What is Wrong with the Miami Heat?
I've been in Miami for the last couple of weeks and have had the luxury of watching the superstar laden Miami Heat play. As a Torontonian, I am used to watching the Toronto Raptors, or CRAPtors as I lovingly refer to them as. Since I left, there has been a role reversal. The Heat have begun stinking South Beach up with lackluster play, and the Raptors have begun putting up some Ws. What has sparked this strange twist of fate? The very same thing that has brought the Lakers back to back championships. The 2 D's, defence and depth. When Lebron made his "decision" on live television to come to Miami, everybody thought that the Heat were going to be the number one team in the league. How could they lose with 3 young, legitimate NBA superstars on the floor? What people didn't realize was that by paying three guys the league maximum, the Heat were seriously limiting their ability to put competent role players on the roster to surround the big 3. I'll give some credit where credit is due. The Heat actually have decent roster beyond the big 3. Their first big signing other than the Bosh and James was sharpshooter Mike Miller. Unfortunately, Miller was injured in practice before he could play a regular season game. When he comes back he should do some damage from the perimeter as the FOURTH OPTION. That is, if he actually gets some touches. Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers are a competent but unspectacular point guard tandem. You have to remember that Wade and Lebron will be dominating the ball possession and realistically playing like oversized, out of position point guards running the offense, so as long as Chalmers and Arroyo stay out of James and Wade's way, and don't commit turnovers, they will be doing their jobs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas aka "Big Z" and Joel Anthony are decent centers who can log minutes and put up some numbers. Ilgauskas is more of a scoring center, while Anthony is a defensive center. Looking at the starting 5 of Wade, James, Bosh, Z, and Arroyo / Chalmers, one would think that the Heat should be set to win it all. That is not the case however. Injuries have taken their toll, and the Heat's depth is coming into play. Mike Miller has been out for an extended period of time, and should return in the new year. Wade has some minor bumps and bruises and is obviously playing injured. Udonis Haslem has now been injured and is expected to miss most of the regular season. The team's biggest weakness going into the season was defence, and now with Haslem out, their defence is going to be even worse. He was their lone grinding defensive presence. Joel Anthony is decent, but lets be realistic. Anthony isn't going to do anything to stop Dwight Howard, Shaq, KG or Gasol come playoff time. It is for that reason that the Heat have gone out and signed veterans. Jerry Stackhouse and Eddie House have done solid jobs in their limited roles and minutes. Erick Dampier has now been signed to help take some of Haslem's minutes. All of these veteran replacements are sufficient for now, but if there are any significant injuries come playoff time, I think that the Heat are doomed to fail. The Heat can prey on bottom feeders in the Eastern conference in the regular season, but once they face big time teams from the West (see their game against the Jazz?) their weaknesses will be exposed. People often compare the Heat to the Boston Celtics as an example. The Celtics created their own "Big 3" by adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen a couple of years ago and brought the NBA championship back to Boston. They made it look rather easy in the process. Easily dismantling the East and whupping Kobe Bryant and company in the finals. The Celtics looked old last year in the finals, but the fact is, they made the finals. They beat Dwight Howard and the Magic, and Lebron and his star studded Cavs along the way. What got the Celtics there? Two things. Defence and chemistry. The Celtics already had Paul Pierce, one of the NBA's premier scorers. He can drive, shoot from distance and get to the free throw line at will. He needed help. So Boston brought in 2 guys who had distinct roles. Ray Allen was and still is one of the best perimeter shooters in the NBA. On any given day he can go off for 35 points and drop 3 pointers while making them look as easy as free throws. Kevin Garnett came to the Celtics as the undisputed leader of the Timberwolves. In Minnesota Garnett was required to do everything. He needed to score, play defence, get rebounds, and set people up. On the Celtics, he didn't need to do as much. He could focus on leading the defence, terrorizing the oppositions best scorers, and scooping up rebounds. The bonus about Garnett was that in addition to leading a dominant defence, he took on a leadership role, got assists, and still scored in the clutch. The Celtics had their stars playing distinct roles which complemented one another. Not to mention, they had two young developing stars rounding out their starting 5. Kendrick Perkins was breaking into the league and getting a double double every night, and Rajon Rondo, one of the fastest point guards in the NBA, was setting up his Big 3 for easy buckets, and running the offence like a seasoned vet. The Celtics got lucky to some degree, by avoiding major injuries to their star players. They also got key contributions from the guys off the bench. It all added up to another title for the storied Celtics franchise. I think that the difference between the Celtics and this year's Heat, is that while the Celtics' big 3 had games that complimented one another, Lebron and Dwayne Wade play a very similar game. They both have played out of position as hybrid point guards and ran their respective offences. It remains to be seen how truly effective they can be in a tight defensive game. The Celtics have run roughshod over the Heat already twice this season. Another issue is that all of the Heat's big 3 are used to dominating ball possession and have typically had most of their teams' offence ran through them. None of them are like Ray Allen, who can set up on the outside, opening up space in the paint and be a consistent threat to knock down 3 balls. I think that the Heat will be fine on the offensive end of the floor. How could they not, when they have 3 players who combined averaged about 80 points per game last year? The problem is that none of the Big 3 are especially good on the defensive end of the floor. None of them are a monster defensive intimidator like Kevin Garnett. Lebron will get his blocks and steals, but I saw him "covering" Rudy Gay the other night as Gay calmly drained the game winning buzzer beater in James' face. Chris Bosh has always been a solid rebounder, but the knock on him is that he is defensively soft. Shaq once referred to Bosh as the NBA's "Ru Paul of big men". Bosh looked really soft against the Jazz the other night as the Heat blew a massive lead, and ultimately lost to the Jazz in overtime. Bosh allowed Paul Milsap, an undersized forward, to do whatever he wanted en route to a career high 46 points. At the end of the day, the Heat are still over 500, and will probably make the playoffs in the East with ease. If they hope to win championships, which is the reason that Bosh and James came to Miami, then they have to buckle down on the defensive end. If one of the big 3 aren't scoring, then they will rely on their defence to win games. Just ask Kobe Bryant what it takes to win championships. Kobe can score at will, but he is a defensive juggernaut when need be. For the Heat to triumph, they will need their big 3 to be BIG at both ends of the court.