This Heat team has problems.
Severe problems concerning areas that were never of concern in the first year of the Big Three nor during the championship season. Specifically, the perimeter defense of this Miami Heat team is non-existent. Literally, it’s not there. If the Houston Rockets weren’t garnering wide-open three-pointer after three-pointer (12-of-34 from beyond the arc), they were penetrating the lane and getting shots near the rim.
Houston had 25 assists on 36 field-goals, and Omer Asik lived at the foul line taking 14 free throws as a result of the Rockets’ penetration leading to looks inside for the big man. This game was similar to the losses against New York and Memphis; either point guard’s getting into the lane and dishing to open players or three-point shooters finding themselves with open opportunities. The Heat defense that ranked 29th in three-pointers given up per going into Monday’s game may just be 30th when the averages are finalized.
So, how exactly did the Heat work out a 113-110 win, despite running into the same problems they faced over-and-over again in their two losses?
LeBron James: 38 points (32 in the second half), ten rebounds, six assists, 5-of-8 three-point shooting, zero turnovers in 40 minutes.
Yup, it was one of those nights. With his team down 94-86 midway through the fourth quarter, LeBron went into the takeover mode we have seen on too many occasions to count. Just when it appeared Miami’s offense was too stagnant to execute, the reigning MVP came alive and outscored the entire Rockets team 11-9 in the final six minutes, including the go-ahead layup that put the Heat up 111-100 with 18 seconds remaining.
Jeremy Lin then missed a wide-open three-pointer. The Rockets fouled Dwyane Wade on the rebound and watched as he proceeded to miss both of his free throw attempts. However, someone missed their assignment and Chris Bosh pulled down the biggest offensive rebound of the young season. He made both free throws to push the lead to three. James Harden then missed a contested three to preserve the Heat victory.
Wade was hot early, but an ankle injury skewed his second half performance as he became a spectator to the greatest show on earth for most of the second half. He finished with 19 points on 18 shots, seven assists and six rebounds in 40 minutes. Bosh, who turned Omer Asik into a statue every time he touched the ball, finished with 24 points, ten rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes. He had eight points in the final frame.
The Heat came out guns ablazing early on, building up a 22-5 lead that featured the team running out in transition after every defensive rebound and playing staunch defense along the perimeter. However, once Wade and Bosh left the floor and the subs came in, the Rockets worked their way back through Asik’ free throws to narrow the deficit to seven by the end of the first. The Heat lead dropped to five going into the half, as Houston dropped 33 in a high-energy second quarter.
Between the second and third quarters, the Rockets combined for 66 points while the Heat’s defense took a nap in obvious preparation for the fourth quarter. Houston appeared ready for an upset with momentum on their side after building up an eight-point lead with 9:09 remaining in the fourth. Chandler Parsons and Marcus Morris couldn’t stop missing three’s and the Rockets were bringing up that sickly feeling so many Heat fans felt during the losses to New York and Memphis.
And then LeBron James happened. Every time the Rockets thought they may escape, James was right there with an aggressive layup or an absurd three-pointer. The three he made with five minutes remaining, however, may have been the turning moment of the game.
With the Rockets up 101-93, James somehow converted a 30-footer where he was falling to his right that cut the Rockets lead to five. The Heat would end the run on a 17-9 run that featured James hitting a few free throws and the game-deciding layup, as well as Ray Allen converting one of his two three-pointers on the night and Bosh going 4-of-4 from the foul line down the stretch.
Not to go unnoticed was the effort of Udonis Haslem. The power forward has relentlessly struggled over the past two seasons came up huge in a game where size was necessary. Despite the Rockets having one of the league’s top rebounders in Asik, Haslem aided the Heat with seven rebounds, including five off the offensive glass. Haslem finished with ten points on six shots and made up for a poor performance against Memphis where he recorded only one rebound.
I hope you all weren’t ready to begin clamoring for Josh Harrellson. Haslem is still plenty capable of playing a significant role on this team as the blue-collar worker that scraps in the interior, grabs boards on both ends, and occasionally hits a layup and a mid-range jumper. There wasn’t a better definition of a typical Haslem performance than the one he had against Houston.
The Heat were plagued with struggles at the point guard position, with Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole combining to shoot 2-of-12 and contributing to five of Miami’s 11 turnovers. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. The lack of positive results from both point guards led to James going into takeover mode.
Did I mention LeBron had zero turnovers as the team’s primary ball-handler in 40 minutes?
Miami moves to 2-1, 6-2 overall, on the six-game road trip and await a back-to-back that begins with the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday and the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.
As much as we love to see LeBron be LeBron, perhaps it would be best if we see a better effort on the defensive ends that doesn’t allow weaker opponents to get to the rim with ease.