Slow starts holding Heat back so far in playoffs

Much of the talk after Game 4 of the Miami-Philadelphia series
revolved around the way the 76ers finished.

How they’re starting against the Heat seems just as
important.

Philadelphia 78, Miami 46. That’s the combined score when
Miami’s starting five is on the floor to open contests in this
Eastern Conference first-round series against the 76ers, who have
given the Heat more than a few headaches in the early portions of
games.

So when Miami returns to practice Tuesday, getting the early
jump will surely be a priority. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Miami,
a second try for the Heat to close Philadelphia out and advance to
the East semifinals where Boston – which swept away the New York
Knicks – is already waiting.

”Nobody’s threatened by anybody,” said Heat forward LeBron
James, whose team still holds a 3-1 series lead. ”Everybody’s
grown men. … There’s no intimidation factor.”

In this series, by the time Heat coach Erik Spoelstra initially
goes to his bench, Miami is usually in some trouble. Philadelphia
led 25-11 when Miami first subbed in Game 1, followed by a 24-16
cushion in Game 3 and 20-6 in Sunday’s Game 4.

The only buck-trending example is Game 2, when Miami was up 13-9
in the series’ lone blowout.

”We can’t really come out and work ourselves into the
basketball game,” 76ers guard Lou Williams said. ”We’ve got to be
the aggressors coming out against a team that, you know, if two
guys are off they still have another superstar that can pick up the
slack and we don’t have the luxury of that being a young basketball
team. So I think for us, the lesson that was learned is we can’t
really ease into these games. We’ve got to go out and hit
first.”

It’s working.

Miami’s star-studded starting five – James, Dwyane Wade, Chris
Bosh, Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas – has played a combined
33:12 together to open games in this series. During that span,
they’ve shot 33 percent, 19 for 57.

”It’s been three out of four games now,” Spoelstra said.
”That’s more than a trend.”

Over that same opening 33-minute stretch, the Sixers are
shooting 59 percent (32-54), including nine straight makes in Game
1 and a 19-of-29 effort to begin Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia.

”We don’t have our energizing lineup in to start,” Wade said.
”That’s not our high-energy lineup in the first place. We’ve just
got to do a better job of coming out and knowing that we’ve got to
make shots with that lineup and defensively we’ve got to do a
better job, knowing that these guys, this is what they do in the
first quarter. They attack.”

Once Miami begins subbing and adjusting, everything seems to
change.

After those initial minutes, the Heat have outscored
Philadelphia by an average of 15.8 points, shooting 46 percent to
the Sixers’ 36 percent.

Why that doesn’t happen from the beginning is a mystery to
Miami.

”If I knew,” Bosh said Sunday, ”that wouldn’t happen. …
We’ll have to figure that out. We’re going to have to sit down and
we’re going to have to talk about it, because we really can’t
afford to spot teams five points, six points. As it gets tougher
those deficits are going to be tougher to (overcome). Against this
team, that gave them life. We had a chance to put them away.”

Meanwhile, instead of having six or seven days to prep for
Boston, it’s the Celtics with an extended break.

”I’m thinking it’s great,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said
Sunday. ”But with us, who knows? Listen, we know we have played
very well when we’ve had rest and preparation time. Those are
always good.”

Miami had a chance for the week off as well.

Philadelphia trailed 82-76 after Wade scored with 1:35 left in
Game 4, and getting swept out of the postseason seemed to be a
distinct possibility. The Sixers didn’t miss another shot – Evan
Turner made a running jumper, Jrue Holiday hit a 3-pointer, and
Williams then made another 3, even with Wade’s hand in his face, to
put Philadelphia ahead for good.

Spoelstra wasn’t thrilled about the finish, of course.

But he pointed to the start as a reason why Miami lost.

”We don’t need to overanalyze it,” Spoelstra said. ”You can
see a different energy in the second quarter when we’re a desperate
team. … They have our respect. They have our full attention. That
type of desperation has to be 48 minutes, to put these guys
away.”