The Heat sent a message to the rest of the NBA last night: We’re coming for you, and we’re not gonna be nice when we do.
They certainly weren’t nice last night as they put on a frightening show the Friday before Halloween for every team who’s yet to face them.
A year ago the Miami Heat equaled their best start to a season since 1999, going 6-1 after Dwyane Wade nearly single-handedly defeated the Wizards 90-76 at AmericanAirlines Arena, outscoring the entire Washington team over the final 24 minutes of the game you can read about here.
There’s a good chance this year’s Heat squad could surpass that record, but only if they’re able to bring the kind of game they did last night at home in their ferocious decimation of the Magic, 96-70 in front of 20,000 screaming, jubilant fans.
That’s because the eighth game of the season for Miami will be against the vaunted Celtics, who beat the Heat in the season-opener, 88-80, as the “Three Kings” and company played one of the worst first-halfs of their career.
LeBron James led a furious comeback in the second-half of that game that made it a one-possession game at 83-80 with about a minute to play, but saw Ray Allen’s three-point dagger assure the victory for the Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.
Following that heart-breaking loss to the boys from Beantown, there was no dearth of criticism leveled against the Heat, and LeBron in particular. As I pointed out in a previous piece, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports used that loss to fuel his sickening hatred of James and everything connected with Miami.
LeBron, Dwyane, and Chris Bosh simply used such media criticism as fodder, and went out and destroyed Philadelphia the following night, 97-87, as Wade shook off the rust that’d slowed him down in the first game against Boston, and torched the 76ers for 30 points on 50 percent shooting.
The hype surrounding last night’s matchup with the redoubtable Orlando Magic was palpable. You could feel it in the air, as the media circus that’d surrounded Miami’s first game with the Celtics on Opening Night was made to seem like a boring news conference in Podunk, IL.
Everyone who was anyone was seemingly at AmericanAirlines Arena to watch Miami try and live up to all the accolades heaped upon them before they’d even played a single game together. They’d seen that loss to Boston, and many of the media pundits and analysts began to question whether the Heat were a legitimate threat to other contenders in the East, let alone the defending Los Angeles Lakers.
They’d also seen the win over Philadelphia, but still hadn’t been convinced by that victory Miami would equal the preseason billing they’d given themselves as “The Team to Beat.”
They were then treated to a first-half of basketball between Miami and Orlando that showed the Heat were definitely a match for the Magic, but hardly the monster squad fans of the boys from South Beach had been trumpeting about since LeBron’s “Decision.”
In that first half both teams played a back-and-forth affair, as there were eight lead changes and seven ties. Neither team went up by more than nine points, and Miami’s lead at the break was just six, 51-45.
Miami had played well, and the Big 3 for the Heat had shown flashes of how overwhelming they can be together, as the first basket of the game came on a play where Bosh grabbed a rebound, hurled it to James at midcourt, who took one dribble and alley-ooped the ball to Wade for a thunderous dunk.
However, the home crowd hadn’t even gotten a thimbleful of what they were about to be treated to in the second-half.
Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and the Heat opened that third quarter and revealed to the world exactly what every NBA team that plays Miami this year is in for, and while it’s still early, and I want to shy away from too much hyperbole, what they’re in for is devastation.
As Magic center Dwight Howard would put it after the game, “They came out, they threw an uppercut, and as a team, we kind of went down.”
An uppercut, Dwight? They didn’t just throw an uppercut. They hit Orlando with a barrage of blows so vicious the fans in the stands would be forgiven if they’d suddenly begun to believe they were watching Sugar Ray Leonard destroy one of his opponents in the ring on a grainy film.
Miami didn’t just hit the Magic once, they kept raining blows on them over and over, starting the third quarter out on a 14-0 run that included James hitting a three-pointer and Wade draining two more from downtown inside a 51-second span.
Yet, it wasn’t even their offensive prowess that was the star of that third-quarter, but Miami’s defensive tenacity that stole the show, holding the Magic to just 10 points in that third period, and 25 points for the entire second-half; keeping Dwight Howard from scoring a single point after the halftime break.
“Every night is not going to be like this,” Udonis Haslem said. “But we had an unbelievable focus. We wanted to fly around, use our speed, our quickness and our athleticism.”
Wade has stated he’s no longer to be known as Flash, but it appears his teammates have decided they’ll take on the moniker as a team.
“Defense,” Wade said, “is where it starts for us.”
Starts and finishes, from what I could see watching the game, and if you’re interested in fully understanding how good this defense of the Miami Heat is, and will be, you might want to take a look at Kevin Arnovitz piece, Breaking Down the Stifling Heat Defense. Two of the paragraphs from that article sum in up nicely:
“That stingy defense kept them in a game at Boston they had little right to be in, then clamped down on Philadelphia, yielding only 87 points in 95 possessions. On Friday night against Orlando — the 2nd most efficient offensive outfit in the NBA last season — Miami was dominant. After a reasonably effective first period, Orlando couldn’t find anything in the half court over the final three quarters. For a team that understands entry angles, ball movement, how to stretch defenses and — most important — a team that has a deep sense of self-awareness about what they want to achieve on every possession, Orlando appeared desperate.
Last season, the Orlando Magic averaged 24.1 shots per game at the rim – a smidgen below the league average of 26.5. On one occasion during the regular season, they generated as few as 12 shots in the immediate basket area, and logged a season-low total of 11 attempts at the rim in their humiliating Game 3 conference semifinal loss at Boston. Against Miami on Friday, the Magic attempted only seven shots in the basket area and not one of the team’s collective five assists led to points at the rim.”
“The guys now can’t go back on this,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They’ve shown me what we’re capable of defensively and I will hold them to this standard now in terms of the effort. The effort was great.”
If he does, every team Miami plays has a huge problem. Orlando is one of the best perimeter teams in the NBA, with a power forward in Rashard Lewis who is one of the best shooting forwards you’ll find, and yet Miami made them look absolutely silly.
When it was all said and done, Quentin Richardson and Lewis had a total of four points between them on 0-of-14 shooting (0-of-5 for Q-Rich and 0-of-9 for Rashard), making many Orlando fans wonder if both had actually played in the game.
Vince Carter didn’t add much either, scoring only four points himself on 1-of-5 shooting (although he left the game midway through the second-quarter after injuring his back), and the final piece to the Magic perimeter game, Jameer Nelson, fared little better, scoring 10 points on 3-of-11 from the floor as Carlos Arroyo harassed him all night long.
Howard couldn’t help out much in that second half, going scoreless after pouring in 19 points before halftime, as I mentioned above, as he was sitting on the bench a good majority of the time, having picked up his fifth foul midway through the third-quarter, and fouling out of the game completely in the middle of the fourth period.
Simply put, Orlando’s shooters ran into a buzzsaw that was Miami’s perimeter defense. Again, Arnovitz explains just why no one should be surprised it’s as good as it is in his piece, Friday Hotness, in which he asks:
“How good has the Heat’s defense been so far? When the opponents run an isolation set and are guarded by one of the Big 3, they’re shooting a putrid 16.7 percent. Should we be surprised? Among the 77 players who defended at least 125 isolation plays last season, Dwyane Wade ranked first in the league in field goal percentage allowed. LeBron James was 5th and — here’s the biggest shocker — Chris Bosh was 7th among 77.” (Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info)
Most of Miami’s players had no such trouble scoring, as they finished the night 9-of-18 from beyond the arc, with Wade going 9-of-20 from the floor for a game-high 26 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists, and two blocked shots.
James was once again the team’s facilitator, pouring in 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting to go along with six rebounds and seven assists. He also cut down significantly on his turnovers, with just three on the night.
Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem both turned in the game’s only double-doubles, as both scored 11 points, Bosh on a disappointing 2-of-9 performance from the floor, and Haslem his seemingly usual 4-of-7 shooting effort. Udonis grabbed one more rebound than Chris, pulling down 11 on the night.
Arroyo silenced many of his critics, as he performed marvelously against All-Star guard Jameer Nelson, hounding him defensively, and scoring seven points on 3-of-7 shooting to go along with four rebounds and four assists.
While James Jones hasn’t had many critics, those he’s had seemed intent on wondering aloud whether he’d ever perform up to the expectations the Heat have had for him since they brought him back to his hometown. He wasn’t able to silence those critics in the first game against the Celtics, but the last two games should have kept them quiet.
In last night’s game Jones drained 3-of-5 from beyond the arc for nine points on the night to show why he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with this year. He and Eddie House (along with Mike Miller when he returns from injury), should be deadly from the outside as they find open look after open look because of the penetration of Wade and James.
House had a little trouble finding his jumper last night at first, whiffing on his first six shots, but finished the evening with eight points on 2-of-9 from the floor to go along with three rebounds, an assist, three steals and a blocked shot. His defense was what amazed many, though, as he continually harassed the Magic shooters into mistakes.
Although Joel Anthony once again failed to score, which is becoming a theme with him, it wasn’t as if it’s because he’s throwing up bricks like Jermaine O’Neal was last year for the Heat. Instead, Anthony simply doesn’t take any shots, and has yet to find those garbage putbacks that could add to his statline. He did haul down four boards in his 22:35 minutes, though, and was a defensive presense throughout the night.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas shared the center duties with Anthony, playing a little over 16 minutes, and did well in his time on the floor, scoring eight points on 4-of-10 shooting to go along with five rebounds. I think a lot of Miami fans, though, will be looking for Riley, Spoelstra, and the Heat management, to do something about the position before the trade deadline though if things continue as they are.
Despite Miami’s woes at the center position, as many, including myself, had pointed out prior to the season, the “Three Kings” and others on the bench are more than enough to not just get wins, but to dominate teams. That was on breath-taking display last night, and the rest of the NBA better take notice.
That being said, Miami and its fans need to keep from blowing this win out of proportion; as tough as that can be to do when you beat an acclaimed Eastern Conference contender by 26 points.
As Heat coach Spoelstra put it, “It’s a good win, but we can’t get carried away.”
Here’s looking forward to the game against the New Jersey Nets tomorrow where hopefully we’ll see more highlights like the one to the right where LeBron James is shooting over a helpless Dwight Howard (Superman indeed!).
Look for my preview of the game in the morning.
Tags: Boston Celtics Carlos Arroyo Chris Bosh Dwight Howard Dwyane Wade Eddie House Erik Spoelstra Jameer Nelson James Jones Joel Anthony Lebron James Miami Heat NBA Orlando Magic Philadelphia 76ers Quentin Richardson Rashard Lewis Udonis Haslem Vince Carter Washington Wizards Zydrunas Ilgauskas