MIAMI — Pat Riley is one of the greatest coaches ever. But he only once won back-to-back titles.
There’s a reason for that. It’s very hard to do.
Riley, who has coached teams to five NBA crowns, calls it the Disease of More. After a team wins a championship, Miami forward Shane Battier said Riley has told him that guys want “more playing time, more shots, more glory.”
Maybe it’s not the Disease of More on the Heat since they seem to be a pretty unselfish bunch. But perhaps it’s the Disease of Malaise considering it’s much more difficult to get motivated after winning a title.
Whatever it is, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has been talking to Riley, the Heat president, about the challenges of his team repeating. The only time Riley, who won four crowns with the Lakers and one with Miami, was able to do it was in 1987 and 1988 in Los Angeles.
Spoelstra wouldn’t reveal specifics on what Riley has told him. But, considering Riley, Chuck Daly, Phil Jackson and Rudy Tomjanovich are the only NBA coaches in the past four decades to have repeated, Spoelstra sure likes having one of them in a nearby office.
“He’s been a great help just from a great perspective just from some of the things he went through in the ‘80s with those great Lakers teams,” Spoelstra said. “There’s some similarities we’ve been talking about.”
With Miami having suffered an ugly 105-101 loss Tuesday at lowly Washington and being throttled 112-92 Thursday at home to New York, perhaps Spoelstra will want to seek out Riley even more.
It’s clear the Heat (12-5) haven’t been as hungry this season as they were in 2011-12, when they were driven by the devastating loss to Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals. Just ask Miami center Chris Bosh.
“Yes, it’s impossible to have that same fire, that same hunger,” Bosh admitted. “The hunger changes, but we don’t have the same motivation and we have to find different motivations now. And I think that motiviation is always just trying to be the best and sometimes you got to be knocked down a few times in order to get that back.”
After needing late comebacks to beat three lesser foes at home late last month, the Heat really were knocked down by a Washington outfit that had been 1-12. That wasn’t enough to wake up the Heat, so it remains to be seen if motivation can be gained by Knicks handing the Heat their worst beating since the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh came together in the summer of 2010.
Heat forward Udonis Haslem said “the hardest thing to do is defend your title” since teams are gunning for the champion. Haslem and Wade are the only remaining players from Miami’s 2006 championship team, which slipped to 44-38 the following season before being swept out the playoffs in the first round.
Miami has too much talent to this season fall that hard. But, with the Heat not being hated now as much as they once were, some adjusting is needed.
“We have yet to play four quarters of angry, hatred basketball like we used to play when people hated us,” Haslem said. “That’s part of my job as a captain, and I got to carry a chip on my shoulder… At one point, we felt like it was us against the world, and we felt like everybody hated us and I guess we kind of lost that feeling. But I’ll figure out a scenario that makes us seem like everybody still hates us.”
James isn’t hated nearly as much as he once was. He has the top-selling jersey in the NBA and was just named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
But one can’t say the love James is getting is affecting his game. He’s averaging 25.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists, numbers not far off the 27.1, 7.9 and 6.2 he put up during his 2011-12 MVP campaign.
“We got three guys (on the Heat) that have been in this position,” James said. “There’s (Haslem), there’s D-Wade and Ray (Allen, who won with Boston in 2008), defending a title. Everyone else hasn’t been in this position. But for me personally I’m used to being gunned at. No matter when I was winning a title like last year or I didn’t at all. So my approach to the game doesn’t change.”
Wade also denies being affected by the challenge to repeat. But Wade, still rounding into form following offseason knee surgery, is getting more of a finger pointed at him than James considering his stats are down a good bit from last season. TNT analyst Charles Barkley has been doing plenty of that finger pointing, saying on the air Thursday that Miami won’t win another title with the way Wade is now playing.
The bottom line is it’s only December and the Heat’s winning percentage of .706 actually is better than their .697 of last season. Still, it might be good for Riley to make sure these days his office door remains open.
Who’s Hot: His team might have struggled lately, but James has been sizzling. He had a triple-double Tuesday of 26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Then Thursday he had 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, missing by one assist having a second straight triple-double for the first time since he had three in a row with Cleveland in March 2009. In between those games, James was honored on Wednesday in New York as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.
Who’s Not: Bosh has sandwiched two dud games around a fine effort. Bosh last Saturday shot just 2-of-7 for eight points and had a measly two rebounds in 30 minutes against Brooklyn. Then he had shot 8-of-11 for 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 36 minutes against the Wizards. But it was back to mediocrity against the Knicks as Bosh shot 3-of-12 for 12 points and had six rebounds in 30 minutes.
1. Barkley has some valid points in his criticism of Wade, who has had a trying start to the season while overcoming his knee surgery and other nagging injuries. But Barkley, who has said “he’s starting to lose his talent” and has “taken a step back” this season, is going overboard by regularly bashing Wade. Yes, injuries and years of attacking the hoop have taken a toll on Wade, whose scoring average is down from 22.1 last season to 19.4. But Wade doesn’t believe he’ll be fully recovered from his knee surgery until the All-Star break, and some leeway should be given to him until then.
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2. Forward Rashard Lewis was expected to be rounding into form around now. Instead, he’s been regressing. It was surprising that Lewis, recovering from knee problems that had plagued him the previous two seasons, got off to as good a start as he did with Miami. Now, it’s surprising how quickly he’s fallen off. Lewis started three recent Heat games in place of an injured Battier, and was a nonentity, shooting 2-of-6 while averaging 1.7 points over 16.7 minutes. Otherwise, he’s fallen out of Miami’s rotation.
3. Heat point guard Mario Chalmers displayed grittiness when he played against the Knicks after suffering a torn tendon in his left ring finger two days earlier at Washington. “I try to fight through any injury I got,” Chalmers said. He was worried about how the injury might affect his play, but he was far from a disaster against New York, shooting 2-of-5 for seven points and committing just one turnover in 17 minutes.
Quotes of the Week
“No. But I’m a fan of his, though. He’s an unbelievable talent. I like to watch him play. When I have an opportunity, I watch (the Redskins) because of him. I like him. He’s great.”
–James, on Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, who attended Tuesday’s game, suggesting James should be a Redskins rather than a Cowboys fan.
“I’m slow and unathletic. Back to normal.”
–Battier, asked how he was doing when he returned against the Knicks after miss three games due to a sprained right knee.
“They pretty much just kicked our (butt) in two games.”
–James, on the Knicks having beaten the Heat by 20 points Thursday and in a 104-84 win Nov. 2 at New York.
“We’re not going to go undefeated at home.”
–Wade, on the Heat losing to New York after starting the season 8-0 at home.
7 Players to have been named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated when they were active in the NBA and it was for on-the-court work. They have been Bill Russell (1968), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985), Michael Jordan (1991), Tim Duncan and David Robinson (2003), Wade (2006) and James (2012). Jerry Lucas won in 1961 when he was at Ohio State and later became an NBA star. Rory Sparrow was one of eight athletes named in 1987 due to humanitarian efforts.
100 Percent of shots taken this season by Heat guard James Jones that are 3-pointers. He’s 4-of-9.
100 Percent of shots taken by Miami center Joel Anthony in his career that are 2-pointers. He’s 307-of-602 while never having attempted a 3-pointer.
If the Heat finally got a wake-up call with their lopsided loss to the Knicks, their next foe could be in trouble. That would be the New Orleans Hornets (5-12), who come to Miami on Saturday in last place in the Southwest Division. After that, two intriguing teams visit AmericanAirlines Arena. On hand Monday will be the Atlanta Hawks (10-5), who are just behind the Heat in the Southeast and may think they have a shot at the division title thanks to Miami’s recent troubles. Arriving Wednesday will be the Golden State Warriors (11-7), the surprise team in the West.
Tower of Power?
Not recently. Since the Big Three got together in the summer of 2010, the Heat suffered their most embarrassing loss Tuesday at Washington. Then they suffered their most lopsided loss during that period at home in falling to New York. The tower is teetering. But considering the obstacles the Heat overcame last season in winning the championship, there’s no reason yet to be overly concerned.