HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With The Finals in the books (and in case you missed anything, check out our nifty recap above), it’s never too soon to start analyzing the participants. We’re not ones to wait, so here’s our quick post-Finals take on the state of the Heat and Mavs and what’s next for each of them. Up first are the Eastern Conference champs and Finals runner-up.
A quick look back: The most anticipated combination since beer and pizza, the debut of the Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Chris Bosh Era left a bad taste in the mouth when the Heat lost at Boston on opening night and delivered the message that this was going to be a process.
After Udonis Haslem was lost to a torn ligament in his foot on Nov. 20, things hit rock bottom on Nov. 27. A 106-95 loss at Dallas dropped the Heat to 9-8 and was marked by the episode of James bumping into coach Erik Spoelstra. The loss precipitated a postgame, players-only meeting that cleared the air and set things straight.
The meeting led to sizzling stretch of 21-1 from Nov. 29 through Jan. 9 where the only loss was — in perhaps another hint at the future — at home to Dallas.
A four-game losing streak in January and a five-game losing streak in early March set the alarm bells ringing again. But the Heat closed the regular season on a run of 14-3 to complete a 58-24 record that was good enough for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and they cruised through the playoffs with a swagger that never stopped until they ran into the Mavs again.
Who’s still around?: Wade, James and Bosh, Haslem, Mike Miller and Joel Anthony are all under contract through 2014. Eddie House and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have player options for next season, but Big Z is considering retirement after being dropped from the rotation after the first round. The rest of the roster is a blank canvas for Pat Riley to do his work.
Who’s leaving town?: Of the free agents, only Mario Chalmers is a likely keeper, especially after the way he stepped up in The Finals. The Mike Bibby experiment didn’t work and 3-point shooting champ James Jones barely got on the court against the Mavs. Juwan Howard, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magliore missed their chance to get rings.
Problem areas to address: For all of the impressive things they did individually, Wade, James and Bosh — especially the first two — have to find a more harmonious way to co-exist in the offense. It can’t continue to be a relay race of handing off the baton. James needs to work on a low-post game to get him closer to the basket and develop a mid-range shot that he can get off in the fourth quarter.
For all of the hustling that Anthony did in the middle, he’s undersized and can’t protect the rim. Dallas free agent Tyson Chandler would be an excellent answer if Riley could pay him enough to convince him to change uniforms. Kings free agent Samuel Dalembert is said to be on their radar, too.
Is it time to start over with just the Big Three?: It would be rash and foolish to have spent all the time, energy and money bringing James and Bosh to Miami to play with Wade and then toss it all overboard based on one loss in the NBA Finals. They were 12-3 through the first three rounds of the playoffs. But to maximize their ability, the Heat have to develop an offensive plan that is more than simply running in transition off their defense. With Miller coming off an injury-plagued season, they need another wing shooter and an active big man in the middle who can defend the rim and gobble up rebounds. What’s fresh in everyone’s mind is the way the Heat crumbled against Dallas. But the truth is Miami might be closer to winning those multiple championships than the rest of the league would like to admit.