Saturday, March 5, 2011

Analyzing Miami's Recent Struggles

Things have not been going well in South Beach as the
Heat have dropped four of their last five.
Miami's big three are getting their individual stats, but that is not translating to wins for the Heat.

Before the season the biggest knock against the Heat is that they had the individual talent to dominate the league, but they lack the chemistry they needed to do it.  So far, almost 2/3 through the Miami trio's first season together this has been the case.  In games against some of the top teams in the league, such as Oklahoma City, New York, Boston, San Antonio, Chicago, Orlando, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, the Heat have a combined seven wins and 15 losses.  This is troubling for a few reasons, the Heat have lost four out of their last five games.  Their only win in that stretch came against the Washington Wizards.  Those four losses have been to expense of those teams listed above, capped off with the Spurs dominating them last night.  Five of their next seven games come against those teams as well, thankfully for the heat four of those five games are in Miami.

This is a huge stretch for the Heat because they need to prove to themselves that they can compete against these teams.  So far they have really struggled against their potential playoff rivals in the Eastern conference and because of that they have been overtaken by Chicago and have fallen to the third spot.  If they don't win most of those up coming games Orlando could also potentially overtake them.  It would take a huge skid by the Heat to fall to number four in the standings, and they do have a lot of games against inferior opponents, but it could happen.

In the last 5 games LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have gotten their individual stats, averaging 27 and 26 points per game respectively, and Bosh is hitting the boards and playing on the defensive end.  The problem is that their supporting cast is not living up to its name.  Erick Dampier, who they brought in midway through the season, has averaged only 2.6 rebounds per game in 23 minutes per game.  Their incumbent center, Joel Anthony, is averaging 3 rebounds per game in 19 minutes.  The aging Ilgauskas is only giving them 2.3 rebounds and only 13 minutes per game.  The Heat's lack of inside presence is a huge issue, especially against the top 3 teams in the east, Boston, Chicago, and Orlando.

Bigger teams like those really hurt the Heat in the rebounding category, getting a lot of second chance shots and limiting the Heat's second chance shots.  The Heat also don't have anyone to be a low post defender.  Anthony has a lot of length and is a good shot blocker, but he is severely undersized and cannot compete with the likes of Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Joakim Noah or Al Horford.  Bosh is also a terrible defender.  His slight frame, and low level of aggressiveness limits what he can do against powerful  or taller forwards like Duncan, Gasol, Garnett, Josh Smith,  and Amare Stoudamire.

The Heat just signed Mike Bibby after he was bought out by Washington.  They are hoping the veteran point guard can provide some leadership and three point shooting because over the season Arroyo and Chalmers had been slacking in those areas.  Surprisingly in the Heat's slump Chalmers has actually improved his outside shot, shooting 45 percent from the three point line and averaging almost 10 points per game.

Their reserve wings, Mike Miller and James Jones, have also had tough years so far.  Miller has been dealing with an array of injuries all season, and is only averaging about 6.5 points per game.  He has also raised his average points per game by 3 over their recent slump and is shooting 54% from the three point line.  James Jones has seen limited time, averaging only 9 minutes per game, and has missed all nine of his three point shots.  Eddie House has also been struggling, making only 1 of his last 9 shots.

Another problem for the Heat has been at the end of games.  The ball seems to stop in one of their top two players hands in an isolation situation, such as what happened at the end of the Knicks game when LeBron was rejected by Amare.  They have failed to utilize Bosh late in games, and he has been struggling, shooting only 34% in these last 5 games.  I think that because of their role players' struggles, and Bosh's struggles, Wade and James feel like they have to do it themselves.  In other words they don't trust their role players in big situations.

Because of this lack of trust, the Heat often do not play like a team and rely on turnovers and fast breaks to get a lot of their offense.  They do not run an offense and do not yet understand how to work off of one another when they are up against the top teams in the league.  It was very evident last night against the Spurs, who are the definition of a great TEAM.  The Spurs work together on offense, moving as a unit, penetrating and kicking out, moving the ball and having contributors off the bench.  On defense it is much of the same, they all know their roles, they know where to be in respect to their man and helping their teammates.   It was clear that Miami had superior talent in LeBron, Wade, and Bosh, but the collective talent and the team work of the Spurs showed the Heat they have a long way to go.

This has been the case since the 1st game of the season when they played the Boston Celtics.  The Celtics are another squad that has been together and moves as a unit, especially on D.  They know how to win together instead of individually, and because of this they have owned the Heat.  The Heat have improved over the progression of the season, the big 3 have learned how to better utilize each other and play with each other.  The worrying part is that they have made very few to no strides in playing as a team.  It will be impossible for them to win in the post season if they are playing three against five every possession.

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