Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Are you concerned about the Heat, or is this just a champagne hangover?
Steve Aschburner: Any of the squishy stuff – not being on the same proverbial page, their intensity level on any particular game night – doesn’t rate as a legit concern for Miami in my view. It’s not uncommon for defending champs and top contenders to sputter a little in the middle of a regular season, considering how drawn out and unfocused the schedule can be. But the tough stuff, as in defending the rim and rebounding? Yes, that’s completely legit. That’s the potentially fatal flaw on a team otherwise capable of winning once or twice more (thanks primarily to having the game’s best player).
Fran Blinebury: I’m not saying the Heat shouldn’t buckle down and work to snap out of their current funk. But the past two seasons have seen similar stretches. They lost five of six and had another spell of losing six of seven in 2010-11. Last season, they lost five of eight in April and the sirens were blaring. As long as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are healthy for the playoff run, they’re still the team to beat in the East.
Jeff Caplan: Mildly concerned. There does seem to be some passive-aggressive behavior going on here, sort of like a gaggle of jealous school girls. Suddenly Dwyane Wade says he misses “every day” those bygone times when he took 25 shots a game? Well, who recruited LeBron James and handed him the keys to the franchise? What happened to the unselfishness and sacrifice necessary to bring multiple championships to South Beach? As far as the coach, who knows the respect these superstars have for Erik Spoelstra. But look, he’s overcome extreme pressure and scrutiny to get the Heat to back-to-back Finals. And the fact is there really isn’t a major threat in the East unless you think the Celtics can bring it come the spring. I just don’t see the Knicks having enough gas to get it done. LeBron is such a remarkable player and flanked by Wade and Bosh — even if they’re all sorta, kinda grumpy with each other — that Miami remains my hands-down favorite to play for another title.
Scott Howard-Cooper: No and no. It is not a delayed hangover. It is the reality that there is no such thing as a perfect team, and not just this season. There is a difference between a slump and cause for panic. While there will be attention on how Erik Spoelstra distributes minutes, especially in the fourth quarter, the Heat are still the team to beat in the East and arguably the entire league. Stuff happens.
John Schuhmann: Neither. I just think that they have a defensive system — attacking pick-and-rolls and recovering from there — that requires a lot of athleticism and energy. They have the athleticism, but the kind of energy required to play that system at a high level just isn’t sustainable over 82 games. I think they should rank a little higher defensively than where they are (13th), and maybe there’s a championship-hangover factor in that ranking, but I also believe they can flip the switch when the time comes. In the meantime, they’re plenty good enough offensively to stay on top of the Eastern Conference.
Sekou Smith: Concerned in the way an umbrella is about a slight mist in the air. The Heat have issues (no depth in the frontcourt, a penchant for believing they can turn it on whenever they feel like it, etc.), but nothing that worries me this time of year. Barring a significant/season-ending injury to one of the Big 3, the Heat don’t have any glaring issues that should concern me, you or anyone else. Good teams stumble all the time. Great teams, too. The Heat are no different. I won’t lose any sleep over this little hiccup in their season.