After last night’s 94-90 home loss to the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat find themselves one loss away from elimination. Once Derrick Rose went down for the Chicago Bulls, the Heat were the overwhelming favorite to advance to the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference. Now, they will have to win two games to do so.
The criticism has been piling on LeBron James with each loss, but is it deserved? The Heat were built around the trio of James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, and in the event that one of them were to go down, there were really no contingency plans. This isn’t James’ fault, but Pat Riley’s, who assembled the team.
James can’t be blamed for Bosh’s injury, and the Heat going down 3-2 to the Celtics is not all that surprising given the rest of the roster. The situation echoes much of what James left in Cleveland, except for the presence of Wade. Wade is obviously much better than anyone James played with on the Cavs, but Cleveland’s roster had more consistent weapons. In last night’s loss, outside of James and Wade, the team shot 11-35 (31%).
Much of the media today has been suggesting the Heat have to break up the Big 3, but this extremely over-reactionary. The Heat players seemed to expect NBA titles to come easily, but championships are not bought. Rather, it takes time to develop the right personnel and chemistry to get to that point. Riley made some egregious decisions in the 2010 offseason, namely signing Mike Miller over Kyle Korver and committing money to Mike Bibby.
The Big 3 is in place and all three of them are still playing at a high level and will do so for the next few seasons, barring injuries. There is no reason to break them up only two years into the formation. What Miami needs to do is take a more concerted focus on the surrounding talent. The center position is currently void, evidenced by Joel Anthony and Ronnie Turiaf not playing a minute in the past six quarters. They own a late first round pick, but impactful big men are few and far between late in the draft. Instead, the focus should be on trying to lure free agents such as Chris Kaman or Marcus Camby, who are towards the end of their careers with hopes of winning a title.
Another issue that seems to be plaguing the Heat is their constantly-changing rotation. James spoke out about it before Game 4, stating that the constant changes have made it difficult to establish an offensive flow. Much of this rests on head coach Eric Spoelstra, who seems to be throwing darts at the wall, hoping something sticks. This has prevented the Heat from reaching any sort of comfort level, and has forced them to adapt on the fly.
Adjusting the rotations is generally commonplace for a struggling team, and often times the moves can have beneficial results (think Rick Carlisle inserting J.J. Barea into the starting lineup in last year’s finals).
The problem is the Heat have yet to find anything that works, and instead of trying to maintain any consistency, they give up and move in a different direction. This is a result of both personnel issues as well as ineffective coaching strategies. Gregg Popovich inserting Manu Ginobli into the starting lineup in Game 5 was a calculated move, and something he had experimented with in the past. They didn’t win, but Ginobli had an immediate impact, and the move will likely remain in Game 6 tonight.
Often times, James and Wade have butted heads with Spoelstra and visibly demonstrated their displeasure during games. These outbursts are natural given their competitive nature, but the rate at which they occur suggests that there is lack of respect or understanding between the Heat’s star players and their coach. These problems are evident in-game, as well, such as at the end of Game 4, where Spoelstra drew up a play for Mario Chalmers from three, but Wade elected to take the hero-ball approach. Sebasitan Pruiti took a look at Wade’s misplay over at Grantland, where he dissects how Wade skirted the play call for his own.
While it is unfair to place all the blame on Spoelstra, as managing the egos of three superstars is a daunting task, the Heat would be better served bringing in a veteran coach who has been in this position before. There are a few quality candidates out there, such as recently fired Stan Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan, or Nate McMillan. For those hoping for Phil Jackson, it is very unlikely he would ever take a job working under Pat Riley.
While the media will have a field day if the Heat are eliminated by the Celtics, it is not entirely surprising given Chris Bosh’s injury. James has still had an unbelievable postseason (still number one in PER at 30.68, over three points higher than Kevin Durant) and despite repeatedly carrying his team to victory, he can’t be asked to do everything. In the Celtics series, James has yet to play less than 43 minutes in a game. The physical nature of these games in conjunction with these heavy minutes can wear anyone down, no matter how in shape James is. He is forced to play these minutes because when he is not on the court, the team suffers so much.
If the Heat are to be eliminated, this will be a crucial offseason for them. They will need to re-evaluate the roster and coaching staff in hopes of maximizing both the Big 3′s and surrounding talent because as presently constructed there is such a small margin for error. Pat Riley did a phenomenal job in recruiting James and Bosh to Miami, and he will need to use these skills to try and secure more talented players willing to sacrifice paychecks for the possibility of winning a ring.