With All-Star weekend providing a break in the regular season, it’s a good time to reflect on the Miami Heat’s first half.
The two-time defending champions have had one thing on their minds since training camp — a three-peat.
The Heat seemingly are on their way with a 37-14 record atop the Southeast Division.
But although most players returned from last year’s title team, enough has happened during an inconsistent first half to debate if another NBA title is likely.
Among the concerns:
— The Indiana Pacers, who nearly ousted Miami in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, have gone all out to secure home-court advantage in the playoffs. They currently are 2 ½ games ahead of the Heat in the conference race.
— Dwyane Wade has missed 15 of 51 games mostly to rest his knees following offseason shockwave treatment. While smart, the team’s approach raises a question: How healthy will D-Wade be in the postseason?
— The Heat, whose success the past few seasons has depended on being good at both ends, have struggled to play consistent, quality defense. Rotation lapses have occurred much too often.
Sill, the presence of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade alone makes the Heat strong title contenders.
The season’s second half should be interesting. A constantly changing rotation, largely due to player availability, probably will be honed to 8-9 players for the playoffs.
LeBron James, F — Third in the league averaging 26.5 points and fourth in field-goal percentage at 57.1 percent. He’s also averaging 7.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Again among the contenders for league MVP, though Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant currently seems to be the player to beat.
Shane Battier, F — Asked to provide heady defense and 3-point shooting, he’s averaging 4.9 points and shooting 37.2 percent from long distance. He’s 35 and playing 20.8 minutes per game. Missed five games with a quad injury.
Chris Bosh, C — Called ”the facilitator” of Miami’s offense by coach Erik Spoelstra, Bosh has stepped up his scoring. That has been a help, especially when Wade sits. He’s averaging 16.6 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Dwyane Wade, G — He has missed 15 of 51 games, mostly due to the knees, but still has averaged 18.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Expect him to rest at times during the second half to help keep the legs ready for the playoffs.
Mario Chalmers, G — Averaging 9.7 points, 5.0 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 29.0 minutes. He’s not afraid to be physical — team-leading 2.9 fouls per game — and continues to show growth.
Ray Allen, G — It has been a challenging first half for the 38-year-old veteran. He has started in 9 of 47 appearances due to Wade being absent. A horrendous shooting stretch has helped give the career 40-percent 3-point shooter a 35.5 average from long distance this season. Still, he’s in tremendous physical shape and will be asked to play a key role in the postseason.
Norris Cole, G — He spells Chalmers, but often sets up for 3-pointers as James or Wade run the show. Cole has shown all-around improvement, especially in driving and dishing. Shooting 38.3 percent from behind the arc. Averaging 7.6 points and 3.2 assists in 25.6 minutes.
Chris Andersen, F — The 35-year-old "Birdman" energized the team last season after arriving midway through. Could he do it again this season? Yes. He’s averaging 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.9 minutes. A key component against bigger teams.
Michael Beasley, F — Nobody knew what to expect from the team’s former first-round pick after he returned to Miami after three seasons elsewhere. So far, Beasley has bought into the Heat’s plan and what the team has asked of him. He can provide instant offense — 8.7 points in 15.6 minutes — but his defense could be the reason he ends up outside the playoff rotation.
Rashard Lewis, F — The 34-year-old veteran has been in and out of Spoelstra’s rotation through the first half. More comfortable in the Heat’s system during his second season in Miami, Lewis has averaged 4.3 points and 1.8 rebounds in 16.8 minutes.
Greg Oden, C — The season’s big enigma finally played in mid-January — his first action in more than four years due to chronic knee issues. He’s averaging 2.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in 8.1 minutes. He’s definitely a strong presence down low. It’ll be interesting to see how or if he plays against Indiana’s Roy Hibbert on March 26 and April 1.
Udonis Haslem, F — The 11-year veteran and one-time starter has seen little action of late, playing once in the past 10 games. He’s averaging 2.7 points and 2.8 rebounds and 12.5 minutes in 26 games.
Roger Mason Jr., G — The combo guard probably hoped to see more action, though in January his contract was guaranteed for the entire season. Has played in 25 games with two starts. He has averaged 3.0 points in 10.4 minutes.
James Jones, F — The 33-year-old vet has played in just 12 games, with three starts. But never be surprised if he’s asked to provide 3-point shooting — he’s at 55 percent (11 of 20).
Toney Douglas, G — The Florida State product has played in five games (two starts) since being acquired Jan. 15 from Golden State. Apparently has moved ahead of Mason Jr. … for now.
Erik Spoelstra been faced with several new challenges in his sixth year as coach. The combination of injuries and a deep bench resulted in a constantly changing rotation for much of the first half. He also was frustrated at times with his team blowing big leads and playing permeable defense. Also tasked to find roles for Beasley and, if healthy, Oden. He’ll have to decide if he wants to find a set eight-man rotation for the postseason, or if it’ll be a game-by-game or series-by-series situation.
King James. He has been asked to score, rebound, assist and run the offense at times. He accepts all that’s asked of him, and expects to thrive at everything he does. With concern about a Heat three-peat moving to the forefront of popular discussion, there has been little talk of James (and Wade and Bosh) possibly opting out of his contract after the season.
There was Beasley making the team and Oden playing in a game, but I’m going with Chris Andersen. Although the "Birdman" played a vital role last season, it remained to be seen if the 35 year old could provide the energy and low-post presence over a full season. So far, he has done that.
It happened in a 115-97 loss at Washington on Jan. 15. What? Yep, that was when Greg Oden made his Miami debut. It was the 7-footer’s first regular-season game since December 2009.
A Southeast Division title is all but a certainty, but the Pacers will not give up the No. 1 seed without a fight. Then the real season will start.