It seems that the Miami Heat fanbase has either been too spoiled or a little too forgetful this season.
Because that 29-14 mark the Heat are currently at heading into their matinee at Toronto isn’t nearly good enough for those who follow this team. There was a belief that the floodgates were set to open once the Heat won their championship, but that mantra apparently didn’t follow over into the 2012-’13 regular season. Miami has been good, but their effort has been lacking at many aspects and it sometimes seems as if LeBron James is the only player on the floor playing for something.
Somehow the Heat are atop the Eastern Conference, nevertheless. They’ve dealt with a few arduous road trips and have accumulated one of the best home records in the league at 18-3, the only losses coming against New York, Chicago and Golden State. Their road games have lowered their winning percentage–unusual when you consider how well the Heat have played on the road the past two years–but they still maintain a spot atop the East.
If the Heat keep it up, it’ll be their first number one seeding since 2005. They have been a number two seed in each of the past two seasons.
As for now, myself and fellow co-editor Thomas Galicia take a look at how well the Heat have performed in the first half of the season, as well as predictions for the second half of the season and the postseason.
1. How would you grade the first half of the Heat season?
Thomas:For the first half of the season, is there any way I can curve it to attribute it to the senior-itis this team seems to have? The reality is with the exception of LeBron, this team tends to go through the motions. I’m especially pointing out Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for this, but we will get to Bosh in a minute. Wade has had his ups and downs, but it’s not health that’s causing it (he’s actually healthier this season than he’s been in four years), but rather complacency. Getting benched for the fourth quarter of that Utah game seemed to wake him up, and he will wake up for the playoffs, but I expect to see another lull from him where he doesn’t go to the basket as much as he should and he winds up settling for jump shots. It somewhat started again in the fourth quarter against Boston.
But the team as a whole gets a B- from me. They’re willing to coast with the B- though, which is the same attitude I had my senior year of high school and even into college. They know the main prize is the Finals, and I do expect them to be at their best at that point.
With that said, they will wake up later this year and pull together a 15 game run where they go 13-2. That always seems to happen, especially as the playoffs get closer.
John: The Heat are treating this season like any musician or athlete who has “made it”. They worked their hardest for the glory that comes with winning a championship, or garnering a record deal or a big contract to the musician and athlete, and they’re now coasting until it’s time to unleash that ambition and drive that emerged from winning the title last year.
Miami hasn’t played great this year. They’ve been blown out a few times by elite teams and have fallen victim in losses against inferior, motivated opponents. But give them a reason to perform any better than they have the previous two seasons. The Eastern Conference is a joke and the Heat are perfectly aware that their only real competition is coming out of the West. The Heat have underachieved the past two regular seasons, yet they have represented the East in the NBA Finals the past two years.
As mediocre, or even disappointing to some analysts, as they have played, they’re still on top of the Eastern Conference and could have Erik Spoelstra coaching in the All-Star game. I’ll give them a B.
2. Should Chris Andersen receive playing time when he’s healthy?
Thomas: Chris Andersen wasn’t brought in here for games against the Pistons or Cavs in January, February or March. His real purpose for right now is to get in shape so that he can bang the boards with the likes of Tyson Chandler, Joakiim Noah, Roy Hibbert and KG in April, May and June. So to answer your question, yes, when he’s healthy and in “Miami Heat” shape, he will be a part of their rotation and will play at least 12 minutes per game in the playoffs.
John: By signing Andersen and Jarvis Varnado, the Heat now basically have three Joel Anthony’s. However, what Andersen provides that neither Varnado or Anthony can is a reliable rebounder. Andersen isn’t going to be the savior for the Heat when it comes to cleaning up the glass, but he will ease that responsibility off of the likes of Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, LeBron James and Shane Battier.
Small-ball works for a seven-game series, but not for an 82-game season. Andersen will play the same role as Ronny Turiaf and Erick Dampier did in their short stints with the Heat: as someone who can clog the paint, assert themselves as a presence, and maintain some of the rebounding responsibility until the time comes for the Heat to begin running opponents out of the building.
3. Are you at all worried about the Heat’s mediocre road record?
Thomas: Not one bit. Why? Even if the Heat do not have home-court advantage in a series, they would still be favored. All it takes is winning one game on the road. Last season the Heat won two road games in their series against Indiana, one road game against Boston, and one road game against Oklahoma City. The year before they won two road games in their series against the Bulls, one against Boston, and their issue in the NBA Finals against Dallas stems from losing game 2 at home to the Mavericks.
This Heat team might not be as good as last year’s (and even then I can’t say whether they are or not until the playoffs), but since they have Birdman, Cole and Battier instead of the corpses of Dampier, Eddie House and Mike Bibby, I’m confident enough to say that this team is better than the 2011 squad. They will fix their road woes and likely wind up with the same road record as the 2001-02 Lakers that went 58-24 (foreshadowing alert) with a road record of 24-17 (which isn’t great but is still seven games over .500).
John: In the past decade, there hasn’t been a champion with a road record that was sub-500. The 2006 Heat and ’04 San Antonio Spurs came close with a 21-20 mark, but most champions have had one of the top road marks in the league, including last year’s Heat.
It seems as if the Heat have lost that intensity and desire to win road games that they possessed in the Big Three’s first two years together. LeBron James mentioned how he and the team would feed off the jeers and boos of the crowd and they’re just not getting that same reaction anymore. The venue the Heat will be at will be sold out because of Miami’s presence, but it’s a rarity to see the opposition’s crowd constantly jeer whenever the ball is in LeBron’s hands.
Am I worried? No. There’s no reason to worry about anything that happens in the regular season.
4. Well, how about the defense?
Thomas: Think about this when assessing the Heat’s defense: how many act of God shots do opposing teams tend to make during the regular season? The term “Random Scrub Heat-Killer” is a meme for a reason after all, as is the almost too predictable “one second left on the shot-clock, I’m surrounded by white/red/black shirts, let me just heave this one and pray it hits the rim” followed by the shot going in.
Guess what I noticed though? Those shots miraculously can’t sustain a team during a seven-game series! Oh, they can pull off upsets (’11 first round against Philly, ’12 first round against the Knicks), but the only time they seemed to really hurt the team was Game 2 of the ’11 Finals, and I wouldn’t even say that hurt the team as much as Dallas’ zone defense and LeBron’s mysterious disappearance.
I’m not worried, while they have lapses on the defensive end, for the most part they’re doing what has worked for them since the Big 3 came together. The Heat always seem to lose games like that during the regular season, but once the playoffs start, it becomes a different story.
John: The Heat employ Pat Riley’s mantra of “no layups”, which means they’re packing the paint and allowing teams to attempt to beat them from outside.
That works in individual games, but I don’t think Wayne Ellington is shooting 7-of-11 from beyond the arc on a consistent basis in a seven-game series. When it comes down to it, layups fall far more often than jump shots. Plus, if the Heat are applying pressure to the opponent’s ball-handler the second they cross half-court and forcing turnovers, they possess the most volatile defense in the league.
There isn’t a team that can turn defense into offense like the Heat and it’s what has led them to two consecutive NBA Finals appearances. I wouldn’t look too much into Heat opponents making a ridiculous amount of jumpers in these regular season games. The Heat have a proven system that works, so I don’t have much of a problem with Will Bynum or Charlie Villanueva having the games of their lives from the three-point line nor do I fret when the New York Knicks are making nearly 20 three-pointers in their two contests with the Heat.
5. What should the Heat do with Mario Chalmers upon the conclusion of this season?
Thomas:I’ve thought of the Chalmers thing a lot, but for me to discuss Chalmers, I feel the need to discuss much-maligned Kings Center DeMarcus Cousins.
What do the two have to do with each other? Absolutely nothing but the hypothetical trade I’m proposing and will further elaborate on in a second.
Cousins as anyone who follows this league is aware of is a noted “problem-child.” In his three years in Sacramento, he manages to get into trouble for some reason, usually it’s insubordination.
While Cousins does have his problems, let’s take a bigger look at the Kings as a whole. This is a team with an ownership group that has had issues of it’s own. They’ve been a threat to re-locate for the last few years, and right now it’s looking like it will finally happen this fall. If it doesn’t though, it will likely be another season of a team in limbo, waiting for it’s fate. On top of that, since Cousins was drafted by the Kings, they’ve gone through two head coaches (and Cousins has clashed with them both), and have been a very young team save for SF John Salmons (a nice player but not exactly a leader-type).
For a knucklehead like him, this is not a good situation in the least. Where’s the leadership on that team that can steer him in the right direction? That’s what it seems like this kid really needs.
Funny thing is, Miami needs a player like Cousins (as in a center, not a knucklehead). Well, need is strong, I still think the Heat will repeat this season, but Cousins would make them practically unbeatable. Because of that, I proposed this trade.
Sacramento would get Calderon for half of a season, but the main reason why I included him was to make the salaries work. The Kings would want him mainly for the purpose of clearing the cap space he’s taking up, which right now is being taken up by John Salmons. For Sacramento’s troubles, I’d also throw in the first round pick in this year’s draft that the Heat acquired from Philly last year.
Salmons would better help Toronto (assuming they lose out in the Rudy Gay sweepstakes) by providing the scoring they want from Gay, while Chalmers could help Toronto by stepping into the point guard role. He’d have the bigger role he seems to want in Miami (but will never get for obvious reasons) and would actually be a nice fit for that team. Joel Anthony meanwhile gets to go back to Canada, and would actually provide good defense for the Raptors off the bench.
For the Heat, by getting Cousins they get a starting center, which would move Bosh back to Power Forward. He’d do well with Cousins in the paint as the main defensive presence, and along with LeBron’s defense, this would actually hide Bosh’s deficiencies in picking up rebounds fairly well (but more on those later). This would also give the Heat a starting lineup of Cole-Wade-LeBron-Bosh-Cousins, which sounds tremendous on paper, and allows for a bench of Miller, Allen, JLIII, Lewis, Battier, Haslem, Andersen, Varnado, James Jones, and Jimmer.
The other positive is that JLIII would actually be a great insurance policy as a starter if it’s found that Cole’s best used coming off the bench the way he has in the last two seasons. Jimmer is another intriguing possibility, as it gives the Heat another outside shooter off the bench, and more importantly, a younger outside shooter off the bench. His defense is suspect (I’m being very generous here), but on this team it could be hidden.
As for Cousins, he will have veteran leadership around him all the time. LeBron, Haslem and Wade should suffice in keeping this kid in line, beyond that, he will have to answer to Riley, who I’m sure would stick Alonzo Mourning (himself a trouble-maker when the Heat acquired him from the Hornets) on him to make sure the kids acts right. If a veteran organization like the Heat can’t help this kid, there’s no hope for him. They’re a strong enough team that they can survive through his distractions, and he has the talent that if the Heat decide they’re done with him, some other team will be willing to take a chance on the kid and provide in a trade something that will help Miami.
Another thing to keep in mind is DMC’s contract expires in 2014, which I’m sure you’re aware is a very important free agent year for the Heat. By reforming and being productive, bringing him back would assure that LeBron will come back; but if he doesn’t and LeBron says “get rid of that kid or I’m out of here”, the Heat could very well do that as well. It’s not really as risky a proposition as one would think, especially since in the end you’re trading Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman and Mario Chalmers for the kid.
But that’s for during the season, and I don’t see such a trade being likely unless the Kings finally decide they’re fed up with him along with the Raptors getting beaten out of the Rudy Gay-sweepstakes. You’re asking about Chalmers after the season, and in a situation like that, it will depend on what the Heat could get for Chalmers in a trade.
If he can’t get them anything that can help, Chalmers stays, period. Sorry for writing a novel and veering from the question itself, I just wanted to pass along a DeMarcus Cousins idea.
John: It’s been another up-and-down year for Mario Chalmers. Although he’s shooting a career-high 40 percent from beyond the arc, it’s still tough to gauge what type of player he is. He’s put on performances like the ten three-pointers he hit against Sacramento and the 20-point outing against Oklahoma City, but there are also weeks-long stretches where he’ll flat-out disappear or contribute in a negative way.
Although the Heat don’t ask for much from Mario, they either seem to get a whole lot of something or a whole lot of nothing from him.
Chalmers is signed on through the 2013-’14 season, leaving the Heat with a decision to make on whether or not they’ll be willing to allow him to essentially play his best years in Miami. Mario is an enigma within itself and Miami still hasn’t been able to receive consistent success or struggles from Chalmers, who always seems to begin playing well the moment you begin seriously doubting his role on this team.
As much criticism as he receives, Mario is the perfect point guard for this team. The Heat don’t need a point guard that has to have the ball in his hands to score. What they need is something like Derek Fisher–someone who can be counted on to get open and three-pointers. In Mario’s case, however, the Heat expect aggression as well since they have seen what he is capable of when he’s confident and finishing around the rim.
6. Does Chris Bosh deserve a bigger role?
Thomas: Bosh’s role is a lot bigger right now than people realize. He does set the table on offense and his shooting in the first quarter tends to open up the lanes for LeBron and Wade to do their thing during the game.
Really Bosh’s role is only decided by one person: Bosh. He might complain that he needs more touches until the cows come home, but the fact is that there are times where he’s not as assertive as he should be.
Bosh always seems to do a fantastic offensive job on Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah. We saw that in the 2011 playoffs against those two players, and in 2012 you noticed that Garnett wasn’t as effective on defense once Bosh came back.
But in those series, Bosh was much more assertive, he doesn’t seem to be during the regular season. As the game goes on, he tends to become more reliant on Wade or LeBron setting him up. He can’t do that. If Bosh wants a bigger role, he has to take it himself. They give him more than enough of an opportunity to do so, and he only does it once in a blue moon. In fact if he did take it upon himself more, you wouldn’t hear any complaining from LeBron or Wade over it, it takes more of the burden off of them, and as we have seen, it significantly helps this team.
The onus is on you Christopher, you want more shots? Take them, don’t wait for the others to set you up!
John: I’ve always questioned as to why the Heat rarely allow Bosh to be the number one option in some instances. After all, this is a Big Three and he certainly is capable of having just as polarizing a game as his two All-Star teammates. Let’s not forget that the 40 he dropped against Denver earlier this season is the highest scoring output from a Heat player this year.
Bosh may just be the toughest player to guard on this team. There isn’t an individual power forward or center that is capable of playing Bosh on the perimeter as well as in the post. His jumper causes defenders to sag off and his speed forces those same defenders to foul, so why not consistently give the ball to the team’s most important player? There’s too much of a dependence on the ball-handling abilities of James and Wade, rather than their being a larger emphasis on setting each other up, especially Bosh, for shots.
Bosh is converting a career-high 55 percent of his jumpers, including a staggering 57 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line. When teams clog the paint to limit Wade and James in the second half, get the ball to Bosh in his sweet spot 20-feet out and have him stretch the offense.
7. Is there any realistic threat in the East?
Thomas: Even with Rose, the Bulls lack the scoring punch. The Celtics will have a tough time without Rondo in a seven-game series. The Knicks are way too hot and cold and while they blew out the Heat twice, those games seemed to be the result of hot-shooting (again, you can’t rely on that for a seven-game series).
Atlanta is Atlanta, I don’t have to elaborate, and the Sixers with Bynum still need to adjust. Indiana on the other hand is really an inferior version of the Bulls, both with and without Rose.
In other words, no, not unless the NBA decides to re-align at the all-star break and sends Memphis and Oklahoma City to the East in exchange for Milwaukee and Cleveland.
John: I can’t be the only one who doesn’t understand this talk of the Chicago Bulls being a threat. You’re telling me Derrick Rose coming off a torn ACL and the Bulls with a bench that is considerably worse than last year’s or the year before is going to be a threat to the Heat? The 2010-’11 Bulls were worlds better than the 2012-’13 Bulls team and the Heat needed only five games to dispel them.
The Pacers? Sorry, but that team lost to the Heat without Chris Bosh in six games. The Knicks? Jump shots don’t fall for seven games. The Nets? I don’t take teams that lose to the Heat by 30 points seriously.
The Celtics? That’s a team worth worrying about, at least to the Heat. Even without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have an excellent defensive mind on the sideline in Doc Rivers, an excellent perimeter defender in Avery Bradley, and a great post defender in Kevin Garnett. While I trust LeBron to give Paul Pierce and Jeff Green the Game 6 treatment, he’s going to need some help from Wade and Bosh to avoid another situation similar to last year’s near disaster in the Conference Finals.
8. Is LeBron winning MVP?
Thomas:He should in much the same way that Michael Jordan should’ve won the MVP in 1993 and 1997. He is the best player in the game, and leads Kevin Durant in every metric except for scoring (where Durant is only three points ahead of LeBron).
But alas, he won’t. The media hates voting for the same person every season, and there are two candidates that would fit the bill of who the media wants to give it to in Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
Believe it or not, I see them giving it to Carmelo if the Knicks clinch the second seed in the East and can beat the Heat one more time (none of those are out of the question by the way).
The reason being the fact that the MVP hasn’t come out of the West since Kobe won it in 2008, as well as the fact that you know they’re just dying for the redemption story where Carmelo leads the Knicks to relevance (which at the beginning of the season seemed a lot tougher than Durant, who would just guide his team to another season where they were a high playoff seed).
John: He should, but he won’t. Kevin Durant will win the MVP because of his improvement, as well as the likelihood the Oklahoma City Thunder end up with a better record in a tougher conference than the Heat in weakened East.
9. Who is the Heat’s biggest threat to a title?
Thomas: The Miami Heat. Complacency and inconsistent play are the only things I see standing between the Heat and a second consecutive championship.
This isn’t me disparaging the Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies or Spurs, it’s just a description of how good this team really is. People forget that with their regular season complacency, but in a seven-game series, I’ll take this team over anyone else in the NBA.
John: The Heat. There’s no team who has a player who can match what LeBron provides on both ends of the floor, which is essentially what ended up winning the Heat the title last year.
Of course, the Heat will need their shooters–Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers specifically–to make shots, and will need Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to step up as well. However, as long as LeBron is playing like LeBron, then the Heat are going to end up winning this year’s title.
10. How will the Heat finish the year record-wise?
Thomas: The Heat will eke out just enough wins to finish with the top seed in the East, so I’ll again cite the 2001-02 Lakers and go with 58-24, which would mean the Heat would likely go (insert whatever record brings them to 58-24 at the time of publishing) to end the season, something this team is more than capable of doing.
As for the playoffs, I see the Heat actually taking on the Sixers in round one (Boston will get the seventh seed setting up Honey Nut Cheerios Bowl part two), winning that series 4-1. This will be followed by another second round matchup with Indiana, this time (hopefully) with a healthy Bosh for the whole series. That’s a five game series in that instance, followed by an ECF matchup not with the Knicks (if they get Boston, even a Rondo-less Boston, they’re one-and-done), but with the Chicago Bulls.
Heat would win that series in six, followed by a rematch of last year against Oklahoma City. That one will be more difficult for the Heat, as it will take them six games to finish off the Thunder, and will likely have to settle for celebrating in Oklahoma City.
John: They’ll end up with 56 wins and we’ll all be disappointed, until they defeat the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals.