Are the Heat ready to win?
Let’s get the specifics out of the way. LeBron James is by far the MVP of the 2011-12 season. I don’t think the matter is even debatable at this point. I know he has his critics, I know he can sometimes falter in late game situations, but this is LeBron’s year. He is having his best statistical year to date and his PER is through the roof. To top off his unreal offensive stats, LeBron is a top 5 defender in the league. He is in the 89 percentile for over 5 statistical categories. 5!!! On nights where he is without Dwayne Wade – he plays even better. A few nights ago, LeBron torched the Nets for 17 straight points in the fourth quarter to bring the Heat back from behind to victory. Let me repeat that: 17 points IN THE FOURTH QUARTER. Last night, without Wade or Bosh, LBJ had another phenomenal performance. When Wade is playing in close game situations, the team looks lost. They still fight with themselves daily to find a balance between the two superstars. I’ve made the argument many times that the Heat would be better suited to trade Wade for a premiere Center and open some space to get a few perimeter shooters. I know it sounds crazy, but we will leave that argument for another day. LeBron James is the MVP.
With all of those great performances as of late, you would think that this would have me confident about the Heat heading into the 2012 playoffs. Unfortunately it doesn’t. In the essence of honesty, I’ll admit I had the Heat beating the Thunder at the beginning of the season, and I still do…marginally. I’m beginning to notice some very negative patterns in Miami’s play of late and I thought I’d share some of them.
1. LeBron James has returned to his perimeter game and scrapped his early season post play.
When I saw LeBron at the beginning of the season, he looked like a man possessed. Like he was out for revenge. Everyone beat him up after last year’s collapse about his one weakness – his post game. With a body that big and that athletic, it’s no secret that if James had an above average skill set in the post, he’d be unstoppable. So in the off-season he worked with Hakeem Olajuwon and built up his weakness. Early on this year, LeBron was dominating down low and getting to the line at will. In the first 15 games, LeBron only shot 3 3pt attempts.
The problem is, as the season went on, instead of working on it, he just fell back into a regular and comfortable routine. Last Thursday, I witnessed James being guarded by John Lucas III of the Bulls. He clearly outsizes Lucas…by a ton. LeBron calls ISO, and instead of backing him down and forcing a double team or getting an easy position, he jacks up a contested three. Insanely stupid and cocky. My first reason Heat fans should worry.
2. What happened to Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole?
In last year’s playoffs, Mario Chalmers continuously came up with huge shots. He was a key part in the Heat’s run. At the beginning of the season, Norris Cole, Miami’s first round draft pick, showed great promise and poise on the big stage. The problem now is that both of these key parts have gone completely cold. Now for Norris Cole it is somewhat understandable. The rookie wall that most young players hit is probably the culprit – not that it helps. The more concerning issue is Chalmers. It seems as if LeBron is taking more of a point guard roll this year and it is hurting Chalmers’ routine and consistency. His shot seems off and he looks hesitant on the court. For the Heat to win, they need to depend on Mario to be confident and ready in big situations when their stars are doubled or pressured. These patterns have to change…now.
3. Dwayne Wade is not playing to his strengths.
What makes Dwayne Wade so powerful and hard to stop? His ability to attack the rim and get to the line. This season, it seems as if Wade is falling into the comfortable role of shooting perimeter shots instead of using his speed and attack. Maybe it is the injuries, maybe he’s saving his body for the playoffs, but one thing is for sure – when he doesn’t attack, the Heat lose. I’m hoping this is just him saving his body, but when you combine LeBron’s comfort zone of just shooting jumpers and Wade relying on his jumper more and more, it creates an imbalance of outside ISO’s which is deadly considering Bosh is an outside player and they have no consistent big man. If they get matched up against a good perimeter defense like Chicago, these telling and glaring issues could pose a threat to Miami and their chance at glory.
4. The Heat’s strength as a team is their transition offense.
If there is one area the Miami Heat remain completely unstoppable in – it’s their effectiveness in the open court. If they run, you’re in trouble. The problem is that as the season progresses, they’re running less and less. Now, it is very likely this is due to the incredibly draining schedule and the lack in recuperation time in between games. It is still telling and worth noting. The best coaches preach that you become how you play. If the Heat are indeed ‘saving’ energy for the playoff run, will the lack of intensity hurt them? Let us face facts – the Heat are not a very good half court team. When teams slow them down then it creates a sense of panic on the offensive side of the ball for Miami. They need to run, and right now they aren’t.
5. Chris Bosh has turned into a perimeter player offensively AND defensively.
We all know that Bosh isn’t the most dominate big man around. He rely’s on his jumper way too often, and doesn’t clean up offensive rebounds very often. In the past, where Chris has made up for that is on the defensive end. When Bosh was a Raptor, and even in his first year with Miami, he would regularly hit the defensive boards hard and get a few blocks. This year his rebounding has gone completely absent. He seems unwilling to get dirty on the boards and anchor what is already an under performing defense. This really hurts the Heat in many ways. First off, the less Bosh rebounds usually means the more slack LeBron has to pick up. The more LeBron has to do under the glass means it’s less time for him to be on the break in transition – the Heat’s strength. Secondly, the Heat are weak inside as it is. If Bosh isn’t doing what he needs to do, what is going to happen if the Heat match up to a team like the Lakers in the Finals with Gasol and Bynum? It’s scary to think, especially with the way Bynum has been playing as of late. Obviously Bosh is lost offensively in that system with the talent around him, and that’s fine. For Miami to succeed however, he’s going to have to start playing a role in being an anchor and defending. If he doesn’t step up, there isn’t much behind him – that could spell doom for any chance Miami has.
Now I know this sounds like I’m totally going against the Heat. The truth is, they have so much talent, and LeBron James is having such a phenomenal year that they’re overcoming the issues they’re having. For now. Going into a playoffs in which all eyes will be on them to win it all, these are issues they’re going to have to fix or be prepared to face the consequences. Maybe they’re saving themselves, maybe LeBron is saving that post game for the post season and maybe Wade is conserving his energy, but come playoff time these issues will matter. They are a 44 win team, they are the most gifted team athletically, but they better not take those gifts for granted or they’ll risk going home empty handed for the second year in a row.