In the real world, the significance of preseason games is minimal. Indeed, they used to be called “exhibition games.” But the unusual interest sparked by this particular game was caused by the first public exhibition of Miami’s high-flying triumvirate of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Unfortunately (on many levels), this understandably fascinating sneak preview lasted less than four minutes because Wade strained his right hamstring on defense while trailing his man around a screen. And without Wade, the Heat’s offense bore a strong resemblance to Cleveland’s most recent offensive extravaganzas — i.e., the LBJ show.
James thrilled onlookers with several examples of his routine brilliance: A spectacular drive, spin and slam. Several powerhouse drives against all-comers. Some nifty out-of-nowhere assists. Too bad LeBron’s jumper was also in midseason form — one of six, including an air ball in the first half alone, and not to mention an embarrassing side-winding jumper in the second half that barely kissed the upper edge of the glass.
But even though teams at this stage of the nascent season only have only installed about 20 percent of their offense, give LBJ a screen, involve him in any kind of handoff, or just let him iso-diddle from the top of the key … and presto, he can unilaterally create plenty of offense. Especially against the sad-sack Pistons.
As for Bosh, the Heat looked for him in iso-situations mostly on the right box. Except for the several times he ate up the incompetent defense of Charlie Villanueva, Bosh failed to produce much down there. Actually, Bosh was at his best off the ball — finding open lanes to the offense glass, hustling his way into put-backs, rolling hard enough on high screen-and-rolls to suck in the defense and create open looks for Miller and changing direction to make himself available for a quasi no-look pass from James. On defense, though, Bosh had no presence, even getting lifted by a guard’s fake 20 feet from the rim.
Otherwise, the Heat’s limited offensive sets featured the requisite screen-and-rolls, handoffs and curls off of weakside screens. It was in this last choreography that Miller excelled. He isn’t quick, but he can shoot, play acceptable one-on-one (but not team) defense and has a superior basketball IQ. He’ll be a key factor in the unfolding of Miami’s season.
At first glance, Carlos Arroyo is a better point guard than Mario Chalmers. Arroyo isn’t fleet-footed, can’t defend and is an inferior long-range shooter — but he’s smart, safely controls the ball even under severe defensive pressure and utilizes screens to the max. Chalmers, meanwhile, is still a scorer learning how to run an offense.
On defense, the Heat showed terrific intensity — although their team defense was better than their mano-a-mano variety. LeBron, for example, was beaten several times off the dribble.
As ever, Udonis Haslem’s weakside rotations were exemplary, and Joel Anthony was always a threat to smack careless layups. But overall, the Heat’s interior defense wasn’t up to snuff, a shortcoming made all the more noticeable since Detroit lacks anybody who faintly resembles a dangerous interior point-maker.
In sum, the Heat obviously have talent to spare, especially on the offensive end. And perhaps Arroyo will be adequate at the point. But they still lack a powerhouse offensive and defensive force in the paint.
The longer Wade is out, the longer Miami will require to get their chemistry right. That’s why Wade’s no-contact injury was easily the most significant aspect of the game.