How Miami Can Avoid Elimination

If you watched Game 5 and the utter meltdown by the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, you’re probably thinking the same thing that I was after the final buzzer: this series is over.

I mean, come on. Kevin Garnett is playing like he is 25 years old and Paul Pierce has found a way to make big shots despite barely being mobile due to injury. Ray Allen is shooting like Ray Allen again and Mickael Pietrus is doing his best Steve Kerr impression on the offensive end and looks like Metta World Peace defensively, back when he was Ron Artest. Oh, and the Celtics have that Rajon Rondo fella’.

Game 6 in Boston, a Heat team on the ropes, and arguably the best coach in all of basketball – Doc Rivers – has to be enough to knock off the hated Heat, right?

Here’s the thing though: if there is any team that can win these two games under the current set of circumstances, it’s Miami. The question is whether or not they figure it all out in time for tipoff on Thursday night and are able to sustain it for 92 minutes.

Slow Down, but not too much

The first problem the Heat have to eliminate is the turnovers. Miami turned the ball over 15 times in Game 6, which was good for 13 Celtics points. The Heat are in a funk offensively, especially in the half court. Cutting down on the turnovers and avoiding giving Boston any easy baskets will help Miami control the flow of the game. This will be extra important in the TD Bank Garden.

With all of this in mind, it’s imperative for the Heat to get out in transition in Boston. The earlier the better because if the Celtics are able to dictate the pace of the game early, Miami may not be able to muster a large enough counter attack with the way they’ve been playing.

Setting up to succeed

Miami head coach Eric Spoelstra has to find a fire extinguisher and quick, because the hot seat has never been so scorching for the young Heat headman. Spoelstra has to step up and take control of this team. Just take a look in the Miami huddle next time it’s on the screen. These guys could care less what ‘Spo’ is talking about and he may have already lost the team.

The end of Game 4 was one of the worst sequences imaginable for Spoelstra. I don’t know how you draw up a play for Udonis Haslem when you have two of the most lethal scorers in the world. What’s even more troubling is that Spoelstra did nothing to improve his stock in Game 5. If anything he’s made himself out to be even more of the scapegoat should the Heat do the unthinkable and blow this series after an early 2-0 lead.

Chris Bosh must play 25-30 minutes at a minimum if the Heat are to have any chance. Garnett is destroying Miami offensively and he has utilized the lack of inside scoring by the Heat to coast defensively this entire series. Bosh changes all of that and forces the future Hall of Famer to be active on the defensive end, which will open up more driving opportunities for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

If you watched closely on Tuesday night – especially in the second half – Boston had the paint sealed up tighter than an extra strength zip lock bag. Every shot inside was contested and Miami was forced to settle for jumpers. Wade was visibly tired down the stretch because Boston made everything he did on the offensive end difficult. Several times you could clearly see the Celtics were able to score in transition because Miami guys weren’t getting back. On several occasions James was just standing in the corner with his hands on his knees, looking exhausted.

One of the keys to an effective offensive attack is movement, especially for Wade and James. The biggest difference in the Heat offensive attack this season has been the two stars’ improved ability to move without the basketball.

Part of setting up the team to succeed is putting the right players in the game at the right time. Joel Anthony has to be utilized at least for a couple of minutes. He can give the Heat energy off the bench and bringing in fresh guys to battle KG may be the only way to contain the ‘Big Ticket.’

The James Jones experiment has failed. There were two or three plays in Game 5 that made me wonder if this guy has an ounce of athletic ability in his body. I counted at least three plays where Jones’ blunders led to Boston points. He’s in the game for instant offense and he hasn’t been producing enough to warrant any playing time.

Get back to fundamentals

I know it sounds cliché and it is, but everything was rushed in Game 5. Miami’s passing has to be crisper, it has to get after loose balls, and it has to pick up the defensive intensity.

When this team is playing their best basketball they’re turning defense into offense. It’s easy to apply yourself on defense and it can galvanize the entire unit on the floor. It happened with Boston in Game 5. The way it hamstrung Miami throughout the game helped get them going offensively when most of the guys in green struggled throughout the game.

Miami has to start communicating out there and lose this whole lethargic body language that has been present throughout these playoffs. At times I’m wondering if a number of Heat players aren’t bored or something.

If that’s the case, Thursday night should provide the perfect wake up call.

The stars must shine

Everything – right or wrong – is on the line for LeBron James. If this team falls short of making the Finals in its second year the floodgates are really going to open up on James, and I wonder if he’ll be able to swim in those waters.

This is the time when the great players get the most out of their teammates and somehow find the collective will to win that’s been so obviously lacking for this Heat team.

The interesting storyline in all of this is how well James has played this postseason. It’s been one of the most staggering statistical onslaughts in memory and he has looked just straight unstoppable for most of these playoffs. He’s doing everything too. He’s setting up teammates, rebounding the ball, playing suffocating defense – but if the Heat lose before they’re able to win two in a row, it will all be for nothing.

That’s the world LeBron lives in and it’s one he helped create. He’s said that every decision and motivation throughout his career has been because of his desire to win. If that’s the case he can’t wait any longer to let his teammates know exactly where everything stands. He needs to remind them why they’re all there. Who they are and what they need to do in these next two games.

Many believe James isn’t capable of this sort of leadership, and maybe he isn’t. But one thing is for sure, Miami’s playoff hopes rest on his shoulders and if he can’t inspire 11 other men to help him pull off a miracle, it’ll be another summer full of questions, and I know one thing for sure: Pat Riley is going to want some answers.

Wade Continues To Struggle Against Boston

With Chris Bosh sidelined with an abdominal strain, Dwyane Wade has struggled in the NBA playoffs.

Against the Indiana Pacers, Wade had one of the worst playoff games of his career when he went 2-13 from the field and scored a meager five points in Game 3.

Things haven’t gotten better for Wade against the Boston Celtics because they have been quick to send double-teams his way without the threat of Chris Bosh to keep them honest. The result is Wade is averaging 20.8 points while seeing his shooting percentage steadily decline in each game so far this series.

“I’m not coming here crying,” Wade joked with the media on Saturday. “I can score the basketball, I’ve just got to find other ways to do that. It might not be a 41-point effort like it was in Indiana, you never know what each game takes, but I’m just going to go out here and play the game that I played for so many years and I will find a way to be effective.”

While he was struggling with knee pain during the series against Indiana, Wade insisted during a media session this weekend that there is nothing wrong physically now.  The only problem were the two defenders collapsing on him whenever he came off of a pick-and-roll or whenever he caught the ball anywhere near the lane.

Both just happen to be his trademark moves on offense.

“As a team, we have to figure out ways to exploit the double team,” LeBron James explained. “As his teammates, we’ve got to make ourselves available to make plays for ourselves, and also when the double team is not there early on offense, we’ve got to get the ball to him early so he can attack without a double team.”

While he claims his knee is now magically fine, Wade didn’t attempt a single free throw for the first time in a playoff game since 2004.

By being unable to attack the paint it has resulted in Wade being passive and settling for perimeter shots. Hence, the lack of free throws.

“Like I said, it’s no secret, guys,” Wade tried to reassure the media. “I’m getting doubled at the top of the key. I’m getting doubled in the paint, so lets not shoot a turnaround jump shot all the time, which is not a good shot for our team. We’re going to have to find other ways for our team to loosen things up. And eventually, I’m a patient person, so eventually things will hopefully loosen up and I can get my opportunities where I can attack and get in a rhythm a little more.”

Wade didn’t get off to a great start in Game 4 as he started an abysmal 0-4 from the field. He was aggressive probing and trying to attack Boston’s defense, but his shots just weren’t falling. Boston was utilizing a zone defense to perfection and they would switch to a double team when Wade caught the ball. This had him completely baffled and frustrated.

His bad night continued as Wade dipped to 1-8 from the field. For the majority of the first half he had as many made field goals (1) as turnovers.
Wade went into the half shooting 2-11 from the field and had a +/- rating of -14.

Yuck.

Instead of fading into the background, Wade scored nine points in in the third quarter including a key three-pointer in the final minute to pull Miami to within five points.

But in the fourth quarter he once again faded into the background with only a dunk and one made free throw. The crushing part for Miami is that they needed him to score for them when James went to the bench with five fouls midway through the fourth quarter.

The worst part of Wade’s off game is the fact he only attempted two field goals in overtime. Even when James fouled out with just under two minutes left he didn’t seem motivated to look for his shot.

He had the chance to earn some redemption at the end of overtime, but his three-point attempt clanged off the rim.

“It was a good look,” Wade told the media after the loss. “It was online but didn’t want to go in. Got the shot off I wanted and that is all you can ask for.”

Still, you can give Wade credit for doing the other things for Miami when his shot wasn’t falling. He stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three steals. His 20 points and balanced stat sheet look flashy, but for most of the game his shot just wasn’t falling as shown by the fact he went 7-22 from the field.

Even though he didn’t fade completely into the background, it’s clear Miami needs Wade to step up in Game 5 if they want to wrestle back control of this series.

It will be interesting to see if Wade and the Heat are able to regroup on Tuesday after two tough losses his weekend.

Bosh Won’t Play In Game 4

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told the media this afternoon that Chris Bosh will not play for the Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics.

Spoelstra says that Bosh’s status is “still indefinite.”

While not a shock, it’s not the kind of news the Heat were looking for. With Bosh out of action, Boston has been able to send double-teams at Dwyane Wade which has limited how effective he can be.

Bosh will miss his ninth straight game Sunday with a lower abdominal strain.

Podcast: Conference Finals Rundown

Mark and McNeill chatted about Boston struggling to close out games against Miami, Chris Bosh’s impact on Miami, the adjustments Scott Brooks made in Game 3, and how the Spurs can regroup.

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Here’s the link to download the MP3.

Bosh’s Absence Is Being Felt By Miami

The Miami Heat have only played two games without Chris Bosh, but already it’s become painfully clear the team has a Big Three, not a dynamic duo like many have joked the past two seasons.

This year Bosh was a starter on the All-Star team while posting less than impressive numbers with 18.0 points points and 7.9 boards. Both stats were well below the career averages that many journalists and fans feel were inflated due to his time playing for the Toronto Raptors.

Bosh’s critics were vocal in declaring that Miami doesn’t need his inflated salary and they would be better served moving him for some depth on the roster. However, those same critics have gotten silent after Bosh went down in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Miami had a dominant  95-86 win in Game 1 of this series but they have looked beatable since.

The shift in momentum started in Game 2 when Indiana escaped South Beach with a win after bullying Miami around in the paint and on the glass.

The Pacers outrebounded the Heat 50-40 in Game 2 after Miami won the war on the glass 45-38 in Game 1.

Points in the paint were even at 38 in Game 2, but many of Miami’s interior points came from drives by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade which skewed this number a bit. This is a stark contrast to the Miami’s noticeable 52-40 advantage in Game 1.

Plus, the three “bigs” Miami played – Udonis Haslem, Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony – combined to score seven points. Yuck.

LeBron James admitted it was “taxing” to play power forward in Game 2 and things didn’t get much better in Game 3.

Things got off to a rough start when Dexter Pittman got the first start in the playoffs during his career.  Pittman was inserted into the game with the intent on muscling Roy Hibbert away from the bucket and the glass. That plan didn’t work out as Erik Spoelstra had planned as Indiana raced out to a 9-2 lead and Miami while Miami started the game shooting an abysmal 1-11 from the field. Pittman played the first three minutes of the game and didn’t see the court again the remainder of the game.

Hibbert started 4-4 from the field and scored eight points, grabbed five boards and swatted two shots in the first quarter alone. He finished with 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks. Miami clearly has no answer for Hibbert and that isn’t likely to change looking at how their roster is constructed.

While it may not show up in the stat sheet, David West did a brilliant job of taking James out of the game. James had 16 points in the first half while going 7-13 from the field. The second half, however, was a completely different story. James seemed to fatigue after being constantly bumped and elbowed by David West in the paint and he went 3-9 from the field to finish with 22 points. There were a couple of times West tossed James to the floor in the lane, and Danny Granger got in the James’ face after a foul on a breakaway where he tugged on Superman’s cape.

With James being slowed in the second half by the bruising play of West, Miami needed Wade to step up in a big way. Instead, Wade pulled a disappearing act and started the game 1-11 from the field and was held scoreless at the half. He looked listless and uninspired unless he was seen arguing with his head coach.

Instead of attacking the paint like he is known for, Wade seemed content to settle for perimeter jumpers and finished the game 2-13 from the field with only five points.

Bosh only had 13 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes of burn in Game 1 before leaving the game with his injury. Again, those aren’t flashy numbers, but this series is showing Bosh’s biggest impact isn’t always in the stat sheet.

It’s a shame some basketball fans and members of the media aren’t willing to give Bosh the credit he deserves.