Heat need Mario Chalmers to snap out of slump

Logic dictates that the San Antonio Spurs won't again shoot 87 percent in the first quarter or 76 percent in the opening half of Thursday's Game 4 of the NBA Finals. But even with some regression, the Miami Heat will need Mario Chalmers to snap out of his funk if they hope to get back in the series.

Mario Chalmers' downturn in play has come at the worst possible time for the Heat.

Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI -- Logic dictates that the San Antonio Spurs won't again shoot 87 percent in the first quarter or 76 percent in the opening half of Thursday's Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

History shows that Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, on average, is an 11-point scorer in his NBA career -- not the 29-point problem he was for the Heat in San Antonio's 111-92 Game 3 victory Tuesday.

It is reasonable, then, to expect the Heat's defense -- historically stingy in the Big Three era when properly motivated -- to respond accordingly Thursday, especially since this franchise has won 13 straight playoff games when coming off a loss.

But what can we anticipate from Mario Chalmers?

That's a much tougher question, and not even Chalmers seems to know the answer.

"I've had games where I felt like this," Chalmers said Wednesday, referring to his current slump. "But I've never had an entire series where I felt like this."

For a player who will soon be a free agent, Chalmers' game is leaking at the worst possible time, and that's no secret.

Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade said after Game 3 that Chalmers "is a big piece of what we do, and we are missing that piece right now."

By saying he was "missing," Wade made it sound like Chalmers was out of the lineup due to injury or some other reason.

But the "missing" comment was appropriate in terms of Chalmers misfiring on his shooting -- 0 for 5 from the floor with just two points and three turnovers Tuesday. Three of those shots were uncontested jumpers.

Here's a closer look at Chalmers' numbers this season, which have declined across the board as the games have increased in importance:

-- In 73 regular-season games, he averaged 29.8 minutes, 9.8 points, 4.9 assists and 2.2 turnovers. His assist-to-turnover ratio was 2.2, and he shot .454 from the floor and .385 on 3-pointers.
-- In 18 postseason games, he is averaging 27.2 minutes, 6.4 points, 3.7 assists and 1.6 turnovers. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.3, and he is shooting .422 from the floor and .366 on 3-pointers.
-- In three games of the NBA Finals, he is averaging 23.3 minutes, 3.3 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 turnovers. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.0, and he is shooting 25 percent from the floor and 20 percent on 3-pointers.

Ironically, Chalmers entered this season with the reputation of being a big-game player. This stems back to the 2008 NCAA championship game, when he hit a dramatic 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left to force overtime against Memphis. He eventually led his Kansas Jayhawks to the title.

Chalmers also distinguished himself in the 2012 NBA postseason, producing a 25-point game against the Indiana Pacers and another 25-point effort in the NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, helping bring the championship back to Miami.

Last year, when the Heat beat the Spurs in the NBA Finals, Chalmers led all scorers with 19 points in a Game 2 win and had 20 points in a Game 6 victory.

Chalmers insists he is not feeling the pressure of his impending free agency, saying it is something he is obviously aware of but not thinking about during games.

"I love pressure," Chalmers said. "I don't know what it is (causing the slump). I just have to figure it out. I'm at the drawing board. Hopefully, my shots will fall in Game 4."

Chalmers' body language during media interviews have showed the strain he is under, especially when he remarked that he felt his teammates are playing well.

"Everyone is doing their jobs," he said. "And I'm being the guy that's not helping out. I don't want to be that guy."

Chalmers, 28, has never had an easy job with the Heat. He plays point guard but is used mostly off the ball as LeBron James and Wade are the main facilitators.

In addition, Chalmers is the player who gets the most "tough love" from James and Wade, who have screamed, prodded and cajoled their point guard over the years in an effort to get improved performances.

Chalmers has seemed to take it all in stride, but time may be running out on his Heat career. His three-year, $12 million contract expires this summer, and the Heat's luxury-tax situation makes a Chalmers return prohibitively expensive.

 

 

For example, giving Chalmers a $4 million deal for next season would cost $10 million when the luxury tax is factored. That means the Heat will likely go with Norris Cole, who is already under contract, and some veteran they could pick up at about $1 million for one year.

It's also possible the Heat pick a point guard at the tail end of the first round of this year's draft -- some projections list Connecticut star Shabazz Napier or Syracuse's Tyler Ennis as a possible pick for Miami.

But that's looking ahead. For right now, Chalmers -- and Cole -- need to do a better job of limiting Spurs starter Tony Parker and backup Patty Mills.

Defense is the key because when the Heat have allowed the Spurs to score more than 100 points, San Antonio is 2-0. And when the Heat held the Spurs under 100, Miami is 1-0.

So far, though, Chalmers and Cole have done little to slow down the Parker-Mills combo. Here's a closer look:

-- In Game 1, Parker and Mills combined for 26 points, eight assists and four turnovers in 49 minutes, and they were plus-10 in a Spurs win. Chalmers and Cole combined for five points, six assists and seven turnovers in 46 minutes, and they were minus-14.
-- In Game 2, Parker and Mills combined for 29 points, seven assists and one turnover in 50 minutes, and they were minus-2 in a two-point loss. Chalmers-Cole combined for five points, five assists and two turnovers in 42 minutes, and they were a plus-2.
-- In Game 3, Parker and Mills combined for 20 points, eight assists and one turnover in 48 minutes, and they were plus-22. Chalmers and Cole combined for 10 points, five assists and five turnovers in 40 minutes, and they were minus-11.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, patient by nature, has given his point guards less playing time in each game.

"We want (Chalmers) to know that we still have faith in him, and we need him," Spoelstra said Wednesday. "He's been able to bounce back from tough times (in the past)."

But despite the public support, Spoelstra appears to be running out of patience with both his point guards, and his limited options include trying third-stringer Toney Douglas, who played two minutes Tuesday.

Another choice would be giving more time to Wade at point guard, pairing him with Ray Allen, especially late in games. James can also be used in a point-forward role.

But neither is a true point guard, and both struggled with turnovers in Game 3. James had seven turnovers, and Wade had five -- all of them during the Heat's brutal first half.

Ideally, the Heat would have a true point guard playing well, getting the ball to James and Wade on the wings and setting them up for easier scores.

Defensively, the Heat can try to close out games by putting James on Parker. But chasing Parker saps James' energy on the offensive end. And if Leonard is hot again, Miami would need James on him.

When the Heat played without a true point guard Tuesday -- briefly in the second and fourth quarters -- Miami lost ground to the Spurs (minus-9).

So, either way, point guard has become a major problem in this series for the Heat, and a solution must be found quickly if Miami is to win a third straight NBA title.