MIAMI — Players often think championships are won in June. Coaches think they are won in October, November, December, January, February, March … Well, you get the picture.
With that in mind, it’s understandable why there could be some disagreement on the sense of urgency surrounding the Miami Heat.
When Miami returned from a six-game trip Nov. 18, they entered a 5 1/2-week stretch with 12 of 14 games at AmericanAirlines Arena. With plenty of practices at home and only two nights in hotels during the period, coach Erik Spoelstra talked about it being an ideal opportunity for the Heat to get better and have more consistency after a trip that had been uneven.
The stretch has gone nearly four weeks and has the Heat improved?
Since coming home, they’re 6-3, pedestrian by the standards of the defending champions, and the schedule hasn’t been tough. The Heat are lucky their record is even that good since during the period they’ve needed great escapes at home to beat Milwaukee, Cleveland and a San Antonio team had sent up the white flag by sending home Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green before the game.
“It’s an inordinate amount of time that we spend here at home, and we should be able to take advantage of that. We haven’t done it quite the way we like to,” Spoelstra said after a 97-95 home loss Wednesday to Golden State, Miami’s third defeat in five games.
The Heat are 14-6, which isn’t that bad. But they’re second in an Eastern Conference they were expected to dominate. And it’s reasonable to say New York (17-5), which has beaten the Heat by 20 points in both meetings this season, is better.
Mixed signals are coming from Miami’s players on just how much a sense of urgency there is now. Center Chris Bosh disagreed there should be any concern about the Heat not having used all this time at home to improve, but at least he doesn’t say all is well.
“I don’t think so,” Bosh said about what Spoelstra had said. “There’s always a chance to get better whether we’re at home or on the road. We don’t use anything as a crutch. … If we’re on the road, we expect to get better. If we’re at home, we expect to better. So every chance every day is an opportunity. … We’re still making mistakes, and that’s the fact of the matter. We have to clean it up. We have to do a better job.”
Bosh said the Heat have to get off to better starts and must do better in protecting the 3-point line. Over the past five games, foes have averaged 10.3 3-pointers while shooting 38.7 percent from beyond the arc.
As for forward LeBron James, he’s not worried much at all now about the Heat. He said, “We’re not in a bad place right now. … We’re good.”
James, who has scored 20 or more points in each game, has been good enough this season that it’s hard for any mere mortal to question him.
Still, with the season at the quarter pole, the Knicks, who beat the Lakers, 116-107, Thursday night, sure seem more motivated about winning a championship than the Heat. So does Oklahoma City (18-4), which is quite hungry after losing to Miami in the Finals last June.
One wonders if the Heat will have awoken from their slumber by the time the Thunder visits Miami on Christmas Day to conclude Miami’s long stretch at home.
Who’s Hot: Bosh has averaged 9.5 boards the past 10 games. That’s not great, but Bosh is at least somewhat responding to the need to rebound more now that he’s Miami’s starting center. Bosh should grab 10 boards a game. At least his recent stretch has raised his average to a less-anemic 8.3.
Who’s Not: Point guard Mario Chalmers has gone nine straight games without scoring in double figures to drop his seasonal average to 6.4, well below last season’s 9.8. Making it look even worse, Chalmers told a reporter last summer he believes he’s at the “front end” of the NBA’s top 10 point guards.
Who’s Hot After Sir Charles Opens His Mouth: On consecutive Thursdays, Nov. 29 and Dec. 6, TNT analyst Charles Barkley criticized Heat guard Dwyane Wade, saying his best days are behind him. In his first game after each of those two rippings, Wade, 30, averaged 30 points and looked like his old self. Heading into Miami’s next game, Saturday against Washington, perhaps the bad news for Wade is Barkley didn’t make it a third straight Thursday in which he ripped Wade.
1. Before his team beat the Heat on Wednesday, Warriors coach Mark Jackson called Wade the third-best shooting guard in NBA history behind Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. It was a nice compliment, but it’s not accurate. Before his career is over, Wade could move into the top five, but he’ll never be top three. Jerry West was better, and so was Oscar Robertson, although some prefer to dub him a point guard. When all is said and done, Wade could get to fifth. Still, he’s got stiff competition for that slot from George Gervin, Clyde Drexler and Allen Iverson, although some also call him a point guard.
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2. There’s so much emphasis in the NBA on conference seeding for the playoffs that not a lot is placed on divisions. The biggest rival for the Heat of the Southeast is New York of the Northeast. There was some talk about divisions brought earlier when Miami beat Atlanta, 101-92, Monday to prevent falling into second place in the Southeast. But Bosh put a damper on that talk when asked about the emphasis he puts on winning a division. “We won a division championship in Toronto, and it means nothing because we got smoked in the first round in six games,” Bosh said of 2006-07. “So one minute you’re raising a divisional banner, and two weeks later you could be at the crib.”
3. As part of the Heat’s 25-season anniversary celebration, the team is bringing back notable players from the past. It’s a neat thing to do. Among those who have come in so far are Glen Rice, Steve Smith and Sherman Douglas. Rice is now owner of G-Force Fights, a Miami-based mixed martial arts promotion company. It’s an interesting line of work considering the perimeter-oriented Rice hardly was known as a guy who mixed it up much.
Quotes of the Week
“I see a guy that I love as a basketball fan. To me, he’s the third-best shooting guard to play the game. People will think I’m crazy for saying that. He’s a winner. He competes. He’s an underrated passer. We all know he can score the ball. It’s a lot of fun to watch him on the basketball court.”
–Jackson, on Wade
“LeBron is a totally different animal. He’s a guy that we haven’t seen anything like in the history of the NBA. The thing I love about him is the way he’s conducted himself from Day 1. He’s been a tremendous example. He’s a great guy that you can point to when you’re trying to raise children.”
–Jackson, on James
“They have to keep their audience involved through saying something controversial. (Barkley) gets people’s attention, but we don’t worry about that.”
–Bosh, on Barkley’s recent criticisms of Wade
“It helps my fantasy team. I found out he was 11-of-13 at one point. LeBron told me about that. We had something in common at one point.”
–Wade, on learning quarterback Tom Brady had a big game for New England last Monday, when Wade had shot 11-of-13 for 26 points in the win over the Hawks.
2 Graduates of suburban Houston’s Alief Elsik High School who got camera time at the Heat-Hawks game. They were one-time classmates Rashard Lewis, who started the game for Miami, and Beyonce, who sat in the first row.
33 Number of 3-point shots Heat forward Shane Battier has made this season.
4 Number of 2-point shots Battier has made.
What’s Next? — Miami plays host to woeful Washington on Saturday. Ordinarily, that might be another game in which the Heat have stretches of going through the motions. But they’ve lost three straight to the Wizards, including a really embarrassing Dec. 4 defeat. So expect them to be ready. After that, the Heat have a pair of interesting games, at home Tuesday against Minnesota, which could have back point guard Ricky Rubio from injury, and next Thursday at Dallas, which defeated them in the 2011 Finals.
Tower of Power? — As long as James is rolling the way he is, the Heat have to be regarded as one. James has scored in double figures in 41 straight playoff and regular-season games. If James ever has at least one bad game, perhaps we’ll revisit it.