Despite wins, poor rebounding concerns Heat
MIAMI -- Baseball had the "Hitless Wonders." Does basketball now have the "Reboundless Wonders?"
The Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 1906 despite their .230 batting average being worst in the American League. Now, the Miami Heat (17-6) remain the favorite to win a second straight championship despite having entered Thursday ranked 28th out of 30 NBA teams in rebounding percentage and having won the battle of the boards in just five of 22 games.
The Heat showed they can board when they really focus on it, having outrebounded Dallas 47-36 in a 110-95 rout Thursday night. Then again, the Mavericks entered the game 30th in rebounding percentage.
Miami, though, has shown the ability to win games even when the rebounding numbers are really ugly. On Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat did what would be the equivalent of a baseball team getting no hits and winning a game. Teams with a plus-28 rebounding margin had been 166-3 since 1985-86, but Minnesota lost 103-92 at Miami despite winning the battle of the boards 52-24.
Miami is 8-4 in games when being outrebounded, including 3-0 when there's a deficit of 15 or more. Still, the Heat, who are being beaten on the boards this season by an average of 1.5 per game, figure it might not be good idea to make such games a habit.
"It's not what we want to do. We understand that last year in the playoffs that we rebounded at a high clip," said forward LeBron James, whose team outrebounded foes by 1.0 in last spring's postseason, which one supposes is a high clip by Heat standards. "It's a collective group. It's not going to be one guy that has a Kevin Love game or a Dwight Howard game. We don't have a guy that is going to have 18 every night or 15 every night, an Anderson Varejao-type night. So it's a collective group. We all have to get down there and help our bigs."
The problem for the Heat is they don't have that many bigs. They start converted power forward Chris Bosh at center. Until recently, they were starting true small forward Shane Battier at power forward.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, apparently sensing that lineup was just too small, now is starting Udonis Haslem at power forward and as well as giving center Joel Anthony more minutes off the bench. But it remains to be seen how all of this will help considering the Heat still has lost the board battle in four of the six games Haslem has started.
At least there are no complaints about James, a small forward whose team-high 8.5 average is in line to be the best of his 10-year career. But Bosh, whose 7.8 average is on pace to be his lowest since his rookie year of 2003-04, simply isn't delivering.
"This is a process where we have to figure out how to rebound collectively as a unit," Bosh said. "Once we start doing that, we give ourselves a better chance to win… Once we get to that point, we can really just start to squeeze the life out of teams slowly but surely."
So far, the Heat have been able to strangle plenty of foes even when they're not rebounding well. Then again, when they have outrebounded foes, they're 6-0 (Miami is 3-2 when the board battle is tied).
So it's no wonder Spoestra, whose team outrebounded foes by 1.8 per game during the 2011-12 regular season while much more often using a true center, isn't making any claims the Heat will win another title without doing much rebounding. After all, Spoelstra was schooled under eight-time NBA champion Pat Riley, who has a favorite saying of, "No rebounds, no rings."
"We know we can rebound against anybody when we're really focused and committed to it." Spoelstra said. "And that's the whole deal with us."
There are stats the Heat consider more important than raw rebounding numbers. Still, guard Dwyane Wade, who also was around when the Heat led the league in total rebounds en route to a Riley-coached championship in 2005-06, knows outrebounding foes sure helps in winning titles.
"We got to do a better job," Wade said. "Obviously, championship teams rebound the ball. It's going to take a lot more effort on our part. Obviously, we're coming into most most games and we're not the biggest team. But we got to do a better job of blocking it out and keep it close… (When you're losing board battles) you have to make up for it in other areas."
Miami made up for it Tuesday by blocking 14 shots, picking up 12 steals and shooting 13-of-25 (52.0 percent) from 3-point range. That all led to an improbable victory.
The Heat also beat the Nuggets twice last month when being outrebounded by 15 or more. They won 98-93 in Denver when being crushed by 19 on the glass and 119-116 at home when the deficit was 15.
But the Heat know it might be hard to get away with such things in the playoffs. Until they prove they can, don't be surprised if Riley, Miami's president, continues to say, "No rebounds, no rings."
Who's Scorching: Will James ever have a bad game? He's scored 20 or more points in 44 straight playoff and regular-season outings. The best stretch of James' career came when he scored 20 or more in 49 straight regular-season games for Cleveland in 2007-08. James could reach 50 in a row Dec. 31 at Orlando, the day after his 28th birthday.
Who's Hot: Wade has shot 63.4 percent in his past six games. Wade, motivated in part by TNT analyst Charles Barkley saying he's in decline after a slow start, has averaged 20.3 points during the stretch in average of just 29.2 minutes.
Who's Not: Is guard Ray Allen finally slowing down? He has been recently. Allen hardly looked 37 out of the gates this season. But in his past five games he's averaged just 8.2 points while shooting just 5-of-16 (31.3 percent) from 3-point range to drop his seasonal averages to 11.8 points and 46.1 percent from long range. Allen's slump does not provide a large enough sample of games to make any deductions, but it's something to keep an eye on.
1. In this spot last week, it was remarked how Golden State coach Mark Jackson, speaking before a game at Miami, called Wade the third-best shooting guard in NBA history following Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Well, forget about that. Turns out Jackson apparently tailors what he says to his audience. Before Reggie Miller was inducted last September in the Hall of Fame, Jackson called his former Indiana teammate the third-best shooting guard behind the two legends. "When you take Michael Jordan and you take Kobe Bryant out of the discussion, he's as good as any two-guard that has ever played the game,” Jackson said then about Miller, according to the Indianapolis Star. And it's not as if Wade had done anything in a three-month span that one would think led Jackson to change his mind. When the Warriors play later this season in San Antonio and Portland, don't be surprised if Jackson uses the forum to call George Gervin and Clyde Drexler, respectively, the third-best shooting guard.
2. James said before the season a goal was for the Heat to "keep me fresh once the playoffs start." Barkley isn't so sure that will happen. "I think LeBron is going to wear down," Barkley said Thursday on the air. "If you keep playing 82 games, he plays at extreme full tilt every night." Barkley, as usual, is being over the top. James says his conditioning is the best it has been in his life. He's riding his bicycle plenty, including three times to games this season, to make sure that remains the case. But Barkley is right about how hard James plays. Until not having to play in the fourth quarter in two of the past three games that were both routs, James was averaging 37.9 minutes, above last season's figure of 37.5. James is back down to 37.5. Still, if the Heat want James to be as fresh as realistically possible for the playoffs, it might not hurt reducing his minutes slightly more.
3. Point guard Mario Chalmers has been shaky lately, setting up a possible interesting battle for minutes with reserve Norris Cole. While Chalmers isn't at risk of losing his starting job any time soon, he might be looking over his shoulder at Cole. As a rookie last season, Cole slumped and fell out of the rotation late in the regular season. But Cole has looked to have matured plenty this month, including having four games with two or more steals.
"I'm just very comfortable and confident in my ability. I put a lot of work into my game. It's always good when you put in the work and implement that into a game situation."
--James, who has scored 20 or more points in all 23 games to start the season, the longest streak since Utah's Karl Malone opened with 24 in 1989-90.
"Right now, we're not where we want to be in April. But that's OK. We don't want to be peaking right now.There's a lot of time, and the thing for us is we don't want to take any steps back."
--James, on the Heat's overall recent play.
"It was pointless. We ain't going to go into (why). I just think it was a pointless lockout."
--Wade, talking about the NBA lockout that shortened last season to 66 games.
"I know last year we had a 55-game season."
--Shaquille O'Neal, who helped Miami to the 2006 NBA title, talking with Sun Sports at a recent Heat game about how many games he thought were in 2011-12 lockout season.
Nicknames Anthony has had in his six seasons with the Heat. He's been known as "The Warden" for dispensing justice with his shot blocking, as "Avatar" for having played all over the place at times and as "Doc." The last nickname is the one most popular among his teammates. Anthony didn't want to give details on how it came about but said it has nothing to do with Julius Erving, even in a joking manner. Anthony is about as opposite of a player to "Dr. J" as one can get.
Consecutive games the Heat just played against teams from Washington, Minnesota and Dallas. Yes, the order was different. But the Miami Dolphins, who honored their 1972 undefeated team last weekend, played Dallas, Washington and Minnesota in three straight Super Bowls from 1971-73, going 2-1. The Heat did better, having won all of their three.
Consecutive NBA Finals the Heat are trying to reach. The last Eastern Conference team to do that was Chicago, which went in 1996, 1997 and 1998, winning each time. Miami lost to Dallas in 2011 before ousting Oklahoma City last season.
The warm-up act is Saturday at home to Utah. Then Miami plays host to Oklahoma City on Christmas Day in the game plenty of folks have been looking forward to since the schedule came out last summer. The Thunder dropped the Finals 4-1 last June. Heat players expect the Thunder to be fired up. After that, it's another ho-hum outing as the Heat play at Charlotte on Dec. 26.
If anybody doubted it, the Heat offered a reminder Thursday at Dallas they still are one. The Heat apparently is still mad at the Mavericks for losing the 2011 NBA Finals, having won the three meetings since then by an average of 15.7 points. Yes, Dallas has injury problems. Still, it was impressive Miami led by as many as 36 Thursday before coasting to a 15-point win.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@christomasson