Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportLeBron James and the Heat had Paul George tied up ... until the second half.
INDIANAPOLIS -- After a week on the road, the Miami Heat will return home from a four-game trip during which they seem to have raised more questions than they answered.
“We came out with a mindset that we wanted to get a win to end this road trip the right way, end it over .500,” forward LeBron James said after Tuesday’s 90-84 loss to Indiana assured the Heat of a 2-2 mark. “We had our chances, and we just didn't capitalize the best way we could.”
Now six weeks into the season, the two-time defending champion Heat remain very much a work in progress as they search for a level of stability that seems to have eluded the team since training camp. Amid their latest stretch of up-and-down play, the Heat have dropped three of their past five games since they rolled off 10 consecutive victories.
Tuesday’s performance against the Pacers, clearly the Heat’s biggest threat in the Eastern Conference, was a microcosm of how sporadic the season has been to this point. A dominant first half of defense and ball movement completely shut down the Pacers as the Heat led 47-40 in a building that hadn't seen Indiana lose a game this season. The second half saw Miami's offensive flow grind to a halt, when the Heat generated just 37 points on the way to finishing with a season-low 84 for the game.
The Heat continue to sort through a number of issues.
First, the rotation remains in flux. Coach Erik Spoelstra has tinkered with the rotation on a regular basis, using lineup combinations that hadn't previously spent time on the court together. A new wrinkle was added in Sunday’s win against Detroit, where the Heat used Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen together for extended stretches to provide more size on the front line.
On Tuesday, Spoelstra further tweaked that unit by playing two point guards -- Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole -- on the floor with two centers in Bosh and Andersen. As the Heat try to find ways to counter an opponent’s size and length down low, Bosh said he hopes to see more of the latest look.
“[Andersen], he fills the five very uniquely; he can run the floor, he can rebound, he can finish,” Bosh said. “He allows me to sometimes take a little bit of a break. I like playing basketball at [center], but not, like, for 48 minutes all the time. Any rest he can give me is awesome. We can always go to it. It’s something we can keep in our back pocket.”
Secondly, the road trip served as a reminder that the Heat need more in the middle. The two losses came against a Chicago Bulls team that outrebounded Miami by 21 on the glass and a Pacers squad that played through 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert in the second half, won the rebounding battle by double figures and outscored the Heat 50-37 over the third and fourth quarters.
It’s a concern that looms larger when the Heat struggle to create their preferred mismatches by spreading the floor with perimeter shooters. But Shane Battier has been in a lengthy slump as the starting power forward. The Heat’s primary group of floor-spacing shooters -- Battier, Bosh, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and Rashard Lewis -- were a combined 3-for-15 against the Pacers. The supporting cast didn't provide much of a lift for James and Dwyane Wade, who shot 12-of-30 themselves.
The Heat are still figuring out how to play effectively against bigger teams that succeed in slowing down the game and limiting their transition opportunities.
“Their defense is No. 1 in the league,” James said of the Pacers. “They make you do things, at times, you don’t want to do and [force you] into shots you don’t want to take. I had some really good looks at the rim that didn't go down that I’m capable of making.”
Over the past four games, Miami’s shooting percentages have been 41.6, 55.1, 55.6 and 42.9. Another factor that has played into the mixed results has been Wade’s on-and-off availability as he goes through a maintenance program designed to reduce the wear and tear on his troublesome right knee.
Wade was back in the lineup Tuesday after sitting out Sunday against Detroit. He also missed Thursday's loss in Chicago, meaning the Heat’s second-most important player missed every other game on the trip. Wade said it’s too soon to take meaningful inventory of the Heat at this stage but added that Tuesday’s game serves as a reminder of how much improvement needs to be made in the coming months.
“They’re always good for us, especially as you’re preparing for the playoffs as the season goes on, because those are the kind of games you’re going to see,” Wade said. “We do look forward to those games because we learn a lot about ourselves, and we learn things we can work on and get better at. We’ll take what we didn't do well tonight, we’ll take it back home and hopefully by the time we see this team again, we've used what we've learned in this game and we’ll play a better game.”
The Heat return to Miami facing a three-day break before their next game on Saturday against Cleveland. It’s the start of a five-game homestand that offers a chance to regroup and regain rhythm.
“It’s [been] a tough week for us,” James said. “I think we’re all excited to get back to Miami, to get back home for the next two weeks. We’ll get better. We’ll look at the film and we’ll move on to the next game. You don’t hold your head low long on one loss, especially as a veteran ballclub. We’re not the team we want to be in April right now, and that’s OK. That’s exactly what we want. We want to continue to get better every month.”
LeBron James 6-16 FG | 4-6 FT | 14 REB | 6 AST | 17 PTS | -2 No question LeBron's best work in this one was applied on the defensive end of the court, particularly as the Heat held Paul George without a made basket early on. For the second time in three games, LeBron grabbed 14 boards. But it appeared LeBron got too caught up in the officiating and lost all steam in the second half.
Dwyane Wade 6-14 FG | 5-6 FT | 6 REB | 6 AST | 17 PTS | -18 After skipping the shootaround to presumably rest his knees, Wade went through a vigorous pregame workout and decided to play. His sneaky defense disrupted Indiana's post entry game and led to several steals and transition opportunities. But his shot just wasn't there. And the Heat had few other options.
Chris Bosh 6-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -1 Bosh worked overtime in his attempt to downplay the significance of Tuesday's showdown. Then he went out and had some of his most impressive plays of the season. An offensive rebound and putback in traffic followed by a block of George on other end was Bosh's best sequence of the season. Then came the second-half freeze.
Shane Battier 2-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | -6 This continues to be a nightmare matchup for Battier, who struggled on both ends of the court against the Pacers' front line. It again proved to be too tall of a task, which is why the Heat went with a Bosh-Chris Andersen pairing down the stretch. That may be something the Heat maintain against bigger teams moving forward.
Indiana Pacers The Pacers wanted this shot at the Heat, and they stepped up to the challenge after a rough start. Indiana proved resilient in pushing its home record to 10-0 and improving the league's best record overall. Still, the only games that matter in this series are played in the spring.
The Pacers held the Heat to a season-low 84 points, including just 37 in the second half.
Wade has been rehabbing a sore right knee throughout the season and has missed six games. He sat out the Heat’s win Sunday in Detroit after playing 32 minutes in Saturday’s victory in Minnesota. Miami wraps up a four-game trip against the Pacers, who have the best record in the league.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the shootaround that everyone who has played during the road trip is available but that he would make his final decision on his starting lineup and rotation about an hour before the game. Spoelstra later told ESPN.com that the only player who is definitively ruled out of Tuesday’s game is center Greg Oden, an Indianapolis native who has yet to play this season. Oden continues to work his way into condition after a three-year layoff following multiple knee surgeries.
Heat center Chris Bosh told reporters that Wade did not participate in the morning workout. The Heat have also been without reserve forward Michael Beasley the past two games as he recovers from a strained left hamstring. Beasley left the shootaround without talking to reporters.
Tuesday’s game is the first meeting between the Heat and Pacers since Miami won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at home last season, then went on to win its second consecutive title.
While several Pacers players have talked about the game as a measuring stick against their biggest rival in the East, the Heat are approaching the matchup as an opportunity to finish the road trip with a productive performance. Miami lost to Chicago on Thursday to open the trip before beating Minnesota and Detroit by a combined 36 points.
The Heat have gone 3-3 in games Wade has missed this season.
“We’re looking at today, but looking forward to the playoffs and everything,” Bosh said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re always healthy. [The Pacers] are very eager. They want to treat this like a championship game, but it’s not. It’s a long season, and you have to take it in increments.”
Bosh was then told that Pacers guard Lance Stephenson said Tuesday that he would approach Tuesday’s game like the NBA Finals.
“It’s not a championship game; it’s the regular season,” Bosh said. “It’s the 20th game for us. Championship games, there’s no tomorrow. It’s tough to play like there’s no tomorrow when there is. We know they’re going to have their intensity. I’m sure they circled this date on the calendar a long time ago.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- At their core, the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat believe in some of the same values in how to go about winning. Actually, you could say they’re both sort of trendsetters that other teams have started to try to imitate.
But outwardly, they certainly couldn’t present a more different image. And that is what makes their growing rivalry such an interesting drama to watch.
The Heat and Pacers are far and away the best two teams in the Eastern Conference and overwhelmingly favored to face each other for a third consecutive playoffs. They have, it is generally viewed, the two best players in the East in LeBron James and Paul George. They have signature systems they largely invented to feature their advantages: the Heat with their pace-and-space offensive machine that churns out points, and the Pacers with their defensive funnel to the middle and their rock-solid basket defenders who smother opponents.
They both highly value consistency and long-term stability, are led by presidents who are Hall of Famers who influence everything that happens in the organization, and are coached by former video coordinators who took the elbow-grease path to the top and have become hugely respected for it.
So why do the Pacers believe these regular-season games with the Heat, the first of which is tonight (NBATV, 7 ET), are important -- and the Heat largely prefer to dismiss their importance?
“A lot of it is rhetoric,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We just want to build on what we’re doing and that’s the next game we want to build on.”
“We’re going to do everything in our power to get home-court advantage over them during the season," Pacers forward David West said. "It’s something we have focused on from the very beginning."
“We’ll let that take care of itself, we’ll just try to win as many games as we can and see when the seeding is at the end,” James said.
“We’re trying for the No. 1 seed,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re really going for it.”
In the past two seasons, the Pacers have beaten the Heat eight times. Five of the wins came in the playoffs. There is no mystery between these teams. The Pacers know that their defense and rebounding game plan against the Heat’s spread offense can work. It just hasn’t quite worked enough.
The difference last season, the Pacers believe, was they didn’t have Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on their home floor. They were 8-1 at home during the playoffs (the loss was in Game 3 of that series to the Heat) and they’re already 9-0 at home this season. Without permitting argument, the Pacers believe if they can get another shot and they can start and finish the series at home, they will end the Heat’s three-year dominance in the East.
The Heat have won at least one road game in all 12 playoff series they’ve played since coming together in 2010. They won three playoff games in Indiana in the past two seasons, in fact. They have won a conference finals and a Finals series where they did not have home-court advantage going in. That’s the sort of record that would make any team feel confident no matter the schedule of any series.
But they also have needed to win three Game 7s to get their past two titles, and all three of those were at home. Most would agree that if the situation were reversed, the Heat probably wouldn’t have two gold trophies.
“At the end of the day, you would love home court throughout the playoffs,” James said. “We’ve been on both sides of that fence and we’ve handled it both ways. It’s always challenging to go on the road to start a series.”
Still, though, the Heat are willing to sacrifice games along the way so they can work on building themselves up. Dwyane Wade already has sat out six games this season and likely will sit out many, many more. At the end of the season, the Heat have found good success by resting James and Chris Bosh and probably will aim to do so again.
The younger and generally healthier Pacers have not, and based on everything they’ve said, don’t seem to be planning on resting players as long as they avoid the sort of major injuries that any team with title hopes must dodge.
All of which only adds to the edge in these four potentially very valuable regular-season games, which the Pacers see as more than just symbolic.
“I don't think that team is that much better than us. I don't know if we're that much better than that team,” George told the Indianapolis Star. “I think we're quite even."
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Miami Heat got good news Sunday night and it had nothing to do with snapping the upstart Detroit Pistons' four-game win streak.
It was that Dwyane Wade felt no ill effects from banging knees with the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Martin Saturday night. During the Finals last season, a similar play with Manu Ginobili forced Wade's knee to swell up and it needed to be drained so he could play in Game 7.
“It’s OK,” Wade said. “Thank God.”
There will be intriguing and high-intensity moments along the way for the Heat in the regular season -- Tuesday’s game at the Indiana Pacers perhaps being one of them -- but nothing trumps the management of Wade’s knees. Having Wade reasonably healthy is perhaps the most important part of the first 82 games. It’s a principle the Heat consider every day.
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsThe Heat were relieved that Dwyane Wade wasn't feeling ill effects from Saturday's knee collision in Minneapolis.
So that Wade sat out his sixth game of the season to rest his knees Sunday was equally worthy of monitoring as the Heat avenging their loss to Detroit last Tuesday by winning 110-95.
“Everybody is on the same page about it, he’s going to get better quicker as the season goes on,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We want to be judicious early on so that he keeps making forward steps.”
After Wade was forced to miss two games last month after he tried playing in a back-to-back, the Heat have decided he just simply won’t do it for awhile, if they clear him at all this season. Wade sat out two losses last week when he knee started bothering him -- he also got sick -- and there wasn’t even a back-to-back involved. There are no back-to-backs in the postseason.
It’s far from an ideal arrangement, James even expressed a little frustration with it, saying: “It’s challenging for all of us, we played so well (Saturday) night and then we have to make a lineup change ... But every time he comes back out there he’s playing well and he’s moving well and you have to respect what he’s doing.”
It’s a deal the Heat have decided to make.
Wade is essentially still recovering from the wear and tear of last season. As he attempts to manage the chronic tendinitis that has limited him over the last few years, he got a shockwave procedure over the summer that is still taking effect. He’s been told the treatment takes about six months to truly start to work and Wade had it about five months ago.
“For me I’m looking for this next month, month and a half, they told me that the pain is supposedly to lessen,” Wade said. “Hopefully it gets to that point and it can be more consistent.”
When Wade has played, he’s looked healthy. He’s averaging 18.5 points, shooting 53 percent and has been an excellent distributor as Spoelstra has put him in lineups often without James. More important, he’s moved, jumped and generally looked much more spry than during the playoffs last season.
The following day, or two days, however, often are tough. That is what Wade and the Heat are thinking about when they shut him down, the hope being that once the play-every-other-day playoff schedules arrive, he’ll be ready.
“That is the plan they have set and I’m trying to stick to it,” Wade said. “They have the big picture in mind, they don’t want any setbacks.”
The Heat are just 3-3 this season when Wade hasn’t played after going 11-2 without him last season. That little bobble is one of the reasons the Pacers have a two-game lead on them six weeks in. It’s a little bit of a concern, which is why the Heat recently have been making calls to teams to see if they can get backcourt help or at least free up a roster spot to add a wing player later in the season, but losing a few games is a trade-off the Heat are willing to make.
Sunday they got a huge outing from the bench even with Michael Beasley sitting out with a hamstring issue. Roger Mason Jr. seems to have had a fire lit under him by the report that Heat were evaluating their guard options. He squeezed in nine points in less than five minutes of floor time Saturday and scored 12 more in the win over the Pistons. All in all, the Heat bench shot 15-of-24 and scored and 41 points.
Spoelstra didn’t want to start Ray Allen in Wade’s place because it would disrupt his successful bench rotation. He didn’t do it all last season or for the first four chances this season. But Allen relishes it, one of the reasons he left Boston was because his starting spot was in danger, and he scored 18 points to help solidify that role until the next time Wade needs a break.
It helped that the Pistons are decimated at the guard position right now as Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups are all out with injuries. Of course it helps when you have James put up a near triple-double with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in just 35 minutes.
“It’s working,” Wade said. “I just want to get it better.”
LeBron James 10-15 FG | 4-5 FT | 7 REB | 9 AST | 24 PTS | +18 LeBron probably felt he'd have to work harder playing against a Detroit team on a four-game win streak without Dwyane Wade. But he was as efficient as usual and his team's depth showed as he was able to put in a near triple-double without expending huge energy.
Chris Bosh 5-13 FG | 6-6 FT | 9 REB | 3 AST | 16 PTS | +16 This was a challenge game for Bosh after the Pistons tore up the Heat earlier in the week by crushing them on the boards. Bosh battled much better this time around. The Heat still got outrebounded but it was a much more manageable game. But it was a bad shooting night.
Ray Allen 6-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 18 PTS | +15 Allen is relishing the chances to start when Wade sits. He's only semi-accepted his role as sixth man and fully believes he's starter on just about any team. He victimized the slow-moving Pistons repeatedly in this one, both in transition and in half court when their big bodies didn't rotate fast enough.
Miami Heat This group has been a little inconsistent lately and they were missing Michael Beasley on this night. But they totally outclassed the Pistons and hit their first 10 shots collectively to help make it a blowout. Chris Andersen and Roger Mason Jr. are both having a good road trip.
Detroit Pistons The Pistons came in on a four-game win streak, three of them on the road and were feeling too good about themselves. The Heat jumped out to a 9-2 lead, obviously playing with more energy, pushing the tempo and never looking back.
The Heat shot 17-of-22 on 2-pointers in the first half and 29-of-44 for the game.
It was about addressing the lack of toughness the Miami Heat showed in consecutive lopsided, embarrassing losses earlier in the week to Detroit and Chicago.
It was about embracing Saturday’s opportunity to toughen up in the paint and on the boards, areas where the Heat have consistently been a bit too weak.
And mostly, it was about carrying that toughness forward through a road trip that continues Sunday against the same Detroit Pistons who pummeled Miami a few days ago, then wraps up with a marquee showdown against the East-leading Indiana Pacers.
So yes, Heat center Chris Bosh suggested Saturday, it’s understandable if observers discount Miami’s improved effort in 103-82 win over a Minnesota Timberwolves team that was missing leading scorer and the NBA’s top rebounder in Kevin Love because of a death in the family.
Technically, Miami still lost Saturday’s rebounding battle, 45-44.
But the final numbers were much less important than the initial aggression and approach. And to that end, even a two-time defending champion isn't ashamed to carry a moral victory in the paint into the rest of trip that will again challenge the Heat’s toughness.
“Every time we step out there, we’re going to take pride in that,” Bosh said. “We’re in a new space now, where the microscope is there as far as rebounding is concerned. And we’re going to have to do a better job. This was really good for us. But we have our work cut out for us [Sunday] and after that [Tuesday] against Indiana. It’s not going to stop.”
The only thing colder than the sub-zero temperatures that greeted the Heat in Minnesota the past two days was the chilling and sobering reality that accompanied the lengthy film sessions coach Erik Spoelstra forced his team to digest.
The footage began rolling during the team’s meetings Friday and continued through final preparation sessions before Saturday’s game at the Target Center. Spoelstra said the Heat watched just about every rebounding opportunity they squandered in losses to Detroit and Chicago, which outrebounded Miami by a total of 34 boards in those two games.
Spoelstra placed a fresh set of demands on the team and tweaked the scheme, and players challenged themselves and one another to recommit to the grittiest of grunt work in the lane.
The results were encouraging, even if tempered by the contest of Love’s absence.
After hauling in just two rebounds Thursday in Chicago, Bosh grabbed nine Saturday. He had six rebounds in his first seven minutes of action. Bosh was the victim of friendly fire in the lane, where he was boxing out Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic and was inadvertently hit in the eye by teammate Shane Battier as they all pursued a loose ball in the first quarter.
Bosh left the game and was treated in the locker room before he returned to finish the game, although he sat out the fourth quarter after the Heat put the game out of reach.
But the tone was set by LeBron James, who snagged a season-high 14 rebounds Saturday after he grabbed a total of 15 over his three previous games. James had 10 rebounds by the intermission, the most by a Heat player in any half this season.
In the moments after the Bulls handed the Heat their worst loss of the season, James vowed that he would lead his team’s redemption effort in the next game.
“This is not an individual sport -- I never feel like I have to do it on my own,” James said immediately after Thursday’s 107-87 setback in Chicago. “But I’m going to do a better job with that, get more rebounds.”
James revisited those comments after he nearly posted a triple-double, with 21 points and eight assists to go with those 14 rebounds in 31 minutes Saturday.
“With me, I was just trying to put more pressure on myself to help out,” James said. “You don’t talk about it. Just go do it. For me, when I say it, I go and make it happen. I understood that this is a very good rebounding team, even with Love out. We had to help [Bosh] down there, help our bigs. I just tried to get mine over the top, get some in traffic, and it worked out for us.”
Sustaining that level of physicality and toughness is now the goal.
It helped Saturday that Miami was closer to full strength, with both guard Dwyane Wade (flu-like symptoms) and center Chris Andersen (personal matter) returning to action after missing Thursday’s game in Chicago. The two combined for 29 points and nine rebounds, contributions the Heat certainly could have used against the Bulls.
But the Heat could be dealing with another dose of absences Sunday in Detroit. Wade, who had also missed last Tuesday’s loss to Detroit with knee soreness, aggravated his bruised right knee in the first half against the Timberwolves when he banged knees with Kevin Martin.
When Wade remained on the ground midway through the first quarter for several seconds, reaching for his right knee, Spoelstra said the entire franchise held its breath in hopes the injury wasn’t as serious as it initially appeared. But Wade eventually shook off the pain and stayed in the game. Wade played 32 minutes after asking Spoelstra to allow him to get extended work.
Wade is not expected to play Sunday as part of a recovery plan to prevent him from playing in both games of a back-to-back set. The veteran guard, who is coming off an offseason procedure on the right knee, repeatedly has said he regrets when he tried to play in games on consecutive nights earlier this season. That’s when he aggravating his right knee in a Nov. 16 victory at Charlotte and ended up sitting out a week to address the soreness.
Like Bosh, Wade got back on his feet Saturday to keep battling.
And James kept soaring.
“It’s just commitment,” Wade said. “We still had a couple of moments where there were lapses. But we did a better job. We just did a better job of trying to box out, and just trying to go get it.”
The Heat now take the next step toward the next test of their toughness.
“It’s going to be a challenge against a team that just beat us on our own floor,” James said of the Pistons. “But we accept that challenge and look forward to it.”
LeBron James 9-12 FG | 3-5 FT | 14 REB | 8 AST | 21 PTS | +9 After vowing to help his team overcome its recent rebounding woes, LeBron grabbed 10 boards in the first half -- most in a half by a Heat player this season. That effort set the tone for a team determined to, well, rebound from consecutive double-digit losses to the Pistons and Bulls, who absolutely pounded Miami. But LeBron's solid effort gets a slight markdown for those seven turnovers.
Dwyane Wade 7-14 FG | 5-5 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 19 PTS | +15 Wade returned to the lineup after missing Thursday's game in Chicago with flu-like symptoms and Tuesday's game against Detroit with knee soreness. After a brief scare in the first quarter, when Wade crashed to the court and grabbed his troublesome right knee, there was a return to form. Wade's highlight came when he tossed a lob off the backboard to set up a vicious LeBron dunk.
Chris Bosh 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | +18 Let's call it exactly what it was: Bosh was on the verge of having a big-man's game Saturday. He grabbed six rebounds in his first seven minutes after collecting only two Thursday against the Bulls. Bosh was shaken up early from a collision in the paint and sat out the fourth quarter after the Heat pulled away. He'll need that extra rest heading into Sunday's game against Detroit's front line.
Chris Andersen 4-5 FG | 1-4 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | +6 Andersen returned to the rotation after skipping Thursday's game to attend to a personal matter. His presence helped boost the Heat's interior play and the production of the team's bench on a night Michael Beasley sat out with a sore hamstring. Andersen's activity on both ends was critical as the Heat closed out the third quarter on a 17-6 run to put the game out of reach.
Minnesota Timberwolves Coach Rick Adelman's biggest fear was that his team wouldn't be able to generate enough scoring to keep up with the Heat, with leading scorer and league-leading rebounder Kevin Love away due to a death in the family. Adelman was right. Although the Wolves kept it respectable early by forcing 20 Heat turnovers, they shot an abysmal 29 percent from the field.
The Heat improved to 14-0 this season when holding opponents to fewer than 100 points.
Then, the Miami Heat were in the process of extending their winning streak to 10 games. LeBron James was dunking flawlessly, dominating games with his efficiency and touting the Heat’s supporting cast as the deepest he’s had since he arrived from Cleveland three years ago.
This time last week, Chris Bosh seemed to have shaken out of an offensive slump after rescuing the Heat from a 14-point deficit against Charlotte by scoring 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and grabbing nine rebounds in the win. And Dwyane Wade was in the midst of arguably his best flow of the season, having negotiated his knee soreness to score at least 20 points in four consecutive games.
Considering how matters have gone for Miami the past few days, last week seems more like last season.
That’s how quickly things change for the Heat, who are now in a deep search for answers as they head into Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. After getting hammered in the paint and on the boards in consecutive double-figure losses to Detroit and Chicago, the challenges don’t get any smaller for the Heat -– literally or figuratively –- as they try to gain traction in their latest stop of a frigid four-game road trip.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesLeBron has been one of the few mainstays in the Heat's lineup.
Heat players had the day off Friday coming off their worst loss of the season in Thursday’s 107-87 setback against the Bulls. But there was hardly a sense of idleness surrounding the Heat as they look to address some interior issues from the past two games, in which they've been outrebounded by a total of 34 boards and have allowed a combined 104 points in the paint.
Those disturbing numbers had the Heat taking inventory ahead of facing the Timberwolves.
“It’s a recurring thing with our team, and we have to do a better job with that,” James said of the Heat’s recent struggles in the paint. “We would love to shoot 50 percent every game, but it’s going to be times we need to gut out a win. Teams have done a much better rebounding job than us. It can be an effort thing; it can be a lot of things. But we just have to go out and go get them. I’m going to do a much better job with that, get more rebounds. But it’s a group thing for our team.”
As Miami examines every aspect of its rebounding woes -- from working on fundamental techniques to perhaps tweaking personnel groupings and schemes -- the next chance to regroup will come against the shorthanded Timberwolves, who expect to be without league-leading rebounder Kevin Love, who has been away from the team because of a death in the family.
After Saturday’s game, the trip continues with a rematch against the Pistons on Sunday and ends with Tuesday’s showdown against the Indiana Pacers as the teams with the best records in the East meet for the first time since last season’s conference finals.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra suggested a lack of consistent toughness is among the reasons why his team has been pushed around the past two games. And, considering the competition, matters could get worse before they get better if the Heat don’t fix the problem quickly.
“We are going to look at film of the last couple of games and see where the opportunities are,” Spoelstra said. “However, there are a lot of things to do before changing lineups. We have to look at other things like rebounding, putting two hands on the ball and playing defense.”
That seems simple enough, even for a team that’s won consecutive championships despite ranking among the league’s worst in rebounding each of the past two seasons. But complicating matters has been the lack of lineup continuity. Wade is expected to be available Saturday after missing Thursday’s game with flu-like symptoms and sitting out Tuesday with right-knee soreness.
But even if Wade returns against the Timberwolves, he’s likely to be out of the lineup again Sunday in Detroit as a precaution to avoid pushing the veteran guard through games on back-to-back nights. Miami is also expected to have Chris Andersen back after the reserve center was away from the team Thursday to deal with a personal matter.
James said it’s been difficult to establish cohesion amid so much unevenness from game to game.
“But what are you going to do about it?” James rhetorically asked after the loss in Chicago. “When guys are out, (other) guys have to step in. As far as continuity, you would love to have your set rotation. But things happen. It’s been a challenge for us, because it’s been more off than on with us since the season started. But it’s better early than, hopefully, late.”
Only James and backup point guard Norris Cole have played in all 19 games with season. Spoelstra has either had to alter his starting lineup or tweak his playing rotation at least once a week since the Oct. 29 season-opening win against the Bulls.
Rebounding is one concern. Roster reliability has been another.
“We just have to do a better job with our schemes, of helping guys out, help rotating,” James said. “We just want to get healthy. That’s our concern. We want to play with what we've got. And we haven’t been able to do that consistently.”
And that’s led to inconsistent results, which explains the odd ebb and flow of the Heat’s season.
Bosh, whose uneven play has been a microcosm of said season, is confident Miami will soon settle into a productive groove again on both ends of the court. He insists the team won’t get too distraught amid this week’s turmoil, just as it didn't grow overconfident with last week’s success.
“When random situations happen during the season, we have to be ready for it,” Bosh said. “We are looking forward to bouncing back, and it’s a huge challenge for us on the road right now. We have a chance to really make some ground up. We always expect to win, no matter who we put on the floor. We’re going to have to just get back to playing our game and let everything else take care of itself.”
LeBron James 7-17 FG | 6-8 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 21 PTS | -21 He was a one-man band for most of the night. With Dwyane Wade sitting out with flu-like symptoms and Chris Andersen out due to personal reasons, the Heat relied on LeBron to create just about everything in this one, but he can only do so much. He pounded the rim from the opening tip, but his jumper was as frigid as the Chicago air.
Chris Bosh 4-11 FG | 2-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 10 PTS | -13 For Heat fans, Bosh's outing probably brought back nightmares of his 1-for-18 night way back in 2011 at the United Center. It was that dismal. I mean, you and I had as many rebounds as Bosh did until 9 minutes, 7 seconds remained in the third quarter: zero. Rebounds aren't everything, but when Andersen isn't in uniform, the responsibility falls squarely on Bosh's shoulders. He crumbled under the weight.
Michael Beasley 7-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 15 PTS | -3 Beasley had more good moments than bad. At one point, he blocked Joakim Noah at the rim and then slalomed the length of the floor for a wide-open layup. In another stretch, he routinely got worked in the paint by Taj Gibson and took ill-advised jumpers. The consistency wasn't there, but at least there were highs to counteract the lows. Not many of his teammates could say that Thursday.
Ray Allen 2-4 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 9 PTS | -13 Believe it or not, this was Ray Allen's first start for the Miami Heat. And it may be his last. Allen stepped in for Wade instead of the usual placeholders like Roger Mason Jr. and James Jones, but the Heat were completely out of sorts. If the Heat are going to go "small" against the Bulls, they need Allen and Shane Battier to bring it from deep. They didn't.
Chicago Bulls What's more crucial to the Bulls' success: their relentless defense or Derrick Rose? For a night, the former made a convincing case. With the strong-side attack, the Bulls threw off the Wade-less Heat offense and wiped the glass squeaky clean. The Heat hate playing against the Bulls, and their disdain mostly stems from the unrelenting frontcourt of Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer.
The Heat scored fewer than 100 points for the fifth straight game, the team's longest streak since March 2011.
CHICAGO -- Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade missed the team’s shootaround with flu-like symptoms and is considered questionable for Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade will be reevaluated later in the day before determining his status for the game. Heat center Chris Andersen was away from the team to deal with a personal matter and is expected to join the Heat in Minnesota on Saturday for the remainder of the team’s four-game trip.
Wade also missed Tuesday’s game to rest his sore right knee. Wade used his social media account Wednesday night to post a photo of himself receiving electronic stimulation treatment on the knee, with ongoing rehabilitation having kept the star guard out of four games this season.
LeBron James 8-15 FG | 5-8 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 23 PTS | -6 LeBron will be first to explain that when he's in uniform, there are no excuses for his play. But it was obvious he wasn't himself Tuesday against the Pistons as he continues to play through a sore back and other minor ailments. With Dwyane Wade sitting out with knee soreness, LeBron likely felt obligated to push through a sluggish, turnover-plagued start but there wasn't much at the finish.
Chris Bosh 5-11 FG | 4-6 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 14 PTS | -14 This was a night Bosh needed to bring his "Big Boy" game, considering the Pistons came leading the league in points in the paint. But the Pistons came in and dictated early, and Bosh struggled to establish himself on both ends of the court. There also wasn't enough help from backup center Chris Andersen to keep the Pistons from pummeling the Heat in the paint and dominating the boards.
Michael Beasley 9-16 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 23 PTS | +3 While James Jones got the start at shooting guard in Wade's absence, it was Beasley who stepped up to fill the secondary scoring load. Beasley provided a boost in the fourth quarter as the Heat used a 20-6 run to get the Heat back into the game after trailing by as many as 18 points. But his season-high scoring output did little to diffuse the Pistons. Still, it was another promising performance.
Shane Battier 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -10 The Heat lost the style matchup because their shooters couldn't do enough to stretch the floor and take advantage of Detroit's big men. Battier, Jones, Bosh and Rashard Lewis were a combined 0-for-10 from 3-point range. Battier, who recently moved back into the starting lineup, has scored just 18 points his past five games and is shooting 25 percent from 3-point range in that span.
Detroit Pistons The Pistons got their first win of the season against a team with a winning record by dominating the game from start to finish. They showed why their revamped roster could be a problem for teams in the Eastern Conference. Fueled by a massing front line of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, Detroit scored 60 points in the paint against Miami, the most allowed by the Heat this season.
The Pistons ended the Heat's 10-game winning streak by capitalizing on Miami's blunders. Detroit scored 29 points off 19 Heat turnovers.
Andre Drummond and the Pistons are in Miami to take on the Heat, who have won 10 in a row.
1. Fact or Fiction: LeBron, Wade and Bosh will all shoot over 50 percent this season.
Tom Haberstroh: Fact. This shouldn't be a problem for any of these guys with all the space that's afforded to them in Erik Spoelstra's offense. The only question is if the team will shoot over 50 percent, which is looking like a real possibility.
Michael Wallace: Fact. The Heat had the NBA's most efficient offense last season and it has gotten better this season because of the accuracy and unselfishness of the Big Three. James, Bosh and Wade shot career-high percentages last year. They'll be close to those numbers again.
Brian Windhorst: Fact. They did last season and the offense is focused on efficiency so they should again. The question is whether LeBron can go for 60 and Bosh and Wade can stay at 53 like they are now.
2. Fact or Fiction: Andre Drummond will be the second-best player from the 2012 draft.
Haberstroh: Fact. And if Anthony Davis didn't come out strong this season, I might have seen Drummond with the brighter future. Just wait until he's not fighting for space and minutes in a clogged front court. The Big Penguin is just getting started.
Wallace: Fiction. Only because it's way too soon to make anything close to a definitive statement about that crop just yet. Drummond has the biggest upside, but others such as Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal all make legit cases for potential silver status behind Anthony Davis' gold standard. But Drummond is a safe bet.
Windhorst: Fiction. Everyone is so enamored with his athleticism for his size. But his skill development has a long way to go before he becomes a franchise player.
3. Fact or Fiction: Tonight is a first-round playoff preview.
Haberstroh: Fiction. Maybe in a normal Eastern Conference, but the Pistons could fight for the East's third slot this season even with their record. Sad. If they can figure out how to leverage their length on both ends and distribute minutes properly, maybe they'll get there. But I see them in the fifth to sixth seed. The Heat aren't dropping that far.
Wallace: Fiction. This Pistons team, despite some early chemistry flaws, will be in the mix for a higher seed than the seventh or eighth spot in the East. So they should avoid a first-round matchup with Miami. Detroit has the pieces in place for a breakout season after years of rebuilding. But it's still tough to trust them.
Windhorst: Fiction. The Raptors are the only team in the division that are performing at the level that most expected. Everything else has been a surprise. You would think the Nets talent would give them traction when they get healthy, especially since the Raps aren't putting much space between them.
When he faces free agency next summer, which will it be? The Kobe Bryant-style deal or the Kevin Garnett/Tim Duncan-style deal? For the Miami Heat and perhaps even for the balance of power in the league, his choice could make a big difference.
“D-Wade is getting that Kobe deal,” James said from the next locker.
Wade, knowing the gravity of this issue, smiled and shook his head. Then he gave a more diplomatic answer.
“When I get into that position, it’s something I’ll think about,” Wade said. “You have to sit down at the time and see what is best for you and for your team.”
Here is the situation. Next summer Wade has an opt out in his contract. He is owed $20 million next year and $21 million in 2015-16. It is reasonable to think that Wade, who turns 32 in January, will not opt out and just collect that money. But Wade could also re-do his contract and, if the Heat agreed, get a four-year deal worth up to nearly $100 million. Or the sides could do a deal for anything in between. Basically, the Heat could ask Wade to take a pay cut and make it up to him by adding years to his deal.
That is what Wade and the Heat will likely have serious discussions about at some point before he has to make a decision on June 30. What Wade decides could have a significant impact on how the Heat proceed into next season. And Bryant’s new deal sets an interesting precedent.
Bryant is taking a pay cut next season from his $30 million salary but he will still be the league’s highest-paid player through 2016. The contract was somewhat controversial because it restricted the Lakers’ cap flexibility even as they plan to rebuild through free agency.
The reactions got to the point where Bryant ended up sniping back and forth with fans on social media. It’s not typical that a franchise player has to defend himself for re-signing with the team. Bryant pointed out that superstars shouldn’t yield to public pressure to take less money to help the franchise out and save the owners money.
In principle, Wade is on the same page.
“As a player, I loved it. Everyone who gets what they get deserves it, great,” Wade said of Bryant’s new deal. “There’s a reason the Lakers felt that Kobe should get that money. There’s no right or wrong.”
But what about in practice?
Like with Bryant, all signs point to Wade remaining with the Heat for his entire career. But the terms he settles on will make a difference to what the team can do over the next few years. Bryant correctly points out that is not the player’s concern. But it’s the reality.
In 2012, Duncan and Garnett both signed deals to stay with their teams where they took large pay cuts but in return got long-term contracts and no-trade clauses. Duncan reduced his salary with the Spurs by $11 million but got $30 million guaranteed over three years and took the San Antonio Spurs out of the luxury tax. Garnett reduced his $21 million salary by $10 million and spread $36 million over three years with the Boston Celtics (he later waived the no-trade clause) to clear the way for the Celtics’ to go on a spending spree heading into last season.
Earlier this year, Dallas Mavericks’ lifer Dirk Nowitzki said he planned to follow in the mold of Duncan and Garnett when he becomes a free agent next summer. Nowitzki is earning $22.7 million this season and said he’ll take a “significant pay cut” to help the Mavs chase free agents.
In 2005, Shaquille O’Neal was set to make $30 million with the Heat. But he opted out of the contract and lowered his salary by $10 million as part of a new five-year contract. With that savings the Heat added key role players James Posey, Jason Williams and Antoine Walker as part of a complex trade. The team won the title the following season.
That is likely the type of plan the Heat would like to work out with Wade. If Wade were amenable, the Heat could gain flexibility if Wade would be willing to do the same and opt out of the $41 million he’s owed over the next two years and take longer deal worth less per season.
“I remember when Shaq did that,” Wade said. “Not everyone is going to do that.”
The difference is all those players were older than Wade when making such concessions. Wade is slowing down because of knee injuries and he’s the oldest of the Heat’s stars but that doesn’t mean he should concede anything at the bargaining table. Bryant, who is 35, is coming off an Achilles tear and he clearly didn’t.
The issue is that starting next year the Heat face becoming the first team to pay what has been called the “repeater tax” for being a luxury tax payer for a fourth time in five years under the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2011. It’s complicated but all you need to know is it’s a vastly different financial dynamic than when the Heat signed Wade, James and Chris Bosh and did their budgeting in 2010, as much as tripling the penalty.
Before the season, Heat president Pat Riley said the team pushed for contracts that were signed before 2011 be grandfathered it to the old tax rates. They lost that battle.
“There comes economic decisions and basketball decisions, that's what this is all about right now,” Riley said. “I make basketball decisions, but I am more aware now than I've ever been because of the new CBA and what that brings to my desk every day.”
The Heat are facing pressure to replace aging role players, re-sign some core players and have James’ and Bosh’s potential free agencies to manage as well. With the new tax rules, it’ll be a challenge.
In 2010, Wade, Bosh and James all accepted pay cuts to make room for more talent on the roster. Because of the tax position of the Heat, the organization may ask them to do it again. But this time there is a difference. The players don’t have to fit under the salary cap; spending for players on your roster is unlimited as long as you pay the tax. And, Wade points out, motivations will be different.
“That was something we wanted to do, it wasn’t that we had to do it,” Wade said. “At the time, guys like LeBron and CB were searching for their first championship. So you’re willing to get whatever you can to put yourself in position to win that.”
Back then, Wade gave up more money than James and Bosh to help pay for the team to re-sign Udonis Haslem and bring in Mike Miller. All-in-all, James and Bosh left about $14 million each on the table in 2010 and Wade left $17 million. Wade was the catalyst for it, personally going to James and Bosh to lobby them to leave some.
It has worked out wonderfully. The Heat, despite having to use the amnesty clause to waive Miller to deal with the new tax rates, have won two titles and remain one of the deepest teams in the league and remain title favorites. The Heat are probably going to need more concessions to keep it that way and once again it may be Wade who will be asked to set the tone.
Wade has not decided how he’ll go about it. But he also said that nothing should be assumed just because of what he did three years ago.
“There are different times and different mindsets that you deal with. That was 2010,” Wade said. “I’m not saying that LeBron James or Chris Bosh, if they get the opportunity again, are going to leave $17 million on the table. No one can say they should do that. You have to do what is best for you.”
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsLeBron James was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
LEBRON’S TAKE It’s safe to place LeBron James atop the list of those stunned at how poorly teams in the Eastern Conference have started, despite the hype and expectations entering the season.
Heading into Monday night’s games, only James’ Miami Heat (14-3) and the Indiana Pacers (16-1) were above the .500 mark in the East, and 12 of the 15 teams in the conference had losing records. With several marquee players on the move during the offseason, the East was projected to rival the West among teams expected to challenge the perennial conference powers.
But a combination of injuries, struggles to mesh and other issues have contributed to a disturbingly slow start for teams such as the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. Those three teams set their sights on the Heat and Pacers, but were a combined 15-33 entering the week. The Bulls lost Derrick Rose for the season to knee surgery, the Nets will be without Paul Pierce for up to a month with a broken hand and the Knicks are in the midst of one of their worst losing streaks in a decade.
“Obviously, we only worry about what we do, but I’m very surprised where some of the teams are in the East,” James said Monday after the Heat’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Coming into the season, there were a lot of expectations on a lot of teams. It’s still a [long] season. But early on, it’s surprising. I take pride in being an Eastern Conference player, and hopefully we can hold up our end of the bargain. As a collective group, we’re not doing that.”
Overall, 13 of the NBA’s 16 best records belong to teams in the West. Heat center Chris Bosh said he looked at the conference standings for the first time Sunday and quickly noticed the wide gap between the second-place Heat and third-place Atlanta Hawks, who were 9-9.
“I looked at it. It’s ugly,” Bosh said. “I totally didn't see it coming. I thought the East was going to be a beast this year. I’m sure things will turn around. But then again, maybe it won’t.”
The Heat will look to extend the league’s longest active winning streak to 11 games when they face the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. Detroit, which upgraded in the offseason by bringing back Chauncey Billups and adding Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, expected a breakthrough season. For now, the Pistons hold the eighth spot in the East with a 7-10 record.
Meanwhile, Miami hopes to build on the best start in franchise history, although Heat players feel they haven’t come close to playing at a consistent level so far this season.
“It’s a great feat, but we don’t strive for that,” James said of the mark through 17 games. “It just happens, and we hear about it. Our record is pretty good, but we know we can play better.”
PROGRESS REPORT While Dwyane Wade isn't ready to push his body through a back-to-back set anytime soon, he’s finding his groove amid a stretch in the schedule that has the Heat playing every other night.
That slate continues when the Heat play their sixth game in 10 nights when the Pistons visit Tuesday. Afterward, Miami opens a four-game road trip Thursday in Chicago. By the time that trip ends, the Heat will have alternated game nights and off days over a span of three weeks.
The Heat determine Wade’s status on a game-to-game basis, but the 11-year veteran has not made mention of any significant soreness since he returned from a week-long absence to treat his still-recovering right knee that underwent shock-wave treatment during the offseason.
Wade said he’s been able to comfortably manage the day-on, day-off recent pace of games.
“It’s great to get that extra day in between [but] it would be even better to get two days in between,” Wade said. “Obviously, back to back, you don’t have a lot of time to cover, especially when you travel. But having the day in between gives you that day off mentally [and] physically, being able to work on your body. We've got an older team. Every day off we have is valuable.”
Wade is averaging 21.8 points, 5.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 62.3 percent from the field in the five games since he returned to the lineup -- which all trump his season averages.
“I just want to continue to play well,” Wade said. “Most importantly, continue to do what I can to help my team when I’m in the game for my 30 or 35 minutes.”
INJURY REPORT Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said every player was able to participate in at least some part of Monday’s light practice. James is battling a sore back, sore ankle and jammed finger but said he’s not yet at the point where he needs to sit out.
DID YOU KNOW? James spent part of Monday hanging out at the grand opening of his wife’s juice bar establishment in Miami before practice. After practice, Wade donated $25,000 to a Miami youth center as part of a campaign to launch his latest signature basketball shoe.
QUOTE OF THE DAY “We actually did less talking and just got out here, went to work on some details on both sides of the court. But it was more about sweating than it was about talking.”
– Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on the team’s search for consistency despite a 14-3 start.