Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heat Check: Miami's Struggles Part 2

Sunday night, regardless of the time zone, you were seeing stars. The city of Los Angeles played host to the Oscars, while 3,000 miles east, the Knicks were battling the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden. It was only the third game that the Knicks new "big three" were playing together, but they had more chemistry than the Heat's Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh leading to a 91-86 victory. The Heat may be sitting comfortably as the second seed in the eastern conference behind the Boston Celtics at 43-17, but their success is as much an optical illusion as the city they call home. A Miami vacationer sees the 80 degree weather, the white sandy beaches, and neon-signed night clubs that line the streets.


A resident knows that the 80 degree ocean water brings hurricanes, homeless huddle under the boardwalk beaches, and crime is three times the national average. The Miami Heat, like the city, is just an illusion. They had a stretch where they went 20-1 and have moments where Lebron and Wade play like MVP candidates. Pulling up statistics from NBA.com or watching Sportscenters top-10 can easily make us believe that the Heat are one of the best team's in basketball. But, a closer look with the proverbial magnifying glass tells us a entirely different story. They have 43 wins, but who have they beaten. Better yet, who haven't they beaten?

The Heat are 0-3 against Boston and 0-2 against Chicago, teams they will likely face in the playoffs. More disheartening is the manner in how they lost. With two of the three best closers in the league, they have been unable to close out ball games. The five losses to the Celtics and Chicago were all by eight points or fewer. For the season, Miami is 5-11 against teams that today would be in the playoffs.

Is Miami's problem that they have no legitimate big man as some suggest?

The answer to that is a resounding NO.

The era of a team needing a 7-foot center is over. To win in today's game, you need strong guard play and sharp shooting players on the perimeter. The Knicks are a perfect example of what the league has become. Chauncey Billups is the leader, Carmelo is a flat out scorer, and Amare is versatile who plays more like a forward than a center. The defending eastern conference champions also proved this week how little a big center is valued. They traded away their "best" one, Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for faster, play-making 6'9 Jeff Green who shoots jumpers.
Since Lebron has brought his talents to South Beach he has delivered, but Wade has been suspect at times. At first glance, his 25 points a game SCREAM MVP, but his performance in games against good teams have been sub-par. In the three games against Boston, Wade is averaging 12 points and six turnovers.

The problem for the Heat going forward is that Lebron and Wade are essentially the same player. Instead of both being involved in a late game play, it's only one of them isolated at the top of the key while the other stands in Cozumel sipping on a Pina Colada. Only when Lebron and Wade's roles are defined will they be able to beat the premier teams of the league consistently. With no set roles, there's no chemistry. Right now the Heat's chemistry resembles James Franco and Anne Hathaway co-hosting the Oscars. Individually, they are two of the most talented and respected actors in the business, but together their comedic timing fell flatter than Donald Trumps hair in a Miami rainstorm.

In the playoffs, it's likely that Miami and Boston will meet in the conference finals. The only way the Heat can beat the Celtics in a seven game series is for Wade to become the Robin to Lebron's Batman. The best piece of advice for Miami is summed up by (pre-tooth fairy) Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's signature quote, "Know Your Role". If Miami is going to deliver on their promise of eight championships, they need to smell what The Rock is cooking.

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