The AUCH staff got together at the virtual table we know as email to exchange answers for some very important questions facing the Miami Heat at the All-Star break.
Which player has been the most unexpected surprise of the Heat’s season so far?
David: It’s been LeBron James, but not in a good way. I understand if he’s saving himself for the long (hopeful) championship run, but his numbers have regressed this season. He’s still at an MVP-level but, particularly defensively, I’ve seen lapses that concern me. And his shot selection has been alarming at times. Spinning the lane against shot blockers or shooting the three with 20 seconds left in the shot clock aren’t the high-percentage shots that help Miami get homecourt advantage in the Finals.
Alex: For me, the biggest surprise from this Heat team is seeing Udonis Haslem ineffectively in his time on the floor. He’s shooting 38.6% from the floor: a number way too low for a guy taking shots from the baseline and finishing inside. Haslem has been a key part in the Heat’s success over the past three seasons… and many seasons prior. While he still does bring energy and hustle to the floor, perhaps he’s finally run out of gas in the tank to be a big time contributor for this team.
Kris: Norris Cole has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. Sure, he’s had his fair share of erratic moments, but who hasn’t? While his numbers won’t jump off the page at anybody, they are up across the board in comparison to his career numbers. He’s also been given more control of the offense and doing a pretty good job at it.
Wes: I can’t believe none of you said Greg Oden. Oden has looked, for lack of a better word, suprisingly good in his limited time. In particular, those 5 minutes against the Clippers last week against the Jordan-Griffin frontline. He is slimmed down and running the floor smoothly; he’s dunking and contesting shots, battling for rebounds and moving around in the paint. Many Heat fans expected Oden to just stand there in the Eastern Conference Finals and put his arms up in the face of Roy Hibbert. He’s been, and will be, more than that.
Has Miami met or exceeded expectations or have they been a disappointment?
David: It depends on whose expectations. Personally? Yes, I had hoped for an historic 70-plus win season. But I think the players and coaches expected the team to be right where they are. Still very good, competing nightly and not having to over-exert themselves in the process.
Alex: They have met my expectations. Watching the players joke around while watching LeBron dunk in practice after a loss to the lowly Utah Jazz this past week just shows that they aren’t putting that much into this regular season. That being said… they are 36-14, which by all means is not bad at all. Sure, Indiana will probably end up with home court advantage, but Miami looks confident in their ability to beat Paul George and the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Kris: I wouldn’t say that the Heat have disappointed or exceeded expectation, only because the REAL expectations don’t come until April. They’ve had some disappointing losses, but they’ve also had some big wins as well. Even in the scope of just the first half of the season, they’re too unpredictable to give an answer.
Wes: Their are two questions hidden in this one. (1) Does the team look how we expected? The team looks older than people expected. (2) What about their record? The record is just about where people expected, give a few losses. The talk is similar to what it was last season, especially the concern of whether or not they can “turn the switch” in the playoffs. They did last season, and will this season, too.
What has been Miami’s biggest problem thus far?
David: The first quarter. Whether it’s allowing lesser teams (like Utah, recently) to get a big lead or building up an unsustainable lead (against OKC), it’s the reliance on being able to turn it up a notch that has been the Heat’s biggest issue. Then again, it’s worked over the last three years so who knows? It’s frustrating for fans (and, I’m sure, for coach Spoelstra) to have to climb back after a double-digit deficit in the first few minutes of every game.
Alex: Health. Dwayne Wade’s persistent absence has hurt the Heat greatly. It’s just so much harder for them to score when LeBron/Bosh are off the floor. Michael Beasley’s ability to create shots has helped, but… let’s face it… No one on this team can replace Wade in what he does. A healthy and energized Greg Oden could also be a key factor in a victory over Indiana. In his few minutes this season, he has made a positive impact by defending in the paint with his length, something the Heat lack outside of Bosh.
Kris: Miami has had a few issues this season. Tangibly, they’ve suffered on the boards, as usual. Last in the league in rebounding will always cause concern. Also, they’re defensive rotations have led to a lot of open three point shots. That could be problematic in the future.
What has worked best for the Heat?
David: Position-less Basketball 202. If Chris Bosh at center last year was “101,” this second year of the experiment has proved it can work in spurts, particularly as Bosh’s range has expanded. He’s a legitimate threat from beyond the arc and any spacing that allows James and Dwyane Wade (when healthy) to attack unclogged lanes is a definite bonus.
Alex: LeBron James. There is no other way to put it. While we can sit and debate whether or not he is in the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats, he is the best in the world right now. You can count on one hand the nights that LeBron hasn’t looked like a four time MVP. When teams look at winning a championship in the NBA right now, they look at how they can beat LeBron James.
Kris: Having Dwyane Wade on the floor. When the Heat are at full strength, they are tough to beat. Everyone is more comfortable with their normal roles, and Wade’s skill and experience makes the game easier for all his teammates. Not having him available forces some guys to play different roles that they may not be accustomed to.
Wes: I have to agree with Kris. When Wade and both of his knees are on the floor, it take Miami to a championship level. James does James, and the position-less basketball is the framework that gets the cogs moving, but Wade is the missing link that takes the Heat from glorified-Cavs to dynasty.
How do you see the second half of the season shaping up?
David: Another 20-game win streak? That might be asking too much of this team but, if not an historically-long streak, how about several medium-sized ones. This team can run off 10+ wins at any point and I think they’ll recognize that Indiana is pushing as hard as possible and is still only leading the Eastern Conference by two or three games. When Miami tastes homecourt advantage is within their grasp, it’ll be like blood in the water for the defending champs.
Alex: I think Miami pushes down on the accelerator and gives the speed a little boost, but keeps coasting along while they finish out their last 32 games of the season. If a legitimate chance to catch Indiana with a couple of big wins emerges, we may see them floor it to get a Game 7 in AmericanAirlines Arena. But I think Miami will finish the season at… 61-21. There’s my prediction.
Kris: LeBron is starting show what he know him to be, both offensively and defensively. Oden seems to be getting healthier each game. if Wade can get his health in order, I think Miami can catch the Pacers for home court advantage in the second half of the season.
Wes: The Heat face a crossroads. To the left, they can continue sitting players and maintain the collective health of the team as they go into the playoffs, at worst, a two-seed. To the right, they see they are just 2.5 games behind Indiana at the All-Star break and can go for homecourt. I think they go left, all-the-while looking to the right and doing their best to keep up with Indiana. You know how Miami just keeps it close for most of the game, only to go on a run at the end of game to close out opponents? What if that a microcosm of the Heat’s season?