Miami is atop the Eastern Conference, but they still believe their best basketball is in front of them.
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
MIAMI— Whether they're better in the first half of the regular season or in the second half really hasn't mattered when it has come to
Miami Heat championships.
In 2005-06, the Heat were superior in the second half. After a 24-17 start, which included Stan Van Gundy going 11-10 before being replaced as coach by Pat Riley, the Heat went 28-13 in the second half and won the NBA title.
In the 66-game lockout season of 2011-12, it was the opposite. The Heat were 26-7 in the first half and 20-13 in the second en route to their second title.
It remains to be seen whether this version of the Heat will be better or worse in the second half or if they'll win another title. But, for whatever it's worth, forward Shane Battier apparently can see the future.
"Our best basketball is ahead of us, which I'd rather have versus our best basketball behind us," he said.
The Heat are 27-12, which is tops in the Eastern Conference but just the fourth-best overall mark in the NBA. They reach the midpoint of the season following games Friday against Detroit and Sunday at Boston.
The first half of the season has been slightly frustrating to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who knows how good his team can be. After all, how many teams win a championship and then add a player the caliber of future Hall of Famer Ray Allen?
Still, the Heat have somehow managed to lose games at Washington and Detroit. They've dropped both games they've played against New York by 20 points. And they're an unimpressive 10-9 on the road.
But the Heat are an awesome 17-3 at home. And that includes a win over Oklahoma City, the team they beat in the Finals last June.
"I'm trying to figure out the areas we can get better, more consistent," Spoelstra said of reaching the midpoint. "We know the areas we have to improve, so hopefully we'll do that in the second half. These games mean something… We could have been a little more consistent (in the first half of the season). It might have affected our record."'
With the Heat having regularly been ranked among the NBA's worst in rebounding statistics, Spoesltra has been stressing all season hitting the boards. Perhaps the Heat finally are listening considering they walloped Toronto 53-28 on the glass in a 123-118 overtime win Wednesday.
Then again, it's hard to get too excited about needing overtime to beat the lowly Raptors at home. Playing down to lesser foes has been another problem that has plagued the Heat during the first half of the season.
Miami is 4-0 in overtime games. But one wonders how those games against lesser foes (Milwaukee, Dallas and Toronto at home and at Orlando) ever got that far. The Heat also have had narrow escapes at home against Cleveland and against Spurs Lite, the San Antonio team that was left after coach Gregg Popovich had sent home Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green to rest.
"We have letdowns during the course of a game," said center Chris Bosh. "We just have to work on being consistent… We haven't put our best basketball together and we're on top of the East right now. It's kind of a good feeling to know we have room for improvement."
Bosh, whose Heat are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Knicks in the East, sounds like another guy who sees in his crystal ball the Heat playing better during the second half of the regular season.
It might be hard for forward LeBron James to play any better. He's averaging 26.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and a fourth MVP trophy in five years is well within his grasp.
But there's every reason to believe guard Dwyane Wade will be better in the second half. Wade, averaging 20.5 points, said he's ahead of schedule in his recovery from last July's knee surgery, and he looked fully healthy while scoring a season-high 35 points against the Raptors.
But will Bosh be better? His 17.3 scoring average, in line to be his lowest since 2004-05, is a product of playing alongside future Hall of Famers James, Wade and Allen, who is averaging 11.4 in his 17th season. But there's no excuse for Bosh's 7.2 rebounding average, on pace to be the lowest of his career.
"We need double-digit rebounds (from Bosh), and it doesn't happen every night, we understand that," James said. "Any time C.B. gets double-digit rebounds, we're tough to beat."
Actually, Miami is just 5-4 this season when Bosh gets 10 or more boards. But it sure would be nice if Bosh could provide a larger sample size.
With consistency being the big word for Spoelstra, the Heat also will be looking for more of that in the second half from starting point guard Mario Chalmers. His scoring average is down from last's 9.8 to 7.9 and his field-goal percentage has slipped from 44.8 to 41.7.
Kansas announced Thursday it will retire Chalmers' No. 15 jersey at a Feb. 16 halftime ceremony. Maybe that will put some extra pep into Chalmers.
"We want to climb as high in the homecourt (advantage) as we can," Battier said of a Miami goal for the second half. "It's not the end all, be all. But we want to play well. It's not a matter of flipping a switch, it's being consistent. But our best basketball is ahead of us."
Naturally, the Heat want to be better during the second half of the regular season. But even if they're not, it's worth remembering they still won the NBA title last season without an impressive second half.
Who's Hot: James is simply starting a new streak. His run of consecutive games of scoring 20 or more points ended at 54 two weeks ago at Portland. Since then, James has scored 20 or more in his last five games. Over the past four games, James has averaged 31.7 points. He had his second triple-double of the season Wednesday, totaling 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against the Raptors.
Who's Not: Mike Miller's shot has disappeared. He's 0-of-9 in the last four games he's played, including 0-of-6 from 3-point range. Miller only got in for five minutes against Toronto. After he went 0-of-4 in the second quarter, he was done for the night.
1. Like it or not, Bosh is probably going to end up in the Hall of Fame. Bosh on Thursday earned his eighth All-Star trip, and only one eligible player in NBA history has not ended up in Springfield, Mass., with that many selections. That's Larry Foust, a center who played from 1950-62 and averaged 13.7 points and 9.8 rebounds. With Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki seeing his streak of consecutive All-Star selections end at 11, only Kobe Bryant (15), James (nine) and Wade (nine) have longer ongoing streaks than Bosh.
2. It's safe to say Spoelstra envies Scott Brooks, whose Oklahoma City Thunder could have the best record in the West and Brooks won't have to coach in the All-Star Game. That's because Brooks did it last year and there's a no-repeat rule. If the Heat have the best mark in the East through games of Feb. 3, Spoelstra will perhaps reluctantly head to Houston for the Feb. 17 All-Star Game. "We'll see what happens," said Spoelstra, who never has sounded too excited about the prospect of coaching in the game. "We're trying to get better as a team. My focus isn't necessarily on that. But it's an incredible honor to be part of (All-Star) Weekend. We were part of that weekend as a staff in 2005 (when Miami's Stan Van Gundy headed the East and Spoelstra was an assistant). It was a great experience. But we don't have much time off in this league."
3. Is it possible Chalmers won't get an extremely warm reception when Kansas retires his No. 15 at halftime of the Feb. 16 game against Texas? The Topeka Capital-Journal is conducting a poll on its website. As of late Thursday night, 68 percent believed Chalmers' overall Jayhawks career was not good enough for him to have his jersey raised to the rafters while 32 percent believed his miracle 3-pointer in the 2008 NCAA title game makes him worthy. Chalmers hit the shot that forced overtime in the eventual 75-68 win over Memphis. But Chalmers' averages of 12.2 points and 3.8 assists in three Kansas seasons hardly were impressive, and he was a second-round NBA draft pick.
Quotes of the week
"Every time I play Washington, Sam Cassell gives me an earful because I stole it from him. So, hopefully, it will keep working until I'm done playing and somebody else can pick it up."
--Wade, on his pump fake, which often draws fouls.
"It never worked on me when I went against him. Never. Never. It never worked on me. I knew he was going to go to it. It never worked on me."
--James, claiming he didn't fall for Wade's pump fake when it was used against him when James was with Cleveland.
"As you get older, you got to put in more time. He's been putting in more time than I've ever seen him put in behind the scenes."
--Spoelstra, on how hard Wade is working this season at age 31.
"It's pretty obvious why we went after him so hard in the offseason. What makes him special is that it doesn't matter at all what type of game he has going into clutch time…. He's going to attack his open shots with incredible confidence."
--Spoelstra, on Allen often making key late-game shots for Miami after signing as a free agent.
38 Combined All-Star game selections Heat players now have. That's 10 for Allen, nine for James and Wade, eight for Bosh and two for forward Rashard Lewis.
38 Games Ray Allen has come off the bench this season for the Heat. He has not started any games while missing one due to injury.
7 Games Allen had come off the bench in his first 16 seasons combined.
0 Players who had been called up from the NBA Development League prior to center Chris Andersen. Andersen, now with the Heat, made history when Denver made him the initial signee on Nov. 21, 2001 during the first year of the league.
What's Next? It was a game everybody was waiting for to start the season. Soon, it will be Round 2. After Friday's home game against Detroit, the Heat play Sunday at Boston in a rematch of last season's East finals and of the Oct. 30 opener, won 120-107 by Miami. It's the first appearance for Allen in Boston since he bolted the Celtics after last summer as a free agent. That's the first game of a four-game trip for Miami, which then goes to Brooklyn, Indiana and Toronto.
Tower of Power? Yes, indeed. The sometimes uneven Heat have won three straight and they're suddenly not that far away from having the best record in the NBA. With Oklahoma City (33-10) having lost two of its last three, Miami is just two games behind the Thunder in the loss column and holds a win over them. Oklahoma City's Valentine's Day home game against the Heat could be important for tiebreaker purposes.