Through the first half of the season, in fact the entirety of the season leading up to the All Star break, few would argue the Miami Heat were the best team. They held the second best record in the competition, despite constant injuries to Dwyane Wade, were on a 9 game winning streak, had quashed Linsanity for the last time and boasted the best player in the league playing at not only an MVP level, but offering a DPOY calibre resume.
The biggest weaknesses evident last year were at the 1 and 5 positions, and the overall depth of the bench. In the draft the Heat took Cleveland State standout Norris Cole and added experienced defensive veteran Shane Battier, addressing two of their biggest needs. However the one position of greatest concern remains, and it continues to prove as the achilles heel of this team as it teeters on the verge of greatness.
Miami play their best basketball when they opt for a small lineup, with LeBron James playing at and guarding the 4. With Bosh or Haslem at the 5, it allows Miami’s new emphasis to push the fast break and move the ball to perimeter players and shooters to run smoothly without having to slow down to a classic half court offense, much like we see from the San Antonio Spurs and even Mike Brown’s Los Angeles Lakers. Brown is a disciple of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, which is where the similarities emanate from.
The Heat tried to conform to a prototypical half court offense last year, but their superior talent was largely wasted as it meant James and Wade were forced to take more permitter shots than normal because their oppositions would simply stack the paint, forcing outside jumpers. Dallas’ zone in the Finals was the greatest example of this.
Spoelstra worked tirelessly over the off season and lockout to ensure the Heat came back better than their previous season, and he was successful in doing so. However, there is only so much you can do with a roster lacking a true center.
Let’s take a look at the greatest threats to Miami’s championship aspirations.
The Chicago Bulls’ greatest strengths lie in Miami’s greatest weaknesses, at the point guard and center positions. The Bulls have Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson manning their frontline, four players that have given the Heat big problems regardless of their dismantling in the ECFs last year.
The Orlando Magic need no analysis, they have the best big man in the game and as long as he is in Orlando, they will pose a huge threat to the Heat as they have no one that can really challenge Howard on either end of the court.
The Oklahoma City Thunder boast two of the best defensive big men in the league, with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka providing the perfect defensive tone to allow their offensive freaks in Durant and Westbrook to spend their energy on the other end of the court.
The Los Angeles Lakers have the tallest, longest front court in the league with bookends Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who has finally put together an injury free and All Star level season.
Each of these four teams have beaten Miami thus far this season and each have done so through their big men. Joel Anthony is a tremendous worker and plays well above his size and weight, but he is so far below a championship level center it’s scary.
He has potentially the worst hands in the league, wide open dunks can be a challenge for him and for a player that works so hard on defense, he registers a depressingly low number of rebounds per game.
Miami’s other front court options consist of Udonis Haslem, another undersized 4, Juwan Howard, disturbingly past his prime, Dexter Pittman, a disappointing prospect who has struggled with his weight and Eddy Curry who is still learning the idea of defense.
It’s embarrassing to think the Heat were two games away from winning a Championship with that outfit. The addition of Ronny Turiaf solves nothing for the Heat as their lack of size continues to hurt them against the big teams.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh form the most talented threesome the league has ever seen. There is no doubt in my mind they will win multiple championships playing together. But the initial reactions we all shared when James first took his talents to South Beach has been severely re-evaluated.
It was a consensus that LeBron’s infamous ‘not three, not four, not five, not six’ championship prediction was not as outrageous as it sounded. People were predicting them to smash Jordan’s record breaking 70 win Bulls and perhaps become the first time to lose single digit games. The first 20 games of their existence woke us up and the following 18 months has confirmed that we were naive to think any of this would be easy.
When you have three max contracts in the so called ‘less important positions’ you are obviously going to leave gaping holes in the key spots. The talent of the team was supposed to overwhelm these deficiencies, and there is no reason why that cannot be the case.
However, despite of James offering one of the greatest individual seasons of all time, despite Dwyane Wade finding a greater chemistry within the revamped roster and Chris Bosh’s successful adjustment to his role, the Heat are by no means head and shoulders above the rest, as we expected them to be. They may not even be the best team in the NBA.
It must be noted that even if Miami did bring in a true center to fill up the paint, grab rebounds and alter shots, it still wouldn’t necessarily tie in with their offensive and defensive schemes. The entirety of the Heat’s game plan is to exploit the opposition with their superior athleticism, seen through the fast break emphasis on offense and the rotational close outs on defense.
There doesn’t appear to be a solution to Miami’s front court weakness, and there may not need to be one.
They can and have beaten all of these teams that hold an advantage over them inside the arc, but the slower pace of the playoffs and the lingering fears that they cannot guard these positions for the entire 48 keep even the most extravagant Heat fan in check.
Tags: Andrew Bynum Carlos Boozer Chicago Bulls Chris Bosh Derrick Rose Dwyane Wade Joakim Noah Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant LA Lakers Lebron James Los Angeles Lakers Miami Heat Mike Brown NBA OKC Thunder Oklahoma City Thunder Pau Gasol Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka