MIAMI — During a third-quarter timeout Friday night, the Miami Heat showed on the videoboard as part of the team’s 25th anniversary celebration highlights of Rony Seikaly grabbing a team-record 34 rebounds in a 1993 game.
On the court, Miami couldn’t even get 34 rebounds as team.
Once again, the Heat got walloped on the boards. But this time it cost them.
The Heat had been 4-0 this season in games in which they was outrebounded by 15 or more. But they lost the battle of the boards 48-28 and the game 96-89 to the Chicago Bulls at American Airlines Arena.
“It’s a recurrence,” said Miami forward LeBron James, none too pleased at what happened. “We got smashed on the glass.”
James, who had a game-high 30 points while playing on a sore right knee, called it a “facade” that the Heat were able to win previous games by getting blasted on the boards, including one four days earlier in Orlando, when they were outrebounded 50-33. He said the Heat won those games because they made enough 3-pointers.
But that didn’t happen Friday. The Heat (22-9) were 5-of-20 from 3-point range while watching the Bulls (18-13) own the paint.
Chicago big men Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer each grabbed 12 rebounds and Taj Gibson had nine. The Bulls, who got 27 points from Boozer, outscored the Heat 46-34 in the paint and 20-7 on second-chance points.
“There’s not a whole lot to say,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team had four offensive rebounds to 19 for Chicago. “You guys could already write your stories. I could already have my talk. Everybody understands in both locker rooms what the overwhelming key to the game was, and we’ve got to get better. They pounded us… They were just throwing it up there and playing volleyball against us.”
Spoelstra dismissed the notion the Heat being able to win games earlier this season despite huge rebounding deficits gave them a false sense of confidence. In addition to the Orlando game, they had won games while being pounded on the glass 53-24 against Minnesota and twice against Denver by margins of 47-32 and 48-29.
Regardless, there is real concern now about this undersized team’s board blues.
The Heat were walloped at home by a Bulls outfit that hasn’t had star guard Derrick Rose all season. No wonder center Chris Bosh already has sounded a message of doom and gloom for the postseason if Miami can’t turn it around on the glass.
“We better figure it out because I like winning,” Bosh said. “I like to win. It’s not realistic. We’re not going to play into the playoffs and be getting outrebounded and still expect to win. That’s a little bit insane if we’re expecting that.”
With all of this in mind, Bosh was asked how to fix the problem.
“I’m out of recommendations,” he said.
Well, here’s one. Perhaps Bosh, whose seasonal average of 7.6 in on pace to be the lowest since his rookie year of 2003-04, might want to grab some more boards himself.
Bosh had 16 last Saturday at Milwaukee. But in the past three games he’s pulled down just 13, including being outrebounded an embarrassing 29-4 by Magic center Nikola Vucevic.
But Bosh, who grabbed five Friday, shrugs off the suggestion he needs to rebound more.
“Usually, I’m down there wrestling,” said Bosh, a true power forward thrust into the center role this season. “The other guy (opposing center) is bigger than me so usually I’m going to try my best to keep him off. … I think a one-on-one situation on the boards, if you don’t get the rebound and your guy doesn’t get the rebound, you’re doing a pretty decent job.”
Bosh also said other Heat players are grabbing rebounds he could have gotten and that he has been “making jokes I got to start competing with my own guys.” That, though, doesn’t make a lot of sense if other Miami players aren’t getting a lot of boards. The Heat are last in the NBA in rebounds per game.
“We have to fix it,” said guard Dwyane Wade. “We are not going to get bigger overnight.”
Unlike Bosh, Wade at least had a recommendation. But it wasn’t anything too complex.
“Go get the ball is all we can do,” said Wade, who scored 22 points but whose three boards were nearly two shy of his average.
That’s what the Bulls did Friday. They sent a message to the Heat that even though Rose won’t be back for more than a month due to his knee injury, they haven’t disappeared.
Chicago, if you remember, was the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in each of the previous two seasons while Miami was No. 2.
“We just pounded the glass … I don’t think that ‘small ball’ is going to work against us,” Noah cracked about Miami this season mostly playing without a traditional center and having James, normally a small forward, mostly playing power forward.
James is averaging 8.5 rebounds, on pace to be his career best. But one wonders if all this extra work James is needed to do inside is taking its toll.
James bruised his right knee Wednesday against Dallas. He sat out practice Thursday but was able to start Friday.
“He wasn’t 100 percent,” Spoelstra said. “He made that 30 (points) and six (rebounds) probably look as healthy as he possibly could. But, no, he wasn’t 100 percent. But he was competing. … He laid it all out there.”
James shrugs off most injuries. But the mere fact he admitted to not being at full strength was an indication he must really be hurting.
“Once I was out there, it felt pretty good,” James said. “A couple of times during the game I felt it. But I started moving a little bit more. I started to warm up. But it will probably hurt (Sunday). A little sore right now. It’s like a day-to-day thing right now.”
James’ stats at quick glance looked good even if his two assists were less than a third of his average. But it was alarming that James had a plus-minus rating of minus-18, by far the lowest of anybody in the game. His knee had to be a factor with that.
But at least James led the Heat in rebounding Friday. Of course, that wasn’t too tough since he was the only Miami player to grab more than five.
The Heat have been outrebounded this season by an average of 2.4 per game. They are on a quest to try to change that.
Expect Miami to try to pick up another big man either by the trade deadline or after players are bought by March 1, still allowing them to be eligible for the playoffs. In order to keep at least one roster spot open, figure guard Terrel Harris or big man Josh Harrellson (who’s not much of a rebounder) or perhaps both will hit waivers by the time Miami leaves Monday on a six-game trip. Contracts become guaranteed next Thursday, and Harris and Harrellson both have non-guaranteed deals.
If the Heat can’t find a rebounder anywhere, they’ll have to find ways to step it up on the glass with what they have. Or they can just hope it isn’t an insane proposition to win another NBA title while regularly being outrebounded in the playoffs.