State of the Heat: Big things, little package
When the Miami Heat went so far as to call center Dexter Pittman up from the D-League before Thursday’s game to have an extra big body, you had to figure they really were concerned about Dwight Howard.
But if you just foul Howard, what is there to be worried about?
Ever since the Los Angeles Lakers picked up Howard last summer, there has been some concern about how the small and rebounding-poor Heat might match up against the big Lakers in the NBA Finals. Even after the Lakers got off to a brutal start and became long shots for the Finals, there was still some intrigue since the teams had not met.
But the worriers can take a break. Yes, Howard had his usual big rebounding game against the Heat, grabbing 16. But the center shot just 5-of-13 from the foul line and his Lakers lost 99-90 to the Heat on Thursday night at Staples Center.
Beating the Lakers (17-22) these days might not qualify for a ticker-tape parade. Still, it’s a good step for the Heat (26-12) considering all the hubbub they’ve had to hear since last summer about the Lakers beefing up their roster.
Miami, as usual, was outrebounded as the Lakers won the battle of the boards 42-36. But the Heat once again showed an ability to do other things to make up for it. On Thursday, it was by committing just six turnovers to 20 for the Lakers and with forward LeBron James once again coming up huge, scoring a season-high 39 points.
If there’s such a thing as a big win over a team with a losing record, this was one. Not only does it help ease any concerns about the Heat not matching up well with the Lakers, it turned what started out as a brutal road trip into a reasonable one.
The Heat had dropped three of their first four games on a six-game voyage. After a 104-97 loss Tuesday at Utah, a game that featured guard Dwyane Wade being benched for the entire fourth quarter and center Chris Bosh for all but the final 40 seconds of it, there were questions about the Heat’s lack of passion.
But Miami, in the era of the Big Three, usually has bounced back well from adversity. And this week saw that happen again.
After the loss at Utah, the Heat won easily 92-75 Wednesday at Golden State, which had defeated them last month in Miami. That loss occurred during a previous Heat crisis, in which they’d lost three of five.
Then came the victory over the Lakers, one that the Heat closed with a 9-0 run. It didn’t help the Lakers that Howard missed two free throws with 1:51 left and his team down 92-90.
Howard always gives the Heat huge problems on the glass, having averaged 17.2 rebounds against them in his previous seven games. But he was held to just 13 points Thursday in a game that featured his seasonal free-throw percentage falling to 50.2.
So the smaller Heat passed their first test against the Lakers, and fouling Howard sure helped. They didn’t even need to play Pittman.
Who's Hot: You could put James here every week, and this week we will. After all, he got two significant milestones in the same game Wednesday at Golden State. He became the youngest NBA player, at 28 years, 17 days, to score 20,000 career points and he also reached 5,000 career assists. After having had his 54-game streak of scoring 20 or more points snapped Jan. 9, James has averaged 29.0 points in four games.
Who's Not: Bosh wasn’t named an East starter when final All-Star voting totals were released Thursday. The way he’s played lately, there’s a chance he might not be named a reserve. Bosh has averaged 12.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in his past four games, dropping his seasonal averages to 17.5 points and 7.1 rebounds. Bosh has been held to six or less rebounds in nine of his last 10 games. But he did have six steals Thursday against the Lakers.
1. While it was quite impressive that James on Wednesday became the youngest player ever to reach 20,000 career NBA points, it should be noted that several great scorers from the past would have had a good bit more points than James at age 28 had they not played in college. When it comes to NBA games played in needing to reach 20,000, James, who entered the league directly from high school, ranks just seventh at 726. Wilt Chamberlain needed just 499 games to reach 20,000. Chamberlain wasn’t allowed to enter the NBA until he was 23, having to play with the Harlem Globetrotters for a year after he left Kansas following his junior season.
2. Miami's Erik Spoelstra never has been the coach in an All-Star Game. This finally could be the year. Through games of Feb. 3, the teams with the best record in each conference will send their coaches to the All-Star Game. However, a coach can’t be named to two straight games, which leaves out Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau in the East and Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks in the West. In the East, the Heat (26-12) have a one-game lead over New York (25-13) and Mike Woodson. But the Knicks have five of seven games at home and the Heat four of six on the road before the deadline date for All-Star coaches.
3. Heat point guard Mario Chalmers shot 0-of-3 against the Lakers. Still, his recent three-point marksmanship has been impressive. Prior to Thursday, Chalmers had shot an incredible 16-of-24 from beyond the arc in his previous three games. Before that, Chalmers had a stretch of having gone 7-of-28 over eight games. The Heat need Chalmers, who is shooting 39.8 percent on the season, to make 3-pointers to keep defenses honest.
Quotes of the Week
"We closed out the trip the right way, and we want to build from it. We wanted to do much better, of course, after the way we started, losing to Indiana and Portland."
– James, whose Heat won the final two games of a just-concluded six-game trip after dropping the first two and three of the first four.
“He’s a special guy, a special player. He’s a once in a generation type player. The assists, I think that he’s more so proud of that. The scoring of 20,000 (points), that’s notable for a guy who thinks of scoring as secondary. As a facilitator, he wants to get guys involved. He plays the right way. He just happens to be, arguably the most talented player in the league. He’s been able to do it very quickly.”
– Spoelstra, on James reaching 20,000 and 5,000 assists for his career in Wednesday’s game at Golden State.
“It means a lot. First of all, it means that I’ve been able to be healthy and be out on the floor and be able to do what I love to do. I love the game of basketball and I try to give everything to the game and hopefully it continues to give back to me. It means a lot.”
– James, on reaching 20,000 points and 5,000 assists.
9: Consecutive All-Star Game starts by James, who got the official word Thursday for the Feb. 17 game in Houston. James has the NBA’s longest ongoing streak of actual starts. Kobe Bryant of the Lakers was named Thursday to start his record 15th straight game, but he missed 2010 due to injury.
2: Games Wade has played on his Jan. 17 birthday since entering the NBA in 2003-04. Prior to scoring 27 points Thursday against the Lakers, his only previous birthday game had been scoring 29 in a 93-86 loss in 2009 at Houston.
6: Dunks James had against the Lakers, the most in any game during his three Heat seasons and most he’s had since throwing down seven in a 2009 game against Utah.
What’s Next? Call it an oasis from the road. After Thursday’s win, the Heat don’t play again until next Wednesday, when they’re at home to Toronto. Then after a Jan. 26 home game against Detroit, it’s back out on the road for four games. That will conclude a stretch of 10 of 13 on the road.
Tower of Power? The Heat are when they put their minds to it. After losing three of four to start a six-game trip, they won the final two games. Now, the Heat have to worry about not relaxing during the upcoming home games against the Raptors and Pistons.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson