Posts Tagged ‘James Jones’

Heat pushed to unfamiliar place


VIDEO: San Antonio puts Miami on the brink of elimination

MIAMI — In their most important game of the season, a game that Chris Bosh had referred to hours earlier as a “must-win” game, the Miami Heat lost, at home, to the San Antonio Spurs by 21 points, 107-86. This just two days after losing, at home, to the Spurs by 19 points, 111-92.

To be fair, calling these two games “losses” by the Heat may be selling the Spurs a bit short. In Games 3 and 4, the Spurs have systematically dismantled the Heat, exposing almost every flaw of the two-time defending champs while on the game’s biggest stage.

“I mean, they smashed us,” said LeBron James. “Two straight home games, got off to awful starts. They came in and were much better than us in these two games. It’s just that simple.”

“Well, I think they’re getting to their game a lot better than we are,” said Dwyane Wade. “They’re doing what they want to do better than we are. So right now they’re playing better than us, no question about it. We’ll see at the end of the series. Whoever wins is the better team. But the Spurs are playing better than us. They whipped our butt here at home, and you’ve got to give them credit for coming out, getting to their game plan, their game for 48 minutes, and we haven’t been able to do that. So if we want to get back into the series, we have to be better than them on Sunday. If not, then it will be over.”

For a team built around three superstars, during Games 3 and 4, the Heat have looked suspiciously like a team with one star who has been getting precious little support. While James finished Game 4 with 28 points, eight boards and eight assists, Bosh and Wade combined for just 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. The only other Heat player to score more than eight points was James Jones, who scored 11 once the game was out of reach.

As this series has played out, the Heat have looked like a tired team, a squad that has played every one of the 86 playoff games they’ve logged over the last four years. While the Heat players dismissed talk of exhaustion, the eye test has seemed to show a Heat team relying on making plays that haven’t always been there when needed.

Which isn’t to say this series has been all about the Heat’s failures. The Spurs have shown on possession after possession, on both sides of the ball, that simple things like ball movement, spacing, help defense and teamwork still hold ultimate value. According to James, the Spurs present a singular set of challenges, almost a perfect basketball storm.

“Man, they move the ball extremely well,” said James. “They put you in positions that no other team in this league does, and it’s tough because you have to cover the ball first, but also those guys on the weak side can do multiple things. They can shoot the ball from outside, they can also penetrate. So our defense is geared towards running guys off the three-point line, but at the same time those guys are getting full steam ahead and getting to the rim, too. The challenge is as well, with them, implementing [Boris] Diaw into the lineup has given them another point guard on the floor. So Manu [Ginobili], Tony [Parker], and Diaw and Patty Mills on the floor at once, they’ve got four point guards basically on the floor at once. So all of them are live and they all can make plays. So it’s a challenge for us all.”

This Heat core was assembled to win numerous titles, as James famously said at their introductory press conference: “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.” They’ve got two, but number three had looked more and more elusive as the 2014 Finals has played out. Yet for a Heat team that has put together four consecutive runs to the NBA Finals, perhaps their biggest test yet still awaits beginning with Sunday’s Game 5 in San Antonio, as the odds are stacked against Miami — no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to win an NBA championship.

“I don’t care about odds,” noted Bosh. “Odds are for people that can’t do it.”

“Obviously, I do know the numbers,” said James. “It’s never been done before, but we’re still a confident bunch, even though our heads are lowered down right now. Of course, being down 3-1, and losing two straight games at home, that’s just human nature. But we’ve still got to go out and play on Sunday.”

Do Heat need to go deeper?


VIDEO: Press Conference: Erik Spoelstra

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat went nine deep in Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday. Given the conditions, no Miami player logged 34 minutes or more. But a day later, Dwyane Wade suggested that they may need more minutes from their bench in Game 2 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), so that they don’t suffer another late collapse. The Heat led by seven early in the fourth quarter on Thursday, but were outscored 31-9 in the final 9 1/2 minutes.

“Obviously we’re going to have to use our depth a little more,” Wade said. “We got to go a little deeper into our bench. This time of the year you can’t leave anything to chance. I look forward to us using more guys next game, keep guys fresher.

“I feel part of our downfall in that game was mental and physical fatigue down the stretch. You know, rotations and things that we normally do wasn’t done last night. It wasn’t from not having the will or the want to do it.

“So we got to be a little smarter, we got to go a little deeper into our depth so we are fresher and have the guys out on the floor at the end that we want and need out there.”

The air conditioning at the AT&T Center is working again, so we won’t have those same circumstances again. And unless the Heat are dealing with foul trouble, nine is typically as deep as they go in a playoff game. Either Wade or LeBron James is on the floor at all times, so there’s no room for a five-man second unit.

But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is never afraid to make changes. He’s had 11 different guys in the rotation at one point or another in this postseason. That list includes James Jones and Udonis Haslem, who sat in Game 1, but who he could turn to on Sunday.

James is always lobbying for Jones to get more minutes. He even did so in his Facebook chat on Saturday. Jones obviously provides more floor spacing for James and Wade.

Spoelstra would turn to Haslem for defense. And given how well the Spurs shot in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and how well (and easily) Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter shot all night, defense is obviously a concern.

But the efficiency of the Spurs’ bigs wasn’t necessarily about how well the Heat’s bigs played defense. Those layups were more about a lack of pressure on the ball and slow rotations from the weak side. Neither Duncan nor Splitter were just punishing Miami in the post. They were catching the ball on the move and benefiting from the work of their teammates.

“There was a lot of defensive breakdowns,” Haslem said Saturday. “Not to say they can’t go one on one, but we had a lot of defensive breakdowns and we gave a lot of layups up. It wasn’t really them just throwing the ball in the paint and those guys just pounding on us.”

The Spurs did outrebound the Heat 39-29, but that was because Miami missed a lot more shots (41) than San Antonio did (28). The Spurs grabbed just five offensive rebounds. Nothing from that game really said that the Heat need to play bigger.

But, if Spoelstra wants to try it, he doesn’t necessarily have to turn to Haslem. He could just increase the minutes of Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen, who played just three minutes together on Thursday.

That pair has had some success at times in these playoffs. They were a plus-15 together in a three-point win in Game 2 of the Conference finals and are a plus-1 overall in 75 minutes together in the postseason. Bosh and Haslem, meanwhile, have been an awful combination. The Heat have been outscored by 57 points in 89 minutes with the two on the floor together.

Jones: Collective sacrifice fuels Heat


VIDEO: Ray Allen talks about how the Heat handled themselves in advance of another Finals trip

SAN ANTONIO – As much as the narrative of the Miami Heatles has centered on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh from the start, the four-year journey this team is still on is not strictly about those stars.

Yes, they sacrificed individual glory to be a part of what has become a movement, of sorts, in Miami and beyond. But they are not the only ones. Every man on the Heat roster has had to make some sort of sacrifice to be here, and that’s not lost on any of them.

The same “Heatles” t-shirts worn by Wade and Bosh after the Heat’s shootaround Thursday morning were like the ones worn by Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and James Jones.

The Big 3?

Sure.

But this Heat team is so much more than that, the connection goes so much deeper than that and the collective sacrifice is so much greater than it appears from the outside.

“This is just the continuation of our chemistry,” Jones said of the Heatles t-shirts and the energetic vibe surrounding the Heat as they head into Game 1 Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs. “We came into this thing, basically, all committed to an ideal and goal of winning a championship. And that meant we had to sacrifice on a lot of fronts. And until you get a chance to know these guys  … some people look at it financially, just the money [sacrificed] or the opportunity to win a championship. But for each guy, those ideals are different. So for each guy, as you get to know them better, you get a chance to help each other cope with those sacrifices. Because it’s not easy. And the better we can help each other manage it, the better our team becomes.”

For the role players, the sacrifice is more about playing time and prominence. A role player, a veteran shooter, like Jones might log major minutes depending on a matchup. Or he might not see the floor, for the exact same reason. Either way, he has to be ready on a Heat team where coach Erik Spoelstra will not hesitate to go outside of the box to get the desired results.

It’s an approach I’ve dubbed #ByAnyMeansNecessary, and one that Spoelstra and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have utilized to the fullest last season when they led their teams to The Finals and again throughout this postseason to deliver us all the rematch.

It’s all born out of the same place, though, for the Heat and the Spurs … the collective sacrifice. No matter how you come together (be it for four years or 12), to reach this point in a season takes the ultimate sacrifice on the part of so many.

“Until you’re a champion no one can ever really imagine how difficult it is to get here [four years in a row or two straight year],” said Jones, who has been on the Heat roster longer than anyone except for Wade, Udonis Haslem and as long as Chalmers, who said, “It’s not all physical and it’s not all mental. It’s a mix. And when you throw expectations, your own expectations, on top of that, it’s a heavy load. And the champions find a way to manage that and overcome it.”

Allen, Andersen questionable for Game 5


VIDEO: Ray Allen sustains a hip injury in Game 4 of the Heat-Pacers series

INDIANAPOLIS – The Miami Heat may be down another man for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Heat played without Chris Andersen in Game 4 on Monday, and may also be without Ray Allen for Game 5. Neither Allen nor Andersen participated in the team’s shootaround Wednesday morning.

Allen was clipped by a David West screen in the final minute of the third quarter on Monday, immediately grabbed his right hip, and was replaced. But he returned for the final possession of the period and played the entire fourth.

But as was the case with Andersen’s thigh bruise (suffered in Game 3), it’s a case of the injury being worse the next day.

Allen didn’t speak with the media Wednesday morning. Andersen spoke and said he was unsure of whether he’s be able to play in Game 5.

The Heat’s reserves have been a big part of their success in this series. Allen and Norris Cole have given the offense a big lift and the defense has been at its best with Andersen on the floor.

If Andersen is out again, we’ll see more of Rashard Lewis and less of two bigs on the floor together. And if Allen is out, James Jones will surely see some playing time.


VIDEO: Game 5 Preview: Heat vs. Pacers

Bench shooters giving Heat a lift

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Through the Lens: Heat vs. Pacers, Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Shooting is important in the game of basketball. (This is not breaking news, by the way.)

Not only do good shooters put the ball in the basket at a higher rate than bad shooters, but their presence on the floor typically provides spacing for their teammates looking to score in the paint.

To see the importance of shooting, you only need to see the Miami Heat’s numbers with Ray Allen and/or James Jones on the floor in the playoffs.

In 328 minutes with at least one of the two veteran bombers on the floor, the Heat have scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions. That’s 14 percent better than the the league average in the postseason (105.6).

In 200 minutes with neither on the floor, the Heat have scored fewer than 98 points per 100 possessions. That’s less efficient than the Charlotte Bobcats’ offense was as they got swept by the champs in the first round.

Somehow, the Heat defense has also been better with Allen and/or Jones on the floor. So, in those 200 minutes, they’ve been outscored by 50 points, the equivalent of losing a 48-minute game by 12. With at least one of the two on the floor, they’re a plus-16 per 48 minutes.

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Both Allen and Jones come off the bench, of course. So yeah, their starting lineups have not been very good. Their starting lineup with Shane Battier at the second forward spot is just a plus-1 in 83 minutes. Their starting lineup with Udonis Haslem in place of Battier is a minus-39 in just 65 minutes.

It should be noted that 64 of Jones’ 107 postseason minutes came against Charlotte and that he’s a plus-0 in his 43 minutes since.

But the importance of shooting is also illustrated in some SportVU numbers from the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals.

In Game 1, the Pacers shot 11-for-19 (58 percent) on uncontested jumpers, according to SportVU. The Heat shot 8-for-27 (30 percent).

In Game 2, the numbers were basically reversed. Indiana shot 10-for-28 (36 percent) on uncontested jumpers, while Miami shot 15-for-27 (56 percent).

It stands to reason that the team that knocks down their shots in Game 3 on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will be the team that takes a 2-1 lead. Again, this is not breaking news.

Business handled, Heat rest and refocus

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Heat finished off the Charlotte Bobcats

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They’d have done anything to avoid the spotlight this time three or four years ago. It would have been a welcome relief for the Miami Heat back then, when they were in the formative stages of a championship quest that continues today in a business-like fashion that has become routine for LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Heat.

All of the hype and hoopla that marked their early time together has faded a bit for the Heat, the first team to break through to the next round of the playoffs courtesy of their sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. The minutiae, the “process,” as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra loves to call it, has infected this team.

“It’s a process,” James said. “I think this was step one for us. I believe this is a great direction we’re going in right now. In four games we played championship-level basketball and we got tested … and the way we responded was a championship-type attitude. We have to continue to get better. We can’t play how we played in this round in the next round. We look forward to our next opponent.”

The Heat’s “process” is why reserves like James Jones and Norris Cole, bit and role players throughout the course of the regular season, can come seemingly out of nowhere to help close out the Bobcats. It’s why Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can work their way into playoff form instead of working under the extreme pressure that other All-Stars around the league are right now as they try to push their teams through to the next round.

The Heat simply handle their business and refocus on the next task. It’s not nearly as dramatic as the reality-TV life they lived in their first two seasons together. But it has benefits that the Heat will cash in down the road.

“Nothing is exactly the same,” Cole said. “So this does feel like a new year. We’re working the same way we always have and going about things in the same way we always have, the way that’s worked for us. But it’s about taking the right steps. And ultimately, winning is everything. And we know everybody on this team has to make certain sacrifices along the way. Sometimes you’re in that mix and sometime you’re not. But you stay ready … you have to on this team.”

With higher seeds around the league under siege and complete chaos ruling the day in almost every other series, the Heat have been strictly about the business at hand. They got a spirited effort from the Bobcats, a much more formidable foe than the Milwaukee Bucks team they toyed with in a first round sweep to kick off last season’s championship campaign.

Bobcats All-Star big man Al Jefferson injured his foot in Game 1 and was never able to test the Heat inside the way many expected. That didn’t stop the Bobcats from providing the stern test the Heat needed to prepare them for either Toronto or Brooklyn in the next round.

Sexy rematches from last year — the Heat went through the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and eventually the San Antonio Spurs after whipping the Bucks — are either not going to happen or so far off right now that they’re barely worth discussing.

The Bulls were eliminated Tuesday night by an upstart Washington Wizards team. The Pacers, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff field, are facing elimination Thursday night in Game 6 in Atlanta, down 3-2 to the Hawks. Even the mighty Spurs, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, are locked in a battle with the Dallas Mavericks, the series is tied at 2-2 with Game 5 on tap Wednesday in San Antonio.

The hopes of a Heat-Oklahoma City Thunder rematch from the 2012 Finals are on life support as well. The Thunder trail the Memphis Grizzlies 3-2 and have already lost on their home floor twice in that series.

Like I said, all of the sexy storylines are either useless right now or pure imagination right now, given the current state of affairs everywhere else but Miami.

And that’s fine with Spoelstra, who relishes the opportunity to prepare for and trade blows with each and every opponent in the same manner. Again, it’s that process he loves to talk about.

“We don’t take these wins for granted,” he said. “We’re very pleased to get to the next round. The Bobcats put up a lot of fight throughout and this was a much closer series than the 4-0 outcome would indicate.”

The tricky part for the Heat is making sure to manage the time off. When you are dealing with the oldest team in the league, rest can’t be a bad thing … can it?

“You know we haven’t had much rest like this before, so our rhythm and timing may be off,” Chris Bosh said. “That is the challenge coach and everyone will have. We have been here before, we have learned some lessons from last year, and that is the best part of it. I think we will handle it better this time.”


VIDEO: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra discusses his team’s quick work of the Bobcats

For Heat to succeed, Miami needs big performances from Little 12

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra speaks with the media after Heat practice (April 22)

MIAMI — You probably know all about the Big Three, Miami’s terrific trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Those three form the Heat’s power base. But for the Heat to three-peat as champs, they also need big performances from what Shane Battier says the players refer to as The Little 12.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has referred to his bench as a bullpen for a few years now, borrowing some baseball terminology. On Sunday, Spoelstra revived this trope when referring to James Jones, who made a somewhat surprising appearance off the bench in Game 1 against Charlotte and came up huge. After the Heat’s practice Tuesday, Spoelstra stressed that the bullpen parallel was simply a way to get players to understand what they were working toward.

“This year is different than years before,” Spoelstra said. “Look, it’s not an -ism or anything like that. It’s something they can wrap their minds around. It’s something that’s been done before. Because of the way the season went on and the makeup of this group, we have a lot of guys that can contribute, and we’ll need those contributions, but it might be different game to game, series to series, quarter to quarter, and it’s a little bit different than the way this team was before. And the quicker we’re able to wrap our minds around it and adapt to that, I think the more we can play to our strengths. Hopefully.”

Spoelstra has shown that he’s not afraid to make bold moves with Miami’s bench rotation. Last season, Battier didn’t play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but in Game 7 he scored 18 points in 28 minutes. During those same Finals, Mike Miller went from the bench into the starting lineup, getting the nod in the final four games against San Antonio.

While Miller is the only one of Miami’s top 11 rotation players departed from last season’s team, this season Spoelstra has juggled minutes up and down the bench. In February, Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis combined to play 17 minutes for the month. Against Charlotte on Sunday, Haslem started, and he and Lewis combined to play 21 minutes.

Spoelstra said that having this loose collective of versatile players is something the Heat have been trying to compile for a few seasons, noting they’ve played 14 deep three straight years: “Our first year, we did not have enough depth. That wasn’t the reason why [we lost in the 2011 Finals] — Dallas beat us, fair and square. But we had injuries, and we got to that point and we were very flat. That was the first step of doing it, but it’s constant sacrifice. Constant acknowledgement of that sacrifice. It’s not easy. Everybody says, in life, in business, and in pro sports, ‘Yeah, I’ll sacrifice.’ But it’s always easy to sacrifice when you’re not the one sacrificing. As long as it’s somebody else sacrificing, everybody buys into the sacrifice.”

“Look, every player wants to play,” Battier said. “Once you get to this league, we’re all here for a reason. But you have to have to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. And although you don’t agree with it, for the betterment of the team, you suck it up, you cheer your guys on, and you produce when your number is called.”

According to Haslem, having other teammates go through similar journeys makes it more relatable for the rest of The Little 12.

“You never really know what a guy in that situation is going through until you go through it,” said Haslem. “But there’s other guys who are going through it with you. So what we did is we kind of formed a pact, the guys who weren’t playing. We made sure we kept each other encouraged, we kept each other ready, we played pick-up games with each other, three-on-three, four-on-four, whatever we could do. We got shots up together, we did conditioning together. You know, it’s a lot easier when you got guys that are in the same position going through it with you.”

On Sunday, with Miami up 35-34 with 4:19 to play in the second quarter, Spoelstra brought in Jones, earlier than he usually looks for him.

“I was a little surprised,” Jones said after the game. “Not surprised that he called my name. I was surprised he went to me early. But not so surprised that I wasn’t prepared. We’ve said all along, we have 15 guys who can play. Most nights we only play nine. Which nine play? We don’t know. But we don’t need to know. We just need to know that whichever nine go out there will commit and perform.”

Jones had announced he was “definitely thinking” about retiring … back in 2012. He did not, though this season he logged just a combined 70 minutes from November through January, and didn’t play a single second in February. He also didn’t play in any of Miami’s four regular season wins against the Bobcats. And yet Jones posted a plus-9 player rating in just over 4 minutes of action in the first half. By the time he’d totaled 12 minutes of court time, it was up to a plus-17. He finished with 14 minutes of action and a plus-18 rating, to go along with a dozen points.

“We learned this from early on, that he is a unique guy,” Spoelstra said of Jones following Game 1. “He is one of those unique players that you can pull out of your bullpen and not many guys have that type of mentality — patience to understand the big picture, willing to sacrifice, and don’t have an ego in that regard, yet having incredible confidence when they do play. That’s a tough balance to achieve and he understands the big picture. These are small opportunities but he makes the most of it.”

“We said it early in the year,” noted Wade. “If we want to win a championship this year, we’re going to have to do it a little different. Last year, Rashard Lewis didn’t play as much, or James Jones didn’t play as much. This year those guys are going to have to be a huge part of it.”

So if Spoelstra signals down the sideline during the rest of the postseason, he may well be calling for a lefty reliever or a groundball specialist from his tried and tested ‘pen, although Battier said the “bullpen” analogy is mostly reserved for Jones, who had an uncle who was a major league baseball player.

“He’s the Joe Nathan, the Rivera if you will,” Battier said. “When we can’t make a shot, he’s the guy who you signal for the righty, and bring him in. It’s a metaphor for the rest of us. We call it The Little 12. Bullpen, Little 12, call it what you will.”

Just so long as you call them.

NBPA’s Director Search Still In Process Stage

NEW ORLEANS – There were no figurative puffs of white smoke from the hotel ballroom where the NBA player-reps met Saturday. No resolution, then, to the union’s search to replace Billy Hunter – deposed a year ago at All-Star Weekend – as its executive director.

In contrast to that notable session in Houston last February, at which Hunter was fired amid conflict-of-interest and nepotism allegations, this year’s annual All-Star meeting was all about process. A process that is grinding on, with leadership of the National Basketball Players Association determined not to make a mistake.

Union president Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers informed reporters after the two-hour meeting that candidates for the job met Saturday with 30 player reps, along with interested All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Carmelo Anthony. Those who attended were filled in on the step-by-step procedure, from the search to identify the top prospects to the next step of disbursing a DVD of the meeting so the rank-and-file players can be briefed as well.

But the NBPA officers weren’t willing to provide candidates’ names, or their number, or any timeline for getting someone hired.

“To protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of our candidates,” Paul said before leaving with an All-Star obligation and turning the news conference over to first vice president Roger Mason Jr. and secretary-treasurer James Jones.

Mason said that more than 200 candidates were identified by Reilly Partners, the Chicago-based executive search firm hired by the NBPA in September. In the meantime, Attorney Ron Klempner is acting executive director.

A report this week by Yahoo! Sports cited anonymous sources when mentioning Screen Actors Guild executive director David White as “the frontrunner.” Previously, former Madison Square Garden chief Steve Mills was mentioned, until he signed on with the New York Knicks in September as president and general manager.

In lieu of specifics, the NBPA officers sketched out the qualities they’re seeking in whoever succeeds Hunter.

“First things first, we’re looking for a leader,” Mason said. “A leader with integrity, a leader who is bright and a leader who can manage talent. We’re not expecting someone to come in here and be a jack of all trades, be great at everything. We want someone who can come in and manage talent.

“Look there’s always a day for negotiations with the CBA. But for us now, it’s really about growing collectively the sport. Our union is a little different in that we should be thinking outside the box a little bit. So we definitely want a leader who can engage with [new NBA commissioner] Adam Silver. It’s not necessarily adversarial.”

Also on the short NBPA agenda Saturday was naming a replacement for San Antonio forward Matt Bonner, whose three-year term on the executive committee ended this weekend. That, too, is pending.

The union began its meeting with a video about the 1964 All-Star players who nearly boycotted the showcase game that year to get concessions from the owners and NBA hierarchy for the union. Their threat not to play that night, made from a locker room at Boston Garden, led to the players’ pension program and a real seat at the table in collective bargaining. Hall of Famer Bob Pettit, who lives in Baton Rouge, La., and was one of the participants in that protest, was introduced to today’s player reps.

Heat May Thank Bulls Later For This One

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MIAMI – However far the Miami Heat go in defending their championship and chasing down another one, they will take a piece of the Chicago Bulls with them.

Probably some blood spatter too.

If the Heat players don’t look back at some point in the next month and appreciate, reflect and build upon what it was they got from that undermanned Chicago team, they won’t just be ingrates. They’ll be ingrates gone fishin’.

A niggling bad habit of the Heat at various times this season showed itself again in all its unnerving glory in the middle two quarters of Game 5 Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

What started out as a cool and stylish South Beach club party got spoiled by a bunch of Chicago guys hogging the bar stools and throwing peanut shells on the floor. The Bulls outscored Miami 56-39 in those middle 24 minutes and … wait, that doesn’t quite capture what went on.

Try this instead: After digging themselves a 22-4 hole midway through the first quarter, the Bulls beat the Heat the rest of the night 87-72. Left for dead early, they sat up as surely as Michael Myers, spooking Miami with thoughts of what might have been.

“You give a team like this life, anything can happen,” said forward Chris Bosh. “It’s kind of like watching a horror movie or something, and it happens in slow-motion. You go to Chicago [for a Game 6], their crowd is waking back up again, they’re excited again and now you’re in a dogfight. They come back and win that game, now anything can happen in a Game 7.”

Anything nearly happened in Game 5.

Let’s face it, on talent and depth, the Bulls who ended this season would have been, over 82 games, a lottery team. No Derrick Rose, who went wire-to-wire in his knee surgery rehab, but no Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich over the final two weeks, either. Chicago still had All-Star center Joakim Noah and forward Carlos Boozer, but the remaining collection of role players and reserves were asked to do a little too much.

And still it worked. Oh, not overall. But often enough through Game 1, for stretches in Game 3 and over the final 41 minutes of Game 5 to grab the Heat’s attention. (more…)

Heat Thrive With ‘Best Supporting Cast’





ORLANDO – One of the unintended benefits of a team plowing through week after week of a 27-game (and counting) win streak is the collective strain it puts on not just a team’s superstars, but also it’s supporting cast.

And in the case of the Miami Heat, that would be, as All-Star forward Chris Bosh coined it, “the best supporting cast in the business.” Bosh was, of course, speaking about the cast surrounding reigning MVP LeBron James, a group headlined by Dwyane Wade and himself.

But those three superstars have the added benefit of leaning on what has developed into the best cast of veteran, high basketball IQ specailists in the business. From stalwarts like Udonis HaslemRay Allen and Shane Batter to Mike Miller and Chris “Birdman” Andersen to Norris Cole and occasionally James Jones or even Joel Anthony, the Heat found ways to tap into their resources at the right time throughout this streak.

It’s a delicate balance, knowing who to go to, and when. But it’s a luxury that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff have cultivated for the past three seasons. And for a team that will need every player to defend their title, this streak and the finish of this regular season could prove to be crucial in ensuring the reserves are ready for that grind.

“They are gaining more and more confidence,” Spoelstra said. “They really are. It doesn’t really matter which group we have out there. They take it to heart that they want to put together good minutes on the scoreboard. Those guys are just stepping up and giving us good minutes.”

Great minutes, actually, in spurts.

Cole scored a season-high 15 points and led seven scorers off the bench in Sunday’s win over Charlotte, the first of two straight games the Heat played without Wade, who sat out with a sore right knee. Cole (3-for-4), Allen (4-for-5) and Battier (2-for-5) lit it up from distance as the Heat used an 11-for-13 barrage from 3-point range to subdue the Bobcats.

Miller started in place of Wade Sunday and played 22 minutes in the win over the Bobcats. That’s the exact same number of minutes he played in the 10 games before that, and looked comfortable doing it. He started again Monday night against Orlando, making three of his six shots from the floor in 20 minutes against the Magic.

He attempted a total of four shots in those 10 games prior to his Bobcats start, but didn’t hesitate Sunday night, uncorking a couple of 3-pointers in the opening minutes of that game.

“My view was to just fill in,” Miller said. “But you can’t be shy. My motto is to let it fly. That helps our team, when our shooters are aggressive it opens up lanes for everybody else.”

Cole, Andersen and ex-Magic All-Star Rashard Lewis (11 points, courtesy of a 3-for-5 shooting effort from long-range) provided the boost the Heat needed to get win No. 27, outscoring the Magic reserves 42-15. The Heat are 26-1 this season when its reserves outscore the opposition’s.

“It’s just knowing your role and knowing what’s needed,” Battier said. “It’s the way we’ve worked all season long and right now it’s the perfect complement to what we’re doing offensively. Our main goal on offense is to create space to allow our best guys the room they need to operate. The only way to do that is to put shooters around them. So when we get the open looks, we have to make shots. It all has to work together.”

Making sure the bench was ready was of critical importance for Spoelstra, though he wouldn’t have forced the issue down the stretch of the regular season. Not with the type of veterans the Heat have.

“They’ve already had a body of work,” he said. “They’ve been called upon at times this year, and they are keeping themselves ready. The most important thing is all the work they’ve been doing behind the scenes. You could whither away on the sidelines by not playing if you didn’t have the right attitude. But our guys come in every single day. They do their conditioning and they also stay in it mentally. They do it every day.”

You win 27 straight games and everybody has to bring it — the superstars and the “best supporting cast in the business.”