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Thursday, April 14th, 2011 at 12:10 pm  |  31 responses

Odd Future

SLAM 148: The only thing the guys on the Miami Heat are concerned about is the postseason.

Originally published in SLAM 148

Miami Heat

by Ryan Jones / @thefarmerjones

The problem with the Miami Heat is that no one can figure out the problem with the Miami Heat.

OK, so that’s just a theory. But spend a few days with the NBA’s most closely watched team during a pivotal late-season stretch, and it’s hard to imagine coming to a different conclusion. We landed in south Florida in mid-March, the day after the Heat ended a five-game losing streak with a six-point home win over the Lakers. Over the next 72 hours, we watched them beat the Grizzlies and Spurs by a combined 63 points. The day after we left, they lost by 11—at home—to the Thunder.

At press time, Miami stood at 48-22, the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and sixth best in the League. Not bad for a team that turned over half its roster last summer and has played most of this season without its best rebounder. But of course, given who the Heat brought in last summer, it’s not nearly good enough.

So what’s the problem? Why isn’t Miami dominating the NBA the way some (though hardly all) predicted last fall? Is it the lack of an active defensive presence in the paint? A lack of depth? An inability to consistently work Chris Bosh into the offense? The lack of a second ball for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to share in the fourth quarter? The axe everyone thinks they see hanging over the coach’s head?

Or: Is it everyone else?

One constant of the Miami Heat’s ’10-11 season has been the noise—people talking, writing, questioning and wondering about this team, and even more people talking, writing, questioning and wondering about the stuff that’s been said, written, asked and wondered about. None of this is surprising, of course, not with the way this team came together, and certainly not after a leading media conglomerate opened a dedicated South Beach bureau specifically to cover it. How are those egos meshing? Who’s crying in the locker room? How is the coach juggling it all? And, oh yeah, how’s the actual basketball working out?

The buzz is deafening, and it doesn’t figure to quiet down anytime soon. Whether all that noise is actually bothering the Heat remains a subject of debate, even within the Heat locker room. And maybe that alone confirms that it’s an issue. Everyone’s talking about the Miami Heat, and the Miami Heat know it. Whether it’s affecting their game now may well determine how we’re talking about them in June.

That is, if they’re still around in June for us to be talking about.

Erik Spoelstra hears the noise. He is not shy about acknowledging this. Miami’s baby-faced third-year head coach isn’t using the noise as an excuse, but he hears it louder than anyone.

“I think there was a terrible feeling of stress from the outside,” Spoelstra is saying the day after his team’s 33-point dismantling of Memphis. He’s talking about the scrutiny that grew out of—and, in his view, contributed to—the five-game skid that started with home losses to the Knicks and Magic, got ugly with a 30-point loss in San Antonio, then got absurd with that one-point, allegedly tear-inducing defeat to the Bulls. “People tried to make claims about us like there was no room for improvement. We’re not a finished product.” Eric Spoelstra

Those words might look defensive on paper, but that’s not how Spoelstra delivers them. In fact, he says, “I think it was good for us. A lot of times the greatest way to have breakthroughs in this League is to face adversity together.”

They faced that adversity on the court, obviously, five straight losses on the heels of a month-long run that saw Miami win 12 of its previous 14 games. But Spoelstra makes it clear he’s talking about the noise, too, and his players’ apparent difficulty in coping with it. They’re hearing it from reporters in the post-game press conference, but also, as Chris Bosh alludes to after that Memphis game, hearing it from friends “who don’t even pay attention to basketball.” This, it seems, is real.

“The expectations,” LeBron says after beating the Grizzlies, “that focus of having to go out and perform at the highest level every night, was wearing on us.”

“I personally hope we don’t care,” says Wade. “Either way, we have to learn not to worry about it.”

You can—and let’s be honest, you will—make assumptions about this team’s mental strength based on such comments. By comparison, it’s all but impossible to imagine Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett talking about being rattled by what the world is saying about them. You can celebrate the confidence it takes to be so honest about, well, a lack of confidence, or you can mock these guys for revealing a frailty they have no reason to be proud of.

Alternately, you can listen to dissenting opinions. “It don’t matter what people say, think or write about us,” Erick Dampier says. “All that matters is the 15 guys inside this locker room.”

“I don’t think it’s had an impact on the team,” Jamaal Magloire says. “The pressure comes from within.”

Perhaps the veteran big men are being overly optimistic, but their ultimate point is hard to argue: If the Heat are winning, the noise will cease. If Miami can solve its basketball problems, its public perception problems will be irrelevant. In that five-game losing streak, Miami’s weaknesses—particularly its inability to close out tight games and beat great teams—were painfully apparent. In beating the Lakers and especially the League-leading Spurs just days later, the Heat made talk of fatal flaws seem laughable.

The win over San Antonio was the Heat at their jaw-dropping best. After negating an early Spurs lead, Miami led by 10 at the half and dominated the rest of the way. Bosh got his offense early and often, finishing with a game-high 30 on 10-16 from the floor. Wade went for 29 and 9, and LeBron totaled 21, 8 and 6. The Heat shot 54 percent as a team, going 23-24 from the line and attempting just 9 three-pointers. And it wasn’t just the Big 3—starting point guard Mario Chalmers scored 11 points, and the bench added 17 on 60 percent shooting. Defensively, they held the Spurs to 38 percent from the field, with Bron and Wade flying around the court blocking shots and setting the tone.

Afterward, Spoelstra was all smiles. “I’m sure that some people now will jump slowly on the bandwagon.”

Predictably, the coach downplayed the significance of the result, opening his post-game comments with “Just keep plugging away—that’s what tonight’s game was about.” Spoelstra knows what he has in this team; every basketball coach lives to see his team execute, but few have the luxury of knowing that their team is almost unbeatable when it follows the game plan on both ends of the court. “Our issue has been consistency,” he says. “When we haven’t done that, it’s come back to bite us. At least temporarily, we’ve learned our lesson.”

The wall-mounted white board in the Heat locker room offered the night’s talking points: On offense, “Attack With Poise” and “Trust! = Play Together.” Defensively, Miami was urged to be “Unlikeable,” “Nasty,” “Relentless,” and to have “No Friends.” On this night, they followed orders. Not even the Spurs and their League-best record wanted anything to do with a Miami team playing this smart, this aggressive and, most importantly, together.

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  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    This writer is clueless.

  • http://slamonline Brion

    ^ about what specifically? I think the Heats success will come down to if the bench shows up for the playoffs or not.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    Wow, talk about the pot calling the kettle black there Eboy…

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    I was being sarcastic……that doesn’t mean Professor Jones isn’t clueless about the ability of the Miami Heat team, as currently constructed though. He knows this.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    Wayno, I’d defy ANYONE that frequents this site OR writes for it to debate me on the merits, the efforts and the makeup of the Heat. They’d be stomped. Let’s move on so Ryan can respond to me in time with a snarky response.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Ryan didn’t actually draw any conclusions. That’s what’s funny.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    That was his point, wasn’t it?

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/farmer-jones/ Ryan Jones

    Eboy bought me a quesadilla in Miami. Love is love, people.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    Fu*k you, you had your pick of delicacies from the Hooters menu….you chose that sh*t.

  • JTaylor21

    Who goes to Hooters? It damn sure isn’t for the food or the T&A.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    jtaylor, In Miami, you can get a stray 30 something male talk to you at the bar about current events in the Philadelphia area and their sports team. True story.

  • http://slamonline.com Yknot

    Good story. Whoever has the best mismatch takes the last shot. Hooters is a five star two jug dining establishment what else could you ask for?

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/farmer-jones/ Ryan Jones

    And just to maybe encourage some actual basketball conversation: I couldn’t see NOT leaving it open ended considering these guys have yet to play a single playoff game together. I think, if they play like they did when I saw them last month, they can absolutely win a championship this year. I’m just not convinced they’ll be able to do it 10 or 15 times over the next two months. And they’ll need to.

  • Benn0

    EBOY – why do you think your a big time basketball pundit? – your not – get over it !!!!

  • Benn0

    DUMB YANKS!!!!

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    Who is this kid? Maybe he needs a hug or something.

  • bigchile

    all of you suck

  • Byebye

    The heat need 80+ a gm in playoffs from big 3
    Only Boston has shut the big 3 from getting 80
    Cause wade is ave 13 against them

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    Dwyane averaged 33 a game last year in the Heat’s playoff series against the Celts. Wanna place some bets he averages more than 13 a game if they meet in the second round this season?

  • Jono

    I love watermelon.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    I’ll use simple math….if he averaged 33 a game last playoffs and 13 this season…I’ll average it out and say he puts up 23 a game in a potential round 2 matchup.

  • LSSLAMBAM

    How does someone who writes f*ck and sh*t get to keep his comment up and not me?

  • MUBWAR

    Heatles finished the season strong, will sweep 76ers and take it in 6 against the C’s. From there we’ll see…

  • http://twitter.com/BeezKneezy LA Huey

    I’m excited to see this team in playoff mode. And I’m more concerned about Bosh in the playoffs than Wade. No concerns about Dwyane here.

  • hoodsnake

    Nobody goes to Hooters for wings- Chris Rock

  • http://www.slamonline.com Cheryl

    Fun read. Both from Prof. Jones and you people.

  • bull22

    @benno, with time you will understand that there is no reasoning with eboy and his useless arguments..

  • bull22

    If you look ahead, you get in trouble. If you look behind, you get in trouble,” said Thibodeau. “The challenge for us is to focus on exactly what’s in front of us and take it step by step. If we’re doing the right things every day, the results will take care of themselves.”
    THIS HOW A REAL COACH THINKS… (coach of number one seeded bulls)

  • 80

    Spo is a bad coach. All he talks about is team, unity, togetherness, trust and such while his team plays the worst basketball in the world with one superstar forcing it and dominating the ball while other superstar participates standing at the sidelines watching.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Moose

    I liked the OFWGKTA reference in the headline.

  • D

    Did anyone really expect them to win it all this year? They did a great job, and I think their wins/dollars spent was one of the best in the league. I don’t think it’s rational to think a team that’s at the salary cap is going to win it all. The Lakers check in at like 70 million dollars – let the heat add another 20 million dollars in roster over the next two seasons and they’ll be fine. Every other (championship) relevant team outspends them significantly except the Thunder b/c Durant’s contract hasn’t kicked in.

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