April 7, 2014
Q: Ira, is small ball back? It looks like Udonis Haslem will be the starting center no matter who they play. And Chris Bosh’s 3-pointers can give them the spacing they had with Shane Battier. — Robert.
A: Honestly, I don’t see any other option at this point. They is no way they can reestablish rhythm with Greg Oden in time, especially with a pair of back-to-back sets remaining, and it’s not as if the Heat are about to mess with the chemistry and energy that Chris Andersen delivers off the bench. As bonus, when teams do match small, it presents the option of Battier entering off the bench at power forward. The greatest challenge, amid the ever-shrinking play of Roy Hibbert, could be how to handle Joakim Noah, if they wind up matching up against the Bulls. That might be asking too much of Haslem, with the possibility of Gator-on-Gator crime. A Bulls series could wind up as Oden’s lone chance for playoff redemption.
Q: J.R. Smith set the NBA record for most 3-point attempts in Sunday’s game with 22. Udonis Haslem tied Alonzo Mourning for the most offensive rebounds in Heat history. I like the hustle stat better. — Stuart.
A: It was a nice moment for Haslem, who offered heartfelt reflections about Mourning after the game. While all that time off might have been difficult for Haslem, he certainly has returned with a hope in his step.
Q: How embarrassing would it be for the Heat if they were to lose to the Pacers on April 11? — Rose.
A: Especially if that is the last game the Pacers win this season.
April 6, 2014
Q: Do you have any reason why Norris Cole was playing all the crunch-time minutes in the fourth quarter and in the overtimes on Friday night? The ‘Wolves left him wide open repeatedly and he missed every shot, and he did some awful fouls at the other end. The guy has been in a slump. Why use him in a two-point-guard lineup? I’d rather see James Jones, Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier or Toney Douglas in there. Heck, go big and bring in Birdman or Udonis Haslem. — Adrian.
A: The Timberwolves went small, with J.J. Barea and Ricky Rubio, at the finish, so Erik Spoelstra was limited in his options, with Ray Allen clearly not quick enough to stay with either. And for all that Douglas can do, 3-point shooting has not necessarily been a strength, which is what the Heat needed with the swarming defense against LeBron James. At this point, Cole has banked some long-term faith from Erik Spoelstra. But it is reaching a point where you can question Cole playing 24:29 after halftime on Friday and Douglas 7:56. Of course, if Dwyane Wade was available, the Cole-Douglas debate would have been moot.
Q: I think if the Heat lose Tuesday to the Nets, they should concede. The Wednesday game at Memphis will be a loss. And beating the Wizards in their final road game will be tough. At first, I thought they should go for the number-one seed in the East. But after Friday night’s loss and looking at their remaining schedule, every game (except the 76ers on the final night of the regular season) is going to be a dogfight. I think they should rest LeBron and just concede the top seed to the Pacers. If Wade wants to play a game or two before playoffs, let him play. But having LeBron play 48 minutes is not worth a potential Game 7 against Pacers, who don’t look like they can win a series. — Jeffrey.
A: First, there is no “conceding.” No matter the lineup, you play to win the game. And LeBron’s 47:57 would have been 37:57 if not for the twos OTs, which no one could have forecast (he played all 10 minutes in those). You don’t get close to something this tangible and then walk away from it. I’m not advocating playing Wade in all four games of the upcoming four-game-in-five-nights, but he has to get back on the court some time, and if he plays, he’s going to play to win.
Q: Would the Heat be better off with a Big Two instead of Big Three? Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade always step up their game when the other one is out, and that’s a lot of salary to pay for a third option instead of investing on better depth. — David.
A: I think after this season, with the onerous “repeater” luxury tax about to enter into play, everything will be on the table for the Heat. Actually, figure everything being on the table for LeBron James, with the Heat likely following his wishes when it comes to roster composition.
April 5, 2014
Q: Didn’t they learn their lesson? Chris Bosh takes the last shot in Indiana, not LeBron James. They do it again Friday and Ray Allen takes the last shot. LeBron should take the last shot every time, especially when Wade is out. — Paul.
A: There certainly are concerns about the Heat’s late-game play calls in those all-or-nothing moments. Bosh’s shot was basically a heave off an inbounds opportunity with two seconds to play against the Pacers, and Allen hardly had a decent look at the end Friday. LeBron did appear in position to get the ball near the basket Friday, but Shane Battier went elsewhere. The irony is if they went to Bosh, he already had hit a key late shot, as he did against the Pacers. Lately the Heat have not been up to the moments that can define playoff series. There should be far better looks, looks that at least give the Heat a chance, in those situations.
Q: Ira, you said the Heat would use the last two weeks of the season to get their rotation set. But there are two weeks left, and Dwyane Wade still is out. Is their rotation ever going to be set? — Richard.
A: It doesn’t appear that way, considering that even if Dwyane does come back for Sunday’s game against the Knicks, a set of four games in five nights follows, meaning he probably will wind up missing at least two additional games. The Heat basically will be re-rotating on the fly at the start of the playoffs. The one thing I can’t fathom at this stage is Greg Oden making it back to the starting lineup, if he is part of the playoff rotation, at all. It is a lot easier to reacclimate with Wade than Oden.
Q: While James Jones has continued to shoot the lights out, it’d be a shame if they can’t find playing time for him once Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen are fully healthy. Do you see a role for him on a healthy team? Is his defense that bad? Or could they play LeBron more at the point or the four to open up playing time for him? I have way more confidence in Jones’ shot compared to Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis or Michael Beasley. — Adrian.
A: I can’t envision the Heat refiguring their rotation for Jones, just as they didn’t after he shot well earlier in the season when Wade was out. And with Lewis’ height, he appears to have the edge in the rotation. Jones will remain a situational option, likely to watch mostly from the end of the bench.
April 4, 2014
Q: Has there been any talk about staying out of the Bulls/Nets bracket? — E.J.
A: First of all, there is no Bulls/Nets bracket, since one likely will finish third in the East and the other will be involved in the opening No. 4 vs. No. 5 series. I just don’t see Toronto at No. 3. So the reality is that you can only dictate so much on your own, with so many moving parts. What you can dictate with the No. 1 seed, however, is guaranteeing homecourt for the first three rounds of the playoffs. All of that said, I would say, in this order, that the teams that create the most difficulty for the Heat in the playoffs are: Indiana, Brooklyn, Chicago and New York. I think the Heat would embrace series against Toronto, Washington, Charlotte or Atlanta, teams that just would be happy to be in the playoffs. (And remember, the NBA does not re-seed in the playoffs, so No. 1, should it advance, faces the winner of No. 4 vs. No. 5, regardless or any other outcomes, just as if No. 2 wins, it would play the winner of No. 3 vs. No. 6.)
Q: Is LeBron James showing signs of being fed up with the Dwyane Wade saga? — Juan.
A: I think it’s more a case of being asked about it so often. He merely is being candid, saying he can’t worry about whether Dwyane is or is not going to be available, but instead has to prepare with those who will be alongside. I think the fact that so many have stepped forward, it makes it easier for LeBron and the Heat to bide time.
Q: Ira, I like Rashard Lewis in the rotation. Is he is taking over the role of Mike Miller? I think we are going to need this guy in the rotation, especially if we face San Antonio again, whose bench is crowded with 3-point shooters. — Roberto.
A: Yet I’m not sure if he plays if everyone is healthy and Ray Allen gets his strength back. That would leave Rashard with the ninth-man role that Michael Beasley/Shane Battier previously had, especially if Udonis Haslem also stays in the rotation. But, then again, Mike also was in that type of role and had his moments, so you never know. What’s encouraging is that Rashard has re-instilled confidence. That is comforting.
April 3, 2014
Q: The Knicks will be swept out in the first round, if they make it there. — Ananth.
A: Look, I’m not overstating New York. But, unlike the Hawks, the Knicks wouldn’t just be glad to be there. And Amare Stoudemire is actually accomplishing things lately, and Tyson Chandler is getting closer to his game, plus Carmelo Anthony has it in him to win a game, or two. The Hawks would be a path of lesser resistance, even if Paul Millsap gets his numbers. But it looks like fate demands another round of Heat-Knicks in the playoffs, which is where the current No. 1-vs.-No. 8 seedings stand. It suddenly doesn’t look as clear of a Heat road to the NBA Finals when the possible path is New York, Brooklyn and then either Chicago or Indiana. Buckle up.
Q: The good thing about using James Jones, Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem is they are all rested and have fresh legs. — Martin.
A: Sure, if victories over the Bucks in March and April are the goal. But while fresh legs are good, Dwyane Wade’s and Ray Allen’s legs are better, and they have to be up to speed for the Heat to have any true postseason prospects. This will be a delicate dance for Erik Spoelstra over these final two weeks of the season, but getting Wade and Allen in rhythm with the rest of the rotation players is far more significant than continuing to realize unexpected contributions from the end of the bench.
Q: Congratulations to Alonzo Mourning. I will always remember Game 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals in Dallas. Alonzo refused to let the Miami Heat lose. Also, I remember his class and strength in having to lift Pat Riley’s spirits after another tough lose to the Knicks in the playoffs. And I remember him and Shaquille O’Neal taking Dwayne Wade for car rides at night in June 2006 to keep him focused on the task at hand. Alonzo represents so many of the great qualities we admire in individuals. He started the tradition of the highest standards of Heat basketball. — Stuart.
A: He is a fitting choice as the first Heat player to be inducted, to be followed, down the road by Wade, LeBron James and possibly Chris Bosh, in addition to Shaq. Alonzo’s growth with the Heat was remarkable, as both player and person.
April 2, 2014
Q: Ira, has the Heat’s focus on the Pacers been misplaced? How is that team going to make it through two rounds? They can’t even make it past the Cavs. — Julian.
A: I’ve always thought the notion of “Game 7 against the Pacers” has been misguided. It’s almost as if was taken as a sure thing that the Pacers would make it through their half of the bracket. I don’t know much about odds-making, but I do wonder what the odds would look like, at this moment, for a Pacers series against the Bulls or Nets, even with Indiana holding homecourt. What Erik Spoelstra has stressed is the Heat looking in the mirror, rather than worrying about what’s going on elsewhere. Honestly, I can’t recall a single time that a Heat player has either asked or spoken about a Pacers result this season. I know that hasn’t been the case in the Indiana locker room when it has come to the Heat’s results.
Q: Do you have any clue why Coach Spo isn’t playing Michael Beasley lately, particularly when the Heat have been shorthanded? When he’s played, Beasley has been terrific both on the offensive end and on the defensive end. I don’t get it. Monday night was a prime example: When LeBron James and Chris Bosh were resting, the Heat had a lineup in which Rashard Lewis was ostensibly the featured scorer. Beasley would have been a far better choice for that role. — David.
A: First, I think having both LeBron and Bosh off the floor was a reach with any lineup, when Dwyane Wade has been out. What we’re seeing is a coach who is more comfortable at this stage of the season with Lewis than Beasley. And sometimes that’s all it comes down to, coaching comfort. Rashard has been in playoff-like moments before. Michael? Not so much. In the end, it is likely that the playing time for both will be meager in the most meaningful playoff moments.
Q: If the Heat could pick their first-round opponent, who would it be? — Mike.
A: Well, if this was the D-League playoffs, it would come down to who gets the final spot in the East. If the Knicks get No. 8, I think the Heat would prefer Charlotte over the potential headaches of a series against New York. But if the Hawks or the Cavaliers get No. 8 in the East, I think that would be their choice. Of course, it’s a moot point. They get who they get, and they don’t get upset.
April 1, 2014
Q: Toney Douglas handles the ball with authority. He was plus-10 against the Raptors vs. Norris Cole at minus-nine. And LeBron James showed the confidence to pass to him for that late 3-pointer. Should he be playing ahead of Cole? — L.K.
A: Toney Douglas did Monday night what Rashard Lewis and James Jones previously have done: fill a void at a time of need. But this still comes down to what the Heat do when Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen are in the rotation. While it might be easier to make the argument at the moment for Douglas over Cole, Norris certainly had his moments in last year’s playoffs. I will say this: Toney Douglas has contributed far more than I ever could have fathomed when he was acquired as an add-on in the Joel Anthony salary dump.
Q: What happened to the Pacers? Is it possible the loss of Danny Granger affected this team? Danny Granger was the one shining star on bad Pacers teams after Ron Artest/Stephen Jackson were shipped out of town and before the current version of Paul George/Roy Hibbert/David West. It is as if all the fight in the Pacers left town when Granger left. Maybe it shows the importance of certain guys and the chemistry they create on a team. That doesn’t show up in any of the analytics everyone is excited to follow. — Stuart.
A: Which is perhaps why the Heat held on to Udonis Haslem and didn’t make any moves of desperation at the trading or buyouts deadlines, These Heat players are who we thought they were. By contrast, no one knows what to make of the Pacers at the moment.
Q: Ira, are the Heat done with Greg Oden? Will he ever play again? I can’t see him starting. — Steve.
A: “Done” is a strong word, but so were some of the expectations. Yes, he likely will play again, because there well could be inconsequential games at the close of the regular season. But I think the Heat have moved on, especially with what Haslem has provided. What Oden has achieved is remarkable simply by making it back to the court after four years away. But the door on experimentation is closing. The next step for Oden could be whether he wants to commit to a full offseason with the Heat, to see if he can maximize his possibilities with the team. I think right now, while the back might be an issue, he also is worn down.
March 31, 2014
Q: Why keep Michael Beasley if he isn’t going to play? He’s the fourth-most-talented player on the team. — Faye. Why aren’t the Heat playing Michael Beasley? — Robert. Beasley can’t get minutes over Rashard Lewis, why? — Vlad. (And many more like those).
A: First of all, this isn’t a democracy. Erik Spoelstra plays who he feels most comfortable with. And, let’s face it, Rashard Lewis’ play has been comforting in recent games, plus he has big-game pedigree from his time with the Magic. This isn’t as much about Beasley as about better options. It was telling, however, postgame in Milwaukee, when Spoelstra said of Lewis, “I feel very secure with Rashard in the lineup, because we can play our game. But he’s a pro. He keeps himself ready. He does the things that we need on both ends. He’s a heady defensive player, gets in the right spots, and offensively, he’s very smart. There’s a flow to our game when he’s in there. He certainly hasn’t hurt himself.” While he wasn’t speaking about Beasley, it was clear there is greater comfort with Lewis. And that’s if either winds up playing, anyway, once the regulars return and the rotation again is whole.
Q: Ira, they should give Justin Hamilton some minutes to see what he’s capable of doing. — John
A: Not with Udonis Haslem regaining his way, and with Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen playing well. Justin was brought back with an eye toward the future, which is why the Heat made sure to add a team option for next season with certain guarantee dates. Remember, Greg Oden’s contract is expiring and Birdman can opt out, so the Heat covered themselves in the middle. But I can’t fathom, other than giving players time off late in the season when locked into seeding, Justin getting much in the way of playing time. That is why he was sent to the D-League last weekend for a couple of games of seasoning.
Q: I am not asking this because Evan Turner hit two big shots the other night against the Heat. But why was it OK for the 76ers to basically dump talent at the trading deadline to the point where they are no longer competitive (Spencer Hawes gone and Evan Turner traded for nothing in return because Danny Granger was released) when it wasn’t OK for the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul? Why did the Commissioner step in to prevent the Lakers from becoming a super power and stop New Orleans from destroying their team, when it is OK for the 76ers to liquidate their talent? — Stuart.
A: First of all, the Chris Paul issue came at an awkward time for the NBA, while it was managing the Hornets/Pelicans while searching for new owners. So your argument is somewhat apples to oranges. But the greater point is how tanking teams are impacting the playoff balance, including the actual games, when winning no longer is a priority. The 76ers could yet have a playoff impact, just not for themselves, but rather the teams they will concede victory to, as they battle the Bucks for the top lottery seed.
March 30, 2014
Q: Is it my imagination or has Norris Cole regressed this season? At one time, I thought that if we lost Mario Chalmers to free agency, Cole would just slide into the starting role at point guard and the Heat would sign a veteran as a backup. Now that seems like wishful thinking. Speaking of Chalmers, before he was hurt, he was continuing on his pace of four or five bad games and one good game. It doesn’t seem like he will ever change. — David.
A: It is very possible you will see a dramatically different alignment at point guard next season, with Chalmers to hit free agency this summer. And I agree that Norris’ play has dropped off significantly, including some ugly moments Saturday in Milwaukee, when he shot 2 of 8, outplayed by Toney Douglas. But Norris did save his best for last a year ago, with his strong postseason play and incredible playoff 3-point shooting, so there still might be time to build some front-office confidence. And it’s not as if Douglas is any sort of long-term answer.
Q: Ira, our bench is more than the failed acquisitions of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, it’s about collective depth. Heat teams have always had solid blue-collar contributors off the bench, but never a stand-out star. Time to hang Beasley and Oden up.– Matt.
A: Based on these past few games, it would not surprise me during the playoffs if there are times when either Oden or Beasley join Justin Hamilton on the inactive list. Oden is severely limited against teams that go small, as Brooklyn has been doing, and Beasley wound up with the same minutes Saturday at Justin Hamilton.
Q: Can we just leave Dwyane Wade out for the rest of this year? This is getting old with him. I wonder if it will affect LeBron James’ decision. — Faye.
A: The only impact Wade will have on LeBron’s decision will be the final impression. If Wade can be Wade during the playoffs, then all will be forgotten. If Dwyane has to miss time during the postseason, as well, then LeBron certainly would have to consider diminishing returns going forward. To a degree, Dwyane saving himself could help save LeBron, if Dwyane can be at his postseason best.
March 29, 2014
Q: The Pacers still have a tough schedule (tougher than the Heat). Do you think the Heat are now conceding number the number-one seed in the East? — Jeffrey.
A: I don’t think the approach changes at all for the Heat. They still will rest players when rest is needed, go all-out when everyone is available. No matter the lineups, I believe the Heat still will play for the best seed possible. But any 50-50 decisions with players’ health will lead to a night off, as has been the case all season. There still are plenty of challenging games left for the Heat against teams involved in playoff races, such as the Raptors, Nets, Wizards, Knicks and Hawks. And that’s a good thing. There is no better way to stay sharp than to play desperate opponents. All of that said, Heat players were well aware in the locker room of the Pacers having lost on Friday against the Wizards. In their view, No. 1 in the East remains possible.
Q: If I am Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, I put Udonis Haslem back in the starting lineup and run the first few plays of a game on offense for Haslem. If Haslem is hitting his shot, the Heat become unstoppable. If teams have to play him, everything opens up with good spacing for the Heat. —
A: First of all, this is all Erik Spoelstra’s call; Pat Riley doesn’t dictate lineups. But it sure seems, even if Haslem isn’t hitting that shot, that that’s where this is headed, with Haslem in the starting power rotation alongside Chris Bosh. Friday was another step forward for Udonis. Bosh, Haslem and Chris Andersen all have earned time ahead of Greg Oden in the power rotation.
Q: Does this mean that James Jones could be added to the rotation when the Heat are shooting poorly from 3-point land? — Whodie.
A: Yes, in the games when Ray Allen isn’t available, which doesn’t figure to be many. In fact, if Dwyane Wade was available Friday against the Pistons, it is likely Jones wouldn’t have played at all, with Rashard Lewis seemingly now ahead of him in the rotation. Jones remains a comfortable fallback option. The reality is Ray Allen was playing his best ball of the season before this stomach virus.
March 28, 2014
Q: I hate to say it, but the recent slump also coincides with giving Greg Oden more minutes and even starting him. Maybe he can provide some bulk against backup centers, but right now he isn’t a championship-caliber starter. — David
A: You are absolutely correct, and I think deep down Erik Spoelstra knows and recognizes it, as well. From the start, Oden had to be a dominating presence on the defensive end to make this work, considering how he dramatically changes the spacing on the offensive end. And he has not been that, with undersized Udonis Haslem doing far more to leverage Roy Hibbert on Wednesday night than what Oden could accomplish with his lack of mobility. Look, this already has been an incredible story of perseverance to make it back this far. The story is not a failure, just one that needs to be continued at a different time. If this was another time in the NBA, Greg Oden would be a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. But the award now is Most Improved Player, and Greg Oden is not that. What he is is a study in determination, and for that he should be lauded.
Q: Chris Bosh’s comments sure were bordering on a fine for complaining about officiating, weren’t they? — Moshe.
A: Yes. But the NBA also appreciates that emotions can run high after an emotional game, and that it was not the easiest game to officiate. And for all the grousing from the Heat, keep in mind that in a brutal, knockdown, violent game, the Pacers lost Lance Stephenson for talking and taunting. That might have been the most brutal call of them all. A delay-of-game for the second technical would have been the justifiable way out.
Q: The difference between Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and LeBron James is that on the last play Wednesday night, Jordan would have taken the ball and gone for the game winner. Kobe the same. They would have overruled Phil Jackson! — Stuart.
A: And LeBron has done that plenty of times, too. But Chris Bosh has been really good in those situations this season. The difference is that if Spoelstra wanted Bosh getting his bread-and-butter shot, then they should have run some misdirection with LeBron and screened for Bosh, so he could set his feet and gather, rather than going for two passes off a side-out with two seconds left. Live and learn.
March 27, 2014
Q: With Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers playing horrible, no Ray Allen, taking away a 3-pointer from Dwyane Wade, not calling the flagrant fouls on the blows to LeBron James, I feel very well. — Leo.
A: Then, at least for the moment, you stand alone. Heat players felt Wednesday’s game in Indiana was one that got away for far more than that. They had a late lead and couldn’t hold it. Through all that might have gone wrong, they still felt they had it. And then they couldn’t close. And that’s something a championship team has to be able to do. That’s why LeBron and Bosh were so sullen afterward. There simply won’t be many opportunities for quality statement games the remainder of the season, save, perhaps for the game in Memphis and the visit by Indiana. This was moment they allowed to get away.
Q: Greg Oden was the question and Udonis Haslem was the answer on Wednesday night. — Chris.
A: I’m not sure there are any “answers” when you lose, but there now is a huge question mark with Oden, who simply wasn’t up to the moment he was added for. Even before the game, Erik Spoelstra tried to backtrack on the expectations, saying Greg wasn’t signed as a “Hibbert stopper.” Then, after the game, Spoelstra spoke of how Oden played well in his limited minutes. At the moment, it appears Oden’s stock is as down as Haslem’s stock is up.
Q: Ira, will Rashard Lewis continue to get minutes the rest of the year? I don’t understand Spoelstra, why he was so in love with Michael Beasley. — Mark.
A: I doubt Beasley would agree with your characterization, considering the erratic minutes he has endured, even when playing well at times. I just think Erik has been cycling through as many combinations as possible, to see what works, what doesn’t. I am surprised that Rashard was pushed so far down the rotation, considering there were positive results when he was on the court earlier in the season and then again on Wednesday. But Spoelstra does have a way of cycling back through players, as evidenced by the reemergence of Haslem. Still, once you re-inject Ray Allen into the mix, the minutes will be limited. The real loser in the equation might be Shane Battier. Of course, with the Heat, it’s all cyclical, seemingly.
March 26, 2014
Q: Some people forget very easily. They forget about Dwyane Wade, too. Real fans ride the waves. — Phyllis.
A: Well, there certainly has been a lot of surfing with Dwyane this season, considering the 19 games he already has missed, mostly due to his knee-maintenance program. The reality is we went into the season basically figuring on Dwyane missing about 20 games, considering all the back-to-backs. But when you actually experience all the missed times, it does seem like a lot. And with four back-to-back sets left, he’ll probably wind up sitting out more than a quarter of the season. All of that said, if he has 10 to 15 Wade-like games in the playoffs, all will be forgotten. But if the knee problems prove problematic in the postseason, that is when it will be time to reflect on counting on him so much to be a playoff difference maker.
Q: With all this talk about D-Wade sitting out games on a regular basis putting the team off rhythm, D-Wade should make the ultimate sacrifice and come off the bench. It not only boosts the bench, but will also result in a consistent starting lineup. — Ananth.
A: And that’s not happening, because one of the things that makes Dwyane who he is, is his pride. Move him to the bench, and some of that would be lost. Nor is it necessary. Look, without Dwyane at the top of his game, a third consecutive championship is going to be a longshot. The Heat need him to be a major contributor, a contributor playering starter’s minutes. Perhaps there could be something to moving to the bench later in his career. But let’s face it, it’s not as if there is a definitive replacement option at the moment, anyway. And Ray Allen has been so good lately in his sixth-man role at shooting guard that I’m not sure you want to tinker with that approach.
Q: What specific changes would you make to the starting five and reserves if you were Coach Ira? What about dusting off Rashard Lewis or James Jones? It just seems to me that something needs to be done. — Brian.
A: I wouldn’t change a thing. I would just tell the players it has to be done better. Look, this bench is not what we thought it was. But as I mentioned above, I wouldn’t implode the second unit for a better first five. Allen and Chris Andersen have been particularly effective off the bench. What I might do is keep Udonis Haslem in the rotation even in the games that Greg Oden starts. I think Haslem’s grit is built for the playoffs. I’m also not sure how much Shane Battier has left in his tank.
March 25, 2014
Q: Is Wednesday’s game against the Pacers a “must win”? After all, if they can’t get it together against their biggest rival for a nationally televised game, there’s little hope they can get it together for the playoffs. — David.
A: I don’t know if it’s “must win,” but it is must-show-up-and-be-heard-from. If there’s no fire Wednesday . . . well, there might not be any fire left after three consecutive visits to the NBA Finals. But no games mean as much as playoff games. So it’s not as if the season ends with a loss Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. No one will remember a late-March game in June if they Heat are parading a trophy down Biscayne Boulevard. In fact, Wednesday is fascinating on so many levels. If the Heat win, it will make almost all of their remaining games meaningful. But do they want that, having to push through to the end? No matter what, it’ll be fun. And intense.
Q: As this season winds down, the media will up the heat on the Heat players about their status next year, and the quest for three-peat will become a secondary issue. The storyline about what team LeBron James will be on next year is more interesting than if he can win his third ring. The same is true for almost all the Heat players, who do not know who will be with the team next season. This leads to a lack of loyalty and cohesiveness to the Heat squad, which is showing up on the court as James’ decision time inches closer. — L.K.
A: I disagree. Winning a championship remains the priority throughout the roster. LeBron knows his money will come from anywhere he wants. And Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still have two years and more than $40 million left on their deals if they don’t opt out, so they’re set, too. As for players in the final years of their contracts, it’s safe to say, at their ages, that a title remains more of a focus for Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones than lining up future employment.
Q: Hey Ira, why is Erik Spoelstra giving time off to the players amid this slump so late in the season? Even if they have a relaxed shootaround or just a walkthrough practice with no high intensity training, it will be beneficial. All this time apart from each other is only affecting the chemistry. — Ryan, England.
A: Because if a player is injured, he’s injured. And Wade said his ankle wouldn’t let him play Monday against the Trail Blazers. Look, I agree that cohesion trumps almost all. What it doesn’t trump is health in the playoffs. That still means the most to this team or any team. So if Wade doesn’t feel right on Wednesday, he sits. Period.
March 24, 2014
Q: Why do you think the Miami Heat have not been able to find markers this season to stay motivated and produce at the level the team is capable of during the regular season? Per LeBron James, please no excuses. I know the sky is not falling (only two losses behind Indiana in the East), but the Heat are not playing to their potential. It is very unusual for a Pat Riley type team to lose to all these subpar teams. These games against subpar .500 teams were gimmes in the past. The Heat culture (a world-class organization) has always been about outworking the other team. All seasons long May/June speak has seemed to allow a lack of focus, effort and hard work to seep into the regular season, which in turn might be the reason the Heat could be home watching this May/June. Defense is all effort. — Stuart.
A: It has been a fine line all season, especially with the “maintenance” programs from Dwyane Wade, Greg Oden and others. Because of that approach, the Heat essentially were saying that certain games mattered more than others. Again, to reiterate what I have mentioned previously in this space, what the Heat need to do are designate certain games the balance of the regular season as “all-in” games, and use those as pre-playoff training camp. They don’t have to make the choices of those games public, we should simply know it by their play.
Q: Wow. LeBron was pissed last night. He couldn’t even look into the camera (which tells you something) when he talked about the team having too many excuses. He is not even comfortable voicing his frustration. What I find hard to understand is, if LeBron is the leader on this team, why can’t he talk to his teammates and figure out what is going on? He has the respect of his teammates, at least that is what the fans and media are lead to believe. So as the leader, he should be able to talk to his team and find out what the problem is. There is an elephant in the room and no one is talking! — Steve.
A: Perhaps the elephant in the room are the back spasms that can be so debilitating, which he has played through. But if that is the case (and I think it is), then his teammates should step up for him, let him know they have his back, just as he has had their backs for so long. I think that LeBron James, at least at the moment, can’t be MVP LeBron James. That is frustrating him, thus the muted anger.
Q: What I miss with Michael Beasley is his lack of fire on-court, that a Joakim Noah or LeBron James bring. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant all had that winning intensity to dive for loose balls and always being involved, without being stupid like Kendrick Perkins or Ron Artest. Even Babe Ruth would fight with fans and even go into seats when provoked. Norris Cole has mellowed out somewhat lately and lost his edge. Beasley needs to be yelled at and reminded he will be back on the street unless his court play brings the all-out fire of a Noah. When some players step on the court I feel the motor and energy level of the Heat disappear. — L.K.
A: Agreed. It might be one thing for a LeBron or even Wade (or Ray Allen or Shane Battier at their ages) to pace themselves. But from Beasley, Cole and Mario Chalmers, it should be full fury, on both ends of the floor. Yes, a coach needs to motivate, but at this level, players have to be self-motivated.
March 23, 2014
Q: Ira, I’ve seen people bashing Chris Bosh on Twitter about calling out the team but not stepping up himself, but that’s not the issue I have. The issue I have is that LeBron James wasn’t as strong in his comments Saturday, that Dwyane Wade has downplayed every loss, that no one is stepping up and saying anything except Bosh, and maybe Udonis Haslem. — Burt.
A: But Saturday was a start, and I love what Bosh said, that the Heat have yet to open up amongst themselves and discuss their issues, candidly, frankly. At times, they get so caught in being the “Heatles” and their parties and endorsements and putting the face of a champion on the product, that they too easily push aside how difficult it can be to produce enduring success. I love that Bosh said something, and an airing of grievances at this stage almost seems essential, and might prove cathartic. No, the sky probably isn’t falling, but you never want to get too close to that reality.
Q: Please tell me what all those losses to bad teams mean? Are there legit issues that will hurt them in the playoffs, or should I be frustrated by their lack of motivation? C’mon, Pelicans? Celtics? Nuggets? These teams aren’t even really trying to win, so playing without Dwyane Wade or LeBron James is not even an excuse. And there’s no way the Heat should be conceding the top seed. They would have caught the Pacers by now without these horrible losses. Or should I feel good that they can still beat better teams like the Grizzlies and Rockets? — Adrian.
A: I don’t see how anyone can feel “good” at the moment. And, yes, there should be concern. But I think it’s more the mental part, keeping focus. Too often recently, especially against the lesser teams, there have been attempts to take the easy way out. That might work against lesser teams (although it mostly hasn’t), but doesn’t build the habits needed to success. Right now, the Heat’s habits are horrid.
Q: Are we going to have any continuity going into the playoffs? Or do we plan on using the first two rounds for that? — Alain.
A: No, and no. With the remaining schedule, it is clear that both Wade and Greg Oden will miss additional time the balance of the regular season. But there had better be some chemistry before the playoffs, with the chance of facing the Knicks in the opening round and the Bulls in the second round. While the Heat might not be sweating such possibilities, those won’t be the time to fiddle with chemistry, either. Basically, the Heat have to target “X” number of games to have their primary rotation intact and use those games as their pre-playoff training camp. There still are enough possibilities for that, including the impending tests Monday against the Trail Blazers at home and then Wednesday in Indiana.
March 22, 2014
Q: Miami is doing nothing productive with that open roster spot. — Shane.
A: I agree. While it’s nice to have Justin Hamilton in the developmental pipeline, and while it might have been nice to get a look at DeAndre Liggins, at least in practice, for a team that is all about the moment, you would think Roger Mason Jr. would have been of greater benefit. It’s almost as if the Heat released Mason in advance of the buyout deadline with another veteran in mind, a veteran they were unable to land. And while the Heat still can add a veteran, the fact that the Heat wrote Hamilton’s contract to include partial guarantees for next season makes that less likely. These 15 likely will be the 15 going into the playoffs. At times Friday, you had to wonder if the Heat couldn’t have used another big body, the way Zach Randolph was going off.
Q: The Heat really need a low-post enforcer, someone to grab rebounds and protect the paint. — Shane.
A: I think they have that, to a degree, in Chris Andersen. In fact, while Birdman has played so well lately, my concern is the Heat might be burning him out before the playoffs. At times, you forget that he’s 35, even if it’s a low-mileage 35, due to his time out of the league. I asked him about that recently, but he said never to doubt his motor. OK, then — a Bird with a motor.
Q: With Andrew Bynum out indefinitely, I guess the Heat have done a better job monitoring Greg Oden’s minutes. — Jeffrey.
A: Apples and oranges. I don’t think Bynum expected to be in full rehab mode this season, while that was the plan with Oden from the outset. To a degree, the Heat are trying to build Oden up for the playoffs, while the Pacers might now be moving the other way, and distancing themselves from Bynum. It will be interesting on Wednesday night to see where Oden stands when it comes to the Pacers — or whether Erik Spoelstra holds that off until the playoffs.
March 21, 2014
Q: Looking at the current Eastern Conference playoff bracket, it almost favors the Heat to sit tight and avoid the Bulls, Nets, Pacers until the Eastern Conference finals. — Corey.
A: But if you fancy yourself as a true championship contender, then it shouldn’t be about the opponents, but rather maximizing homecourt advantage, which for the Heat has been significant this season (have you seen them lately on the road?). Beyond that, there remains way too much in play to guarantee that a No. 2 seed would avoid the Bulls or Nets in the second round. It’s not as if Toronto has locked up the No. 3 seed by any means. (And don’t understate how the Raptors have played over the second half of the season.) Yes, the Bulls can punish you and the Nets have tons of playoff experience. But if the Heat are who they think they are, then it again will come down to their ability to impose their game. Right now, any series against anyone in the top seven in the East could be a struggle. The Heat need to focus on themselves, their game, not seedings or potential matchups. They’re pretty much as close to a mess as you can be for a two-time defending champion with a month left in the regular season.
Q: The coach and his crazy rotations are to blame. This team wins on talent, not coaching. — Junior.
A: Whoa. Are the rotations to blame when Dwyane Wade or LeBron James are not playing? And what’s a coach to do when neither of his point guards are playing well? Yes, I agree it comes down to the players, but it also comes down to figuring out what combinations work, which is what Erik Spoelstra is cycling through right now. It’s better for Spoelstra to get a read on Michael Beasley and Greg Oden in March than leave himself open to surprise in May or June.
Q: Ira, Metta World Peace is still out there and playoff-eligible. Why not bring in another perimeter stopper? — Sam.
A: Because the player formerly known as Ron Artest hardly has been that for a while. It’s interesting, because if Metta knew that Phil Jackson was going to be taking over the Knicks, I’m wondering if he still would have requested his buyout.
March 20, 2014
Q: Hey Ira, what will it take for Miami to get focused and start playing well? They have looked lost. And the playoffs are coming. — Daniel.
A: What it will take is a fixed rotation in place for an extended period, where everyone can get comfortable with their roles and assignments and responsibilities. Look, I can appreciate Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley placing a priority on health for the playoffs. I get that. And if it means sacrificing a few March victories, there is no issue with that. But what this team needs, whether it is now, in two weeks or two weeks after that, is an extended period where everyone plays, the lineup is set, the rotation is stable and everything is defined and delineated. They appeared to have that going into and then coming out of the All-Star break. And then, for whatever reason, it went south. Another run like that would inspire much-needed confidence. Getting physically right is one thing. Getting mentally right could be just as significant.
Q: I’m sorry, seeing the Heat play games like Wednesday night is humiliating. — Chet.
A: Put it this way, what if you were running a race, and no matter how fast or how slow you ran, you still always wound up in the same place? To a degree, the Heat are in the midst of a Groundhog Day reality of second place in the Eastern Conference. Yes, an argument could be made with the Pacers struggling that first place could have been theirs, but based on Dwyane Wade’s maintenance program, the decision that Greg Oden doesn’t play back-to-backs, and then giving LeBron James rest, it is clear that the No. 1 seed simply is not a priority. The priority is finish top two in the East and healthy. The question now is whether mental health should also be taken into consideration.
Q: Why do the Heat never play hard against bad teams? — Jeffrey.
A: Because they think they don’t have to . . . until it is too late.
March 19, 2014
Q: Last year, Birdman was a foul magnet and needed playing time to work that out. It took him weeks to work that out. I hope Greg Oden can work that out by playoff time. — Martin.
A: Oden clearly needs time, and it’s better to see what he can or cannot do now, rather than during the playoffs. It’s almost as if Erik Spoelstra put this process in motion to give Greg ample time to be ready for next week’s matchup against the Pacers and Roy Hibbert. My concern remains that the move allows Hibbert to remain planted in the post defensively, almost as a goaltender. But, you’re right, Chris Andersen came around in last season’s playoffs after shaking the rust. Still, Tuesday was another shaky ride for Greg. And again, it is a somewhat odd role, never returning after starting each half. If anything, the power-rotation revelation Tuesday was Udonis Haslem, who came up with four steals in his eight minutes.
Q: Dwyane Wade always gets the rest. Do you think that LeBron needs rest, a game off at some point? — Faye.
A: Actually, I thought Tuesday might have been a good spot for that. But with the back-to-back, Dwyane was given the rest, instead. I’m curious how Spoelstra will approach the next back-to-back, with a home game Friday against Mike Miller and the Grizzlies and a Saturday game in New Orleans. Wade likely will miss one of those, but I’m wondering whether Spoelstra will push LeBron through four games in five nights, which the Heat also have later in the season, as well. After what LeBron did on Tuesday night, perhaps he gets Wednesday night off for good behavior against the Cavaliers.
Q: Miller Lite should do a Phil Jackson/Pat Riley commercial. — Stuart.
A: The thing is, the Knicks first have to rise to a meaningful level, and based on their salary-cap position, it’s not likely to happen for them next season, either. I am curious to see if Phil takes as public a position in the stands as Pat does at Heat home games. Jackson being back is good for the league, and if Heat-Knicks can rekindle their rivalry, that would be great for the NBA.
March 18, 2014
Q: Has Erik Spoelstra lost his faith in Michael Beasley again? — Jax.
A: I don’t think there ever was a point where there was unqualified faith. And with this latest lineup change, it basically inserts Greg Oden into the first nine on a team that rarely goes deeper. As I wrote after the victory over the Rockets, the only way Beasley keeps his minutes with the move of Oden into the starting lineup would be if Shane Battier were to complete lose his minutes. Instead, Battier played well off the bench Sunday, playing more minutes than in his typical starts. Michael Beasley has been a luxury for the Heat and Spoelstra this season. For the moment, it is one Spoelstra apparently can’t afford in his rotation. But keep in mind, Dwyane Wade still will get time off during the balance of the season, especially in sets of four games in five nights like the current one. Plus, Spoelstra has basically said Oden will not play both nights of back-to-backs, something Oden hasn’t done yet. So you’ll still be seeing Michael, probably just not as often as earlier this month.
Q: If Spoelstra can find a way to make it work for Oden, doesn’t Udonis Haslem deserve the same chance? — Steve.
A: Honestly, the guy I’m a little surprised about not getting another chance is Rashard Lewis, who played well when given minutes and then vanished when the rotation tightened. And I’m still not sold on Oden as a starting answer against the Pacers, since it could make it easier for Roy Hibbert to pack the paint unless Oden can seal him off.
Q: Why aren’t we seeing more of LeBron James in the post this year? It’s almost non-existent again. — Eldrick.
A: He went there several times against the Nuggets, then got away from it. It has been noticeable, perhaps because of the increased efficiency of his jumper. But now, if the Heat truly plan to start both Oden and Chris Bosh, it’s not as if there will be much space to operate in the post with the starters.
March 17, 2014
Q: Greg Oden did not look good Sunday against the Rockets, especially on offense. It surprised he ended up with six rebounds. I hoped he would be further along at this point. It’s hard to imagine him helping them much in the playoffs. — David.
A: I think it is a legitimate issue for the Heat, which is probably why he was, to a degree, force-fed into the starting lineup Sunday. As I’ve been saying for weeks, now is the time to figure out if this can work, can allow the offense to stay in rhythm, can work without foul trouble. It’s better to get the answers now, even if they aren’t the ones you’re looking for, then to go in blind against Roy Hibbert and the Pacers or another playoff team with an oversized big man.
Q: Come on Ira, Andrew Bynum is looking good for the Pacers. It seems like the Heat could have used a bit of that inside productivity. Why we didn’t go after Bynum still baffles me. I love Oden, but he hasn’t put together those numbers in all games combined (exaggerated). It just seem like the Heat should have known that losing out on Bynum would be huge. When Roy Hibbert goes out, in come Bynum and Luis Scola. How will we combat that? — Keith.
A: By having LeBron James on the floor. Look I’m not saying that Oden ever would have been a game-changer in Heat-Pacers, but I still have severe doubts that Bynum will be either. Every minute that Bynum plays for the Pacers is a minute that Hibbert or David West is not on the floor.
Q: I remember your continued calls for a third point guard, and looking at how Patrick Beverley plays and how James Jones doesn’t, it’s a shame. — Lef.
A: Look, Beverley is yesterday’s news for the Heat. They went with Eddie House in 2010 because they were in win-now mode, and I have no issue with that. But as with so many others on this roster, they have had Roger Mason Jr. and Toney Douglas, and there still is a lack of trust in anyone beyond Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole at point guard, with Douglas utilized for all of 1:40 Sunday. I know the Heat say otherwise (as they should), but there sure seem to be plenty of players on this roster in whom there is little faith. Then again, the versatility of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier allow you to make more out of an eight-man rotation than most teams.
March 16, 2014
Q: The Big Three have worked well again this season, while Greg Oden and Michael Beasley have not so far. Pat Riley is so savvy that he is already planning his moves for next season, learning from the personnel mistakes he made this year. — L.K.
A: But that’s next year. To a degree, as Rashard Lewis, Roger Mason Jr., James Jones and even Toney Douglas have fallen to the wayside, it’s as if Beasley and Oden have to be able to make it work in order for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to have the needed support. While Ray Allen certainly took a step forward on Friday night, there continues to be regression from Norris Cole. The question about the Heat’s depth at this late hour is both legitimate and somewhat disturbing.
Q: I know Toney Douglas isn’t the long-term answer, but what happened to adapting during the game? If Cole and Mario Chalmers are letting guys burn by them, might as well try Douglas. — Scott, Los Angeles.
A: Well, if you’re a regular reader of this space, you know that I had been an advocate for years of a third point guard, albeit more in case of injury than any other reason. But your point is valid, especially for this reason: The Heat have far too many players on this team who have no role whatsoever. There is nothing wrong with specialists, as long as your specialty is not “DNP-CD”.
Q: Please explain to me why Shane Battier is still starting. He hasn’t produced at all. It’s time for a change. Please Spo! — Justin.
A: And yet, a change at this point just might be construed as panic.
March 15, 2014
Q: LeBron James’ passive fourth-quarter play of late reminds me of LeBron’s performance against Dallas in the 2011 Finals. — Stuart.
A: It’s interesting, because some (if not most) of LeBron’s best ball of the season came when as Dwyane Wade was working himself back to the point of health he is now. During those 2011 Finals, and even through most of that 2010-11 season, LeBron had difficulty adjusting to when to defer and when to take over. Now Wade is getting many of the fourth-quarter looks (although that wasn’t necessarily the case Friday) and I’m wondering if LeBron is again caught between deferring and dominating. His postgame comments indicate a lack of comfort during certain situations, with perhaps another readjustment process in play.
Q: At what point does Erik Spoelstra go after this team? If he can’t or won’t, then Pat Riley needs to! Their play is simply pathetic! No excuses. — Faye.
A: Well, after giving them Thursday off and going without a game-morning shootaround on Friday, Erik has them back at practice for a Saturday session. It’s a fine balance after making it to the NBA Finals each of the past three seasons. On one hand, the Heat again could be playing into late June. On the other hand, Spoelstra has to make sure there is enough precision in place to make it that far. But this is not about Spoelstra or Riley. It’s about the Heat’s leaders stepping up, LeBron being more forceful late, Wade taking the right shots, Chris Bosh doing more than shooting 3-pointers.
Q: I am good with the Justin Hamilton move. He’s young, big and can score, and he rebounds. I wish they could find one more player who plays point. — Chet.
A: Hamilton is all about the future. By signing him for the balance of the season, the Heat know they can have him in their summer program. Remember, there should be plenty opportunities for youth next season, with Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones among those at the ends of their contracts. Hamilton and 2013 second-round pick James Ennis should get first crack at roster spots, along with the Heat’s first-round pick, with Riley already out scouting college tournaments. As for point guard, the Heat already have Toney Douglas. He probably is as good as anything they could get at this point (although I remain intrigued by Roddy Beaubois, especially if they could get him to commit to a team option for next season, provided he finally is healthy). But you’re right, Friday was yet another uneven performance by the Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole tandem.
March 14, 2014
(Note: The mailbag was preposterous Thursday. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought the Heat were . . . the Kings [sorry, Sacramento]. If nothing else, it was an early reminder of what life will be like if the Heat were to lose a game in the playoffs. That is all. We now rejoin the dialing venting, already in progress . . . )
Q: The Heat are going as far as LeBron James takes them. He keeps playing passive. The Heat won’t even make it to the conference finals. LeBron is the problem. — Bobby.
A: And to think, they bypassed the opportunity to deal him for Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline. Oh well, guess they’ll have to find a way around LeBron’s brief lapse into ordinary stardom. The reality is it has been three weeks since LeBron broke his nose, which just might account for less of an attacking style. Or it could be that he has pushed through the schedule while his co-star has taken extended breaks. LeBron is never the problem; sometimes he’s just not as much of the solution. The problem lately has been quality defensive plays from Jimmy Butler and Shaun Livingston. Sometimes the other guys are pretty good, too.
Q: Please stop with the Michael Beasley-has-fizzled comments. It’s OK for you to admit Erik Spoelstra shouldn’t be giving Mike only five-minute auditions. — Adam.
A: Michael’s job during those initial stints is to inspire confidence for another opportunity when the game is on the line in the second half. That was not the case in Beasley’s initial stint Wednesday. Yes, there is a shorter rope for Michael than others in the rotation. But sometimes it’s not about being fair (just ask Udonis Haslem).
Q: Ira, the real Heat fans are not panicking. We’re just all waiting for the playoffs to start, just like they are. — Eric.
A: And there certainly is something to be said about perspective (thank you). But the flick-the-switch mentality can be dangerous. I do think the recent struggles have highlighted some areas of concerns, including whether there is championship depth in place.
March 13, 2014
Q: Erik Spoelstra always talk about positive aspects of the game even when the team plays poorly. Sometimes a coach needs to call out his team when they are underperforming. — Joel.
A: To a degree, the Heat over these past four seasons have played with an arrogance that it’s about what they do and not necessarily what the opponent does to them. Fine. That works when the Heat are working. But there also have been times in recent games where the Heat have been operating with a sense of entitlement, that they don’t necessarily need to outwork the opposition. And you know what’s happening? The Heat are getting outworked. There was little desperation Wednesday, wh