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Reeling Heat need to make move

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MIAMI

You watch the Miami Heat and you wonder: "Do they have enough to beat Boston, San Antonio or the Lakers in a best-of-seven series?"

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At best, the answer comes back as: "Maybe." That was the answer during the 12-game winning streak in December, and that's the answer during the four-game losing streak the Heat carry after Tuesday's 93-89 overtime loss against Atlanta.

So with the Feb. 24 trade deadline roughly five weeks away, it's time for Heat president Pat Riley to add a big body to make up for reserve power forward Udonis Haslem's absence. At this point, such a move is almost essential for Miami to win the title.

The Heat, buoyed by winning 21 of 22 games at one point this season, contend they have enough.

"My concerns about what we have are over; that was all during the summer," said guard Dwyane Wade, the Heat's key recruiter during the offseason. "Everything else we leave up to our front office."

But you saw what happened Tuesday. The Miami Heat team that started the season 9-8 showed up. Power forward Chris Bosh missed the game with an ankle injury, and with Haslem out until at least March with a foot injury, the Heat had no answers at power forward. Small forward LeBron James spent much of his night out of position at power forward, and he was spelled by center Joel Anthony and senior citizen Juwan Howard. That's insufficient for a title chase.

Riley has to decide what happens at backup power forward if Bosh misses time, any amount of time. The Heat players think they have enough. They don't. Not the way things look now, with swingman Mike Miller struggling mightily to come back from thumb surgery and Haslem possibly out the entire season with a foot injury.

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Miami needs more help up front. This isn't second-guessing after Tuesday's loss. Miami actually did well against Atlanta considering its short-handed circumstances.

James (34 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) sparked the effort, and Wade (27 points, six rebounds) assisted. Miami got a command performance from Anthony (career-best 16 rebounds) and good bench performances from guards Eddie House (12 points) and Mario Chalmers (10 points). However, more is needed up front.

What the front office did during the offseason was great. They put together a fearsome team. But as it turns out, it's not the best team in the NBA. So now it's time for a tweak. After all, this is a title chase. This isn't about simply getting to the Eastern Conference finals or the NBA Finals. This season is about winning it all.

The Heat think they can do that with their current roster.

"I feel like we have enough," said James, who scored 15 consecutive points late in the fourth quarter and early in overtime.

"Teams are always trying to get better, but I feel our team is really good, our team is really talented, and we have a lot of improvement to make to still get better."

Even with improvement, this team, as is, might not be good enough to win a title. Start with the bench. Miller was supposed to be a dynamic player who can handle the ball, shoot from long range and create matchup nightmares for defenses. That hasn't happened yet. It might not happen this season.

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Haslem leaves a big hole on the Heat's bench as a backup power forward. He leaves a bigger hole as a mainstay in the game-closing lineup. Haslem, a co-captain along with Wade, hustled, grabbed rebounds, hit open jumpers, made free throws and played hard-nosed defense.

The Heat can't replace that with their current roster. If Miller returns to his expected level of productivity and Haslem returns in time to be a factor in the playoffs, the mid-February addition might not be needed. But right now, Miami has to plan as though Miller won't improve and Haslem won't return. Miami isn't in denial about making an addition. Rather, it seems a bit overconfident.

"The situation with Udonis is unfortunate," said Bosh, who is listed as day-to-day, "but I think this team is talented enough to still make it. I think we're talented enough to fill any void we might have. With Mike being out early in the season, we found a way to keep going. Until he gets 100 percent and in game shape, we've just got to keep it moving."

That's what Boston has done. Injuries have affected forward Kevin Garnett, guard Rajon Rondo and centers Kendrick Perkins and Jermaine O'Neal. But the Celtics roll on.

Miami got lucky in a sense Tuesday. Coach Erik Spoelstra was able to play three-guard lineups and use small-ball combinations he hasn't used all season.

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It was enough to get Miami through one game against Atlanta, especially because Hawks center Al Horford went out with a sprained ankle. Atlanta basically played a four-guard lineup with Mike Bibby, Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson, Maurice Evans and forward Josh Smith. Miami played Wade along with fellow guards Mario Chalmers and Eddie House, James and Anthony.

Small ball wouldn't work in a best-of-seven series against the Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, or maybe even the Magic.

Bosh's absence on Tuesday, combined with Haslem's absence, points to a concern that has to be addressed. If, in the next few weeks, the Heat have reason to believe Haslem could return to full strength by the playoffs, a roster addition might not be necessary.

But right now, getting another big body for the frontcourt seems crucial for the Heat's title hopes.

Tagged: Hawks, Celtics, Heat, Eddie House, Mike Miller, Mike Bibby, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, Al Horford, Mario Chalmers

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