Heat are good to coast; until playoffs, that is

BY foxsports • January 15, 2013

The Harlem Globetrotters have played more than 20,000 exhibition games. As for the Miami Heat, it will be 90 this season.

That’s eight in the preseason and 82 in what some call the regular season.

Sure, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra would disagree that this is an extended exhibition run. But his players, with the obvious exception of LeBron James, often perform as if they’re just checking their watches to see when the playoffs begin.

For the Heat, that could be at 3:30 p.m. EDT on April 20.

It’s easy to criticize Miami’s many lackluster performances this season. The latest was a 104-97 loss Monday at Utah, the Heat’s third loss in four games on an ongoing six-game trip and one that dropped their seasonal mark away from AmericanAirlines Arena to 8-9.

The game featured Heat guard Dwyane Wade being benched the entire fourth quarter and center Chris Bosh sitting out all but the last 40 seconds. Miami (24-12) did make a stirring rally from 19 points down at the start of the quarter to get within two late, so Spoelstra certainly can’t be questioned for the moves.

There are plenty of people questioning the Heat right now. But the bottom line is that, considering the adversity they overcame in the playoffs last season, they really can’t be lambasted this season unless they’re eliminated from the postseason.

The Heat didn’t seem too concerned last year when they didn’t get the top seed in the Eastern Conference, when they fell behind Indiana 2-1 in the second round, when they trailed Boston 3-2 in the East finals and when they fell behind Oklahoma City 1-0 in the NBA Finals. They then became the first team to win an NBA crown after trailing in three straight series. Each time, they had to win at least one road game if they wanted to stay alive.

They’re a perception on the Heat that they can turn it on when needed, and that might be the case. If it is, they’ll win another NBA title.

If they don’t win another one, then there rightfully could be plenty of Heat bashing for the laissez-faire attitude in which the regular season often was handled. Despite their tremendous talent, the Heat are just tied with Memphis for having the NBA’s fourth-best record.

Yes, the Heat are lacking when it comes to a big man, but that didn’t stop them from winning the title last year. Spoelstra knows they can board better this season, but they’re last in the NBA in rebounding percentage.

Bosh has been an embarrassment on the glass this season for a guy who has center listed by his name. After grabbing one board in 27 minutes against the Jazz, his average is down to 7.2, in line to be the lowest of his 10-year career.

Wade has had his ups and downs this season. But it won’t be fair to fully judge him until after the Feb. 17 All-Star Game, a time when he predicts he will have fully recovered from offseason knee surgery.

The bottom line is there might be no reason to worry too much about the Heat unless James were to get hurt. Miami, which is 17-4 without Wade the past two seasons, has proven it can win without him. The Heat were able to get by for much of the playoffs last year when Bosh missed nine games due to an abdominal strain, although they might not have won the title without him.

James is showing no signs of disinterest. With averages of 26.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists, he’s heading toward perhaps his second straight and fourth overall MVP trophy.

At least for one Miami player, it’s not an extended exhibition season.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson

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