shooting abilities. Not only do they find easy scores, but James and Wade also find more opportunities to drive since the attention will be focused more on Bosh and the player on the perimeter.
Upon His Return, Play Udonis Haslem as the Sole Power Forward
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It might not be for a while, but Udonis Haslem's return will be the biggest comeback of any Heat player that has been injured.
Since being forced to the bench two years prior, Udonis has adjusted to the role of sixth man with perfection, as he has provided the Heat with a consistent and stable scorer and hard-nosed defense that could stifle even the most elite of power forwards.
Haslem has provided the Heat with a consistency down the stretch that could only be matched by Dwyane Wade, as he has hit just as many big shots in the final minutes as his eight-year counterpart.
This foot injury has been the worst of Haslem's career and has threatened his playing time for the rest of the season. The Heat have been forced to come off the bench with Juwan Howard as Bosh's backup, not nearly providing the same stats and consistency that Haslem puts up on a nightly basis.
The rebounding of Haslem will be missed, especially if he's out come playoff time, when the Heat face the possibility of playing superior rebounding teams in the Celtics and Lakers.
Much like how Bosh can't flourish with Haslem on the court, Udonis will be best utilized when he is playing as the power forward. Haslem and Bosh share similar games, as they both flourish in the mid-range game and seldom drive, which limits the production of the offense considering that there is no need for four players that only specialize in two fields.
With Haslem on the floor as the only power forward, it allows him to work on his game in the mid-range while Wade or James flourish in their own game plan. Wade should be the one to play alongside Haslem as much as possible to allow their chemistry to beat out opposing defenses. LeBron and Udonis' chemistry will come together in the long run, but come playoff time it will be Wade and Haslem that will be the duo to beat.
More Eddie House
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For a team that is short on three-point specialists, the Heat aren't exactly looking for a solution since they haven't played one of their few shooters in the past two games.
Despite shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc, Eddie House has played over 10 minutes in only one of the past six games with every nearly appearance during garbage time.
Since the return of Mario Chalmers into the rotation, House's role has completely diminished, and he hasn't played any significant minutes over the Heat's five-game win streak. It was only two weeks ago that House played over 30 minutes in a loss against Memphis.
It hasn't appeared that he has been struggling either, considering he's hit two of his four shots over the win streak and has a high of six on the season.
While James Jones has been consistently shooting well, he hasn't been that consistent despite shooting 44 percent on the season. Carlos Arroyo has also begun to step it up from beyond the arc and is currently shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc, but he has also just started to become a three-point shooter and has only shot 2-of-8 over the past five games.
House is sacrificing his minutes for Chalmers, but it has been a surprise that Eddie has yet to see the significant minutes he received earlier in the season. House may be a streaky scorer at times, but for a team that could sometimes be desperate for hitting from beyond the arc, they should look at House for a possible answer.
Eddie adds some versatility to the point guard spot, as he is a pure three-point shooter, compared to Arroyo, who is a mid-range shooter, and Chalmers, who can be a three-point shooter as well as a slasher.
Despite Arroyo playing well, Coach Spoelstra should begin to take minutes away from him in place of House to stretch the offense and give the Heat easier scores and more threats along the perimeter. Currently, Jones has been the only threat from deep, and either he'll begin to streak the other way or defenses will find out how to play the Heat's lone three-point shooter. Eddie can greatly help this team until Mike Miller becomes a consistent enough shooter to take over the shooting role.
More LeBron and Dwyane Together
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The only way to build more chemistry is to keep playing the two players you want to establish it with.
There are no two players more important and valuable in the league together than Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. We have seen what they are capable of, and we have seen what feats they can pull off when they are in the open court and when they are in the zone.
Each player has erupted for over 30 points in a game, and each player has willed this Heat team to a victory.
The chemistry between LeBron and Dwyane is more valuable than anyone else on the team. They both have similar styles of playing the game, and the Heat have been widely criticized because they are both slashers who thrive with the ball in their hands and thus will not be able to play together. It might have appeared that way at the beginning of the season, but the more they play together, the more we learn just how dangerous they can be when paired up.
So why not ask for more LeBron and Dwyane on the court together?
This is the duo that was meant to lead the Heat to championships and has been the key to victory to the season thus far. The ball should always go through James or Wade in the offense, and it should usually end up with either one of them putting up a good shot or finding a teammate for an open shot. These two should be on the court as much as possible together at the moment to ensure that chemistry is built as soon as possible.
Whether it's Wade or James cutting, each player should learn to thrive off each other instead of having the ball in their hands. If it means plenty of moving without the ball and setting pick and rolls, then it will need to be done to keep the offense honest and to keep the ball in the hands of the smartest decision-makers, LeBron or Dwyane. They are the most keen at facilitating an offense, and once they begin to learn to thrive off each other, it only speeds the growing-up process of the Heat.