Defense is optional
The Miami Heat are still a fatally flawed, streaky, shaky defensive team. And it doesn't look to be getting better any time soon. This latest losing streak is only a symptom of continual problem: heart failure. With the exception of a January game against the Washington Wizards, the Heatles and their roadies get out-hustled in the last minutes of the game, make turnovers, and go through stretches where they willfully ignore their coach, and smart basketball choices. They are like a stubborn, rich patient who keeps smoking and drinking while waiting for a transplant. They are so blinded by their arrogance to heed common sense. Here are 5 fatal flaws built into the Big 3 and the organization itself.
The Miami Heat have had more games off than any other team in the NBA. Granted, part of the reason for this is that the Heat have also played more games than most teams in the NBA. Half their games have playoff intensity. Still, young teams need practice. And when a team is trying to learn a new system, install new plays, and get cohesion, less practice means more breakdowns. More breakdowns means more frustration. More frustration means more time wasted in practice trying to establish things that should have been dealt with in training camp. That's why Coach Erik Spoelstra has spent half the year harping on 'trust' like he was a high school basketball coach. But trust doesn't come because people agree to it or want it. It comes with practice. No matter how great a player you are, there is no escaping this hard fact. The Heatles forgot this fact and simply thought they were going to overwhelm people with their style. But style without substance is just a highlight reel.
Another thing practice and time gives you is mental toughness. Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade may have the toughness for a pick-up game of basketball. But they don't have the mental toughness to stick with a defensive system and play THROUGH their plans rather than around them.
The Big 3 forgot that they might not need intense practice, but the other 12 people on the team sure do. What's been missing is the development of the bench, consistency at center, and the mental glue that binds the team together. There is simply no getting around how everyone around the superstars appear to be playing far below their capabilities. And then it becomes a question of day-to-day work. The Heat haven't put it in and are getting the results of being mental featherweights.
Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are quick and smart defenders. But they have never been the most defensively-sound players. They will take risks for a steal or impressive block. And Chris Bosh is a turnstile who occasionally swats at defenders slashing to the basket. So that's 3 players on the floor who often allow easy angles to the basket. Most teams can survive against quality opponents with 1 gambler on the floor.
Team defense is all about angles. And for the Heat they offer too many easy opportunities for a mildly-skilled point guard to make their teammates look great. And now here comes Mike Bibby and there goes another double-double for every point guard the Heat will face.
They're playing together in being terrible and out-of-sync. They are out of sync because there is no consistent roster. Eddie House, Mike Miller, and James Jones are rhythm shooters. But no rhythm has been established because of the streaky play of Lebron and Dwyane, and the shapeshifting lineups.
The most important person the Heat could have worked to get in-synch the last 30 games was Mike Miller. Yet Miller still looks lost offensively. He's been injured, nervous, banged-up, and reluctant to shoot. You can tell he wants to play. Miller dives for rebounds, makes smart assists, and plays within the system. But the system hasn't returned the favor.
It's not fair to Coach Spoelstra. And it's not fair to Pat Riley. And it's not even fair to the Heatles. But basketball isn't about fairness. It's about confidence. In a league of talent, most teams have the same playbook with a few wrinkles. There isn't a lot that can be done as far as X's and O's. What matter is the confidence in the game plan and in the plays.
But there is still that lingering doubt. And doubt is fatal in clutch situations. Doubt leads you to ignore the sidelines and hoist up foolish 3's. Doubt leads to errant freestyling, and that leads to turnovers. Soon it's a vicious cycle. The players start doubting the coach, then their teammates, and pretty soon themselves. Doubt leads to 2 of the best players in the league looking foolish. And superstars do not like looking foolish. Someone has to pay and it's never them. Spoelstra knows this, Riley knows this, and you can bet Lebron's entourage knows this. Someone has to pay for the doubt.
There are few personalities who players trust around the league. The Heat are blessed and cursed with having one of them as a president. It's not Spoelstra's fault that he looks young, that he had to lay off practices to soothe egos and bruises, that he's been handcuffed all season. But at a certain point if things don't turn around it becomes about who pays. Riley and the players have too much power to pay.