The Miami Heat just wrapped up the week on Saturday night by defeating the Sacramento Kings for their eighth win in a row and a one game lead in the Southeastern Division over the Orlando Magic.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh finally seem to be working together and the support has really stepped up as the Heat have won all eight games by double digits, a franchise record. While many have pointed to the light schedule as the cause for Miami's recent success, the Heat have sprinkled in some solid wins against above .500 teams like Utah and Atlanta, although the Hawks were without Joe Johnson.
Nevertheless, the Heat are playing solid basketball right now. No longer do we hear the calls for Erik Spoelstra's job that we saw in late November. In fact, praise is being heaped on the coach for his ability to keep the Heat focused against underwhelming opponents.
Without further adieu, here is how the Miami Heat players fared on the road trip:
While Arroyo continues to start for Miami, it is apparent that Erik Spoelstra is turning to Mario Chalmers more, especially against tough defensive matchups such as with Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz.
Still, Arroyo has been much better recently despite limited playing time. The best word to describe Arroyo lately has been "efficient."
During the road trip, Arroyo shot 68.4 percent and in two of the games, he was perfect from the field. Arroyo seems to be less hesitant in the offense and more willing to shoot three pointers, a necessary attribute when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade face double teams.
The most significant aspect of Arroyo's game as of late is his limiting of turnovers. Arroyo averaged just half of a turnover during the four game road trip. His assist to turnover ratio was 5.5 to 1, further supporting his "efficient" label.
Arroyo may not be the reason the Heat have been dominating opponents, but his contributions are fulfilling exactly what his role calls for.
The reemergence of Dwyane Wade over the last four games is something the league should certainly fear. Wade averaged over 30 points a game on the road trip, also adding over eight rebounds and nearly six assists per game.
Wade is shooting an astonishing 58.5 percent from the field over the four game stretch, a statistic that is particularly impressive considering the type of difficult shots he usually gets. The biggest factor has been his return to the free throw line. Wade averaged nearly 11 free throws per game on the road trip.
Wade, along with LeBron James, have done more than just run the offense, however.
Defensively, both have set a tone that defense remains just as important a factor in winning games. Wade has made it a point to turn defense into offense and get out into the open court on fast breaks. His energy and enthusiasm has lifted his teammates and increased the overall level of play on the team.
LeBron James is tough to grade over the road trip. Before the four game stretch, James had been the most consistent player on the Heat. Therefore, it is difficult to grade his play relative to his earlier games.
James has been his exceptional self over the last four games and has even seemed to be able to limit his turnovers (under three per game on the road trip). Perhaps the most encouraging sign for LeBron on the road trip was his improved three point shooting. Over the four game stretch, LeBron has shot 60 percent from beyond the arc compared to just 35 percent on the season.
The only other disparity on this road trip was James's free throws attempted per game. James has averaged three fewer free throws on the road trip than he has on the season. This is likely a consequence of James's improved outside shooting and reduction in attacks to the basket.
Chris Bosh has been solid throughout the road trip but not especially impressive. His scoring average for the trip was actually a bit below his season average. Bosh shot 45 percent compared to his 50 percent season average as well.
While Bosh has been a little below average in scoring and getting to the free throw line, his rebounding has demonstrated signs of a return to his Toronto Raptors form. Over the last four games, Bosh grabbed an average of 11.25 boards per game.
Especially throughout the winning streak, it has become apparent that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are simply on another level than Chris Bosh, although Bosh has quietly played well throughout. As the three play together for longer and build chemistry, however, Bosh may be the one to benefit most.
Ilgauskas has started the last 16 games for Miami, but he has essentially split time evenly with Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony.
Big Z has followed up three scoreless games with three relatively good games. During the last three games, Ilgauskas has averaged nearly ten points and seven rebounds while shooting 65 percent from the field.
Defensively, Ilgauskas has still been a liability at times against more mobile opposing centers, although he has improved as of late in shutting down Andrew Bogut and DeMarcus Cousins.
Chalmers has seen his time increase exponentially as of late with Erik Spoelstra seeming to trust him more defensively than Carlos Arroyo. Chalmers has responded with some excellent defense. While statistics only show him averaging 1.5 steals per game, Chalmers is responsible for many steals that he knocks loose and other Heat players pick up.
Chalmers, while not shooting a great percentage from the field, has been a much better three point threat than Arroyo as well. Chalmers has averaged two three pointers per game in his last three.
At times, however, Chalmers has been erratic and far more prone to turnovers than Arroyo. If Chalmers finds a way to minimize his giveaways, he might find himself inserted into the starting lineup over Arroyo.
One reason for Miami's recent success has been the reduced role of James Jones in the offense. Jones is generally on the court for one reason and that is to be a threat from beyond the arc. However, earlier in the season, James and Wade were both forcing the involvement of other players in the offense. Thus, James Jones was shooting six to ten times a game rather than the three to five shots he should be getting.
Consequently, Jones has been shooting less, but at a higher percentage. With other teams now fully concentrating on stopping the big three, Jones has found himself open in the corners to a greater degree.
James is back to his place as the role player, and this spot fits him much better.
It's hard to see why Erik Spoelstra keeps going to Howard for 10-15 minutes a night. With Udonis Haslem out for perhaps late spring or even the season, Howard appears to be the primary backup at the power forward position.
Howard has been completely terrible off of the bench. His rebounding, supposedly the reason he is on the court, has been below average. Howard is often hesitant to shoot wide open jumpers, allowing teams to play strict double teams off of him. Defensively, he seems slow, even for a 37 year old.
Spoelstra really has few options, with little depth behind Chris Bosh. LeBron James could play the four, but it would leave an already small Miami team with even less size. Howard will likely continue to see floor time until Mike Miller returns and Spoelstra will have even more incentive to move James to power forward for some of the game.
Anthony has seen his minutes fluctuate greatly over the last ten games. In six of them, he played more than 20 minutes, while in the other four he played in just one quarter.
There are two reasons why Anthony has been way better than Juwan Howard despite similar numbers. Firstly, Anthony has matched up against opposing centers and has been a much better defensive player than Howard. Secondly, Anthony has contributed the hustle plays that we just haven't seen from Howard.
While Anthony's contract extension still looks like Pat Riley's worst move as GM this summer, Anthony does seem to show positive improvement at times.
Dampier has been the third leg of the three-pronged center rotation of the Heat since playing his first game of the year against the Dallas Mavericks on November 27th. As expected, Dampier has been virtually invisible as an offensive threat.
However, Dampier has done the job he was brought in by Pat Riley to do. He has been a solid rebounder and defensive presence in the paint. Dampier has also served as the "enforcer" role, doing much of the dirty work in the paint that the Heat have missed without Udonis Haslem.
House has seen his role decrease the most during the road trip and over the course of the eight game win streak. Instead of the 20-30 minutes he was seeing in the first 15 games, House has been seeing just garbage time work or not playing at all.
Spoelstra has probably realized that James Jones, along with Wade, James and Chalmers are enough as three point threats and that House is at best a ninth or tenth best player on a championship contender's rotation.
It would be tough to grade House on his recent play simply because he hasn't seen enough court time to merit judgment.