HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – LeBron James is 18 points shy of 20,000 points. The Miami Heat still have a slight, half-game lead over the New York Knicks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Generally speaking, plenty is going right for the defending NBA champions at this stage of the season.
But a closer look reveals cracks in the Heat facade. In fact, there could be trouble in Heat paradise, if you believe what you see (1-3 on their current road trip) and read. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com provides the details:
The Heat are out of focus and they’re sniping. At their coach, Erik Spoelstra. At each other. Probably at their friends and loved ones, too.
Wade’s been in the middle of it a few times on the trip. Last week in Indianapolis, he scored 23 points in the first half of a game and then didn’t get a shot in the third quarter. Monday, he didn’t play in the fourth quarter — calling it a benching isn’t accurate — when Spoelstra decided to play James with four bench players as the Heat attempted a rally that fell short.
“I don’t know, I just always stay ready,” [Dwyane] Wade said curtly but not disrespectfully, much like he treated his disappearance from the offense in the loss in Indiana. “Coach makes the calls. I’m just a player.”
Wade’s body language said enough. Before the Heat left on this trip, Wade was asked if he missed the days of taking 20 to 25 shots a game. The days before James and [Chris] Bosh and being relegated to the third option some nights. Wade’s response: “Every day.”
A few days ago, Bosh said the Heat weren’t doing enough to ride players with “hot hands” after he was forgotten in the offense during a night when he shot 13-for-18 in a loss at Portland. He was referring to himself and Wade, the direction of the comment not being clear.
Bosh might want to pipe down after his one-rebound showing against the Jazz last night. Wade, on the other hand, makes a solid point. The Heat are definitely more formidable when he and James have it going as opposed to the Cleveland model, where James does all of the heavy lifting and his supporting casts simply observes.
All that said, a little friction for a team still operating in the afterglow of winning their first championship run together should be expected. There are enough new faces involved that the Heat will have to continue making adjustments as the season goes along.
Spoelstra probably enjoys this part of the process more than anyone, knowing that a united struggle (even one forged from the misguided perception of outsiders who assume that it’s something unusual, when, in fact, it’s not) makes it easier to get his team’s attention as the meat of the regular season plays out.
If nothing else, the Heat’s struggles (both real and imagined) will play out in vain, so long as they continue to do whatever they can to humble themselves the way they have after losses:
After the tough loss in Portland when the Heat blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead last week, James gave this lament: “We’re not the most talented bunch. We’re not the greatest team. So we can’t afford to just pick and choose when we want to turn it on and off.”
Most basketball minds would say this team is the best team, talent-wise, James has ever played on. He is likely playing alongside three Hall of Famers in Wade, Bosh and Ray Allen. But James, who is in the middle of perhaps the greatest all-around season of his career, has been right with his teammates in passively complaining about the state of the union.
When he got out of the cold tub, James weighed in.
“It was low energy. Against a team like this, on their floor, with their crowd — you can’t have low energy,” James said of the first half, in which he had his best scoring first half of the season with 20 points.
Of the late-game comeback that happened with Wade and Bosh on the bench, James said: “We played well, we had a lot of energy. Offensively, we didn’t care who was shooting the ball.”
Forgive me for not believing the hype about all of this supposed drama that plagues the Heat. They’ve had a couple of tough nights over the past few weeks.
It happens to the best of ‘em, even the defending champs.
But it won’t last … not in paradise!