Heat not seeing problems we see
MIAMI – The storm clouds are hovering over the Miami Heat. Again. And they're darker and more threatening than last season, when this Big Three thing was a first-year experiment.
Here's the reality of the situation for Miami: Nowadays, more than a year after uniting the Big Three, things should be running smoothly. Instead, everything appears to be an absolute disaster, or at the very least, a struggle.
Guard Dwyane Wade (ankle), forwards Udonis Haslem (stomach virus) and Mike Miller (ankle) and center Ronny Turiaf (hamstring) all missed Friday's 105-82 victory over Charlotte with injuries, although each should be back for Sunday's showdown with New York.
The rotation is a mess. The road losses against quality opponents are alarming (Chicago and Boston), and lately, the home losses against quality teams (Memphis and Boston) are just as worrisome.
And as the entire basketball-watching world yells about there being something seriously wrong – Miami had lost three of its previous four games, and four of its previous seven, heading into Friday – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stands stubbornly.
"We feel good about some of the steps we're making," he said.
Disregard, as I'm sure you will, Friday's 23-point over Charlotte. The Bobcats (7-51) are the worst team in the NBA. They might not get 10 victories in this lockout-shortened 66-game season. This victory was almost meaningless, although James thinks differently.
"We got better tonight," said James, who had 19 points and eight rebounds as the Heat improved to 11-1 without Wade. "And that's what's important."
Spoelstra believes the same thing. He maintains the Heat, which is 41-17 and holding the second seed in the Eastern Conference, is improving.
"There is the real and the unreal," Spoelstra said. "There's everybody else's truth and there's our truth. And that's all we're concerned about."
Such platitudes are why it's open season on the Miami Heat. The Spo-isms sound ridiculous in the face of losses to quality teams such as Memphis, Boston (twice) and Chicago. And the Heat's fourth-year coach is being lambasted as he continues to insist this team is actually comfortable with things, and that they're getting even more comfortable.
"We want to feel confident going into the second season," he said in reference to the playoffs.
Spoelstra's coaching is being scrutinized more closely than ever, but he's not worried about what he always calls "white noise," the chirping among the so-called NBA experts.
So, when people wonder about the numerous late-season lineup changes, Spoelstra is unnerved. In the last few games, he's changed his starting center twice, going from Joel Anthony to Ronny Turiaf to Udonis Haslem. He's inserted rookie guard Terrel Harris into the lineup, then took him out after he played reasonably well. He inserted forward James Jones, then took him out after he also played reasonably well. He's shuffled the rotation to the point that some of the lineups you've seen recently haven't ever played together.
"This is something I've been planning for a while, and I've mentioned it a few times," Spoelstra said of the lineup changes. "And again, I'm not afraid to pull these triggers because they're small tweaks."
Spoelstra did similar tweaks a year ago. Point guard. Center. The bench. And it all worked out OK. Those tweaks weren't the reason Miami lost to Dallas in six games in the NBA Finals, so maybe Spoelstra is right in saying he's making his team better.
Jones, the three-point shooting champion from last year's All-Star Weekend, took the company line on the ever-churning lineup.
"Guys are comfortable with their roles," he said. "It's not to say it's easy, but guys are comfortable."
That's hard to believe. But James also said things are going well, and he said the lineup shuffling isn't a bad thing.
"We've got two weeks to figure it out," he said. "But it's enough time for us as a veteran ballclub. If we were a young group, I don't think it would be so great to do it. But as a veteran ballclub, I don't think it's a bad thing."