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The Miami Heat have lost five games in a row and now how 21 losses on the season. As the first year in the LeBron James-era in Miami comes to a close, these are hardly the results most expected the Heat to have at this point in the season. After a pre-season chalk full of 72-win predictions, as well as my own 69-win prediction, the Heat have certainly proved those who believed that this team would take more than one season to come into form correctly, failing to beat any of the top teams in the league (save for defeating the Lakers once on Christmas day) while having a tremendous amount of trouble scoring in crunch time, which is almost unbelievable given the talent on their roster.
The Heat forfeited the idea of being a complete basketball team when they received commitments from three superstars as the contracts for James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade would eat up an overwhelming majority of the team’s salary cap. That being said, most believed that Pat Riley did an excellent job surrounding his big three with role players that complemented their style of play. Riley picked up sharpshooter Mike Miller, kept James Jones around to knockdown three’s as well, signed Eddie House to add a scoring punch off the bench, retained young point guard Mario Chalmers, brought over James’ Cavalier teammate Žydrūnas Ilgauskas and resigned defensive-minded center Joel Anthony to protect the paint.
None of those players have had championship level experience and none of them will be considered for an all-star spot any time soon, but the idea was that they didn’t need to have either of those qualities because James, Wade and Bosh would do the majority of the work. All Miami’s role players needed to do was hit shots when the big three passed it to them, rebound and defend.
To this point, none of those role player have met the expectations most had for them prior to the season, which has been the major issue for Miami during their latest stretch of games. During their nine-point home loss to the Blazers last night, Miami got just eight points from their bench while Portland’s reserves poured in 40 points.
Right now, there are no players on the Heat other than the big three that are averaging more than five rebounds per game, which is a staggering statistic. Miami also has no guards shooting over 41% outside of Dwyane Wade. Mike Miller was explode with efficiency this season due to the bevy of open looks he was sure to get but a training camp injury has him playing out of rhythm and he is currently only making 37% of his shots from the floor. Carlos Arroyo, who was shooting a respectable 46% from the field and 44% from there, was recently waived by the Heat so that they could bring in veteran Mike Bibby, but that’s a lateral move rather than a true upgrade.
Due to the early season injury to Udonis Haslem, Miami has gotten almost no contributions from their big men not named Chris Bosh. Erick Spoelstra still hasn’t been able to find a good rotation of big men between the likes of Erick Dampier, Big Z and Joel Anthony. Things have been so bad at the center position for the Heat that some Miami fans are calling on Pat Riley to sign Eddy Curry to fill the hole. Haslem’s return will certainly help the Heat – he’s one of the best defenders in the league and a consistent scorer from the mid-range – but offensively Haslem does not possess a back-to-the-basket game.
Though Chris Bosh said yesterday that he wants the ball more on the block, he does not have the strength to score the ball in the post and at this point in his career, he is what he is. I never thought Bosh was a good fit for this team because he was a finesse big man that would provide poor help on the defensive end and while it’s easy to pick on him as the weakest link in the big three, Bosh has certainly been one of the reasons the Heat have struggled this season. He has frequently been outplayed by opposing power forwards like LaMarcus Aldridge and Amare Stoudemire and his inability to make an impact offensively unless he’s hitting that 18-footer makes the Heat offense less flexible, which is one of the reasons why Miami is so predictable on that end of the floor. As the team’s primary big man, it’s also disappointing to see that Bosh is only averaging .6 more rebounds per game than LeBron James and 1.4 more boards than Dwyane Wade.
James and Wade have had their struggles as well. LeBron’s recent run of crunch-time failures has shocked almost everybody around the league given his sterling reputation for producing when it matters most and Wade is shooting an abysmal 26% from the field against the Celtics (the team they would most likely have to go through to get to the Finals) on the year (and 35% against the Lakers, who they would most likely meet if they were to make the Finals). But clearly the majority of blame here goes on the role player for not producing at a high enough level. Sure, the offensive schemes could be more creative and Spoelstra should have had drawn up some better looks during the closing minutes of games, but there are certain limitations on Miami’s personnel.
Without effective contributions from the likes of Chalmers, Miller, Jones or Bibby during big games, the Heat are an extremely simple team to play against. Wade and James combined to score 69 points last night against the Portland Trail Blazers last night but the Heat lost because their bench only contributed eight points (with just seven points from Bosh, as well). And against stellar defensive teams like Boston, the Heat have been relegated to a one man show. The Celtics do a great job of defending Dwyane Wade and with Kevin Garnett keeping Bosh in check, LeBron is the lone Miami player that can go off with limited resistance and we’ve seen how well that works out for James not only this season, but also during the post-season last year.
As expected, the Heat are relying heavily on their star players, but most believed that was a hurdle the Heat could jump over easily. But with just a couple of months to go until the post-season begins, Miami is still struggling to clear that hurdle without fault. Defenses are adjusting allowing Wade and James to do their worst while keeping the rest of their team in check. That strategy may result in wins against the Bobcats or Wizards for the Heat, but not against the top teams in the NBA.
The Heat will face yet another test tomorrow night against the Los Angeles Lakers, who look like the best team in the NBA again after an eight-game winning streak. Normally I’d say this is a game that Miami would come out strong and win because of Wade and James’ tendency to overcome adversity. But in each of their last four games, the Heat have been unable to silence the naysayers.
Those who say the Heat have time to turn it around have a point – the Lakers limped into the post-season last year and ended up winning the championship, so there is definitely an ample opportunity for Miami to start playing better come playoff time. But the major difference between the two teams is that the Lakers had and still have a championship level formula.
The Heat? They’re still an equation without a correct answer and I don’t think that they’ll pass the test come playoff time.