By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
Posted Oct 14 2010 10:46PM
Whether the Heat are a smash success in Year One won't depend on highlight reels, unless the sports TV shows suddenly develop an appetite for stops, steals and blocks.
You know: ratings-challenged, pass-the-remote-control defense.
It's certainly not our intention to bore you over the next several paragraphs, but be warned, the following is not about "The Decision" or whether Miami will win 70 games or any of the vortex of intrigue stuff that's currently consuming Miami.
From the first day LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh pulled on the same uniform, defense became the buzzword within the organization. Since each player is a proven 20-point scorer, offense is a given. And because they instinctively share the ball, we'll even assume this season won't lapse into a tug-of-war over whose "team" it is (the answer to that is easy: Micky Arison's).
But what about shutting down the other guy? Can Miami make it hard for the other team to score points and, by extension, keep up the offensive pace of the Big Three? That's what championship teams are made of. That's what Pat Riley sold successfully to the Lakers of the 1980s (along with no-rebounds, no-rings) who, like this Miami team, were stuffed with stars. Defense will make or break the Heat in the interim, until Riley finds a way to surround his three-man core with a better cast.
"That's going to be our focus," James said. "Maybe the fans and the media won't be focusing on it, but we will."
The encouraging news, aside from defense being embraced by the Big Three, is that defense has been a Heat hallmark the last few years. While dumping salaries in preparation for last summer's free-agent haul, the Heat survived and even reached the playoffs with defense (and a helping of Wade, too). Certainly, the Heat's tendency to slow the tempo had something to do with Miami allowing only 94 points a game last season, second only to the Bobcats.
But defense was Miami's only chance to save face during the salary-dumping process, and defense served the club well, keeping Miami in most games and allowing them to even prosper, to a degree, in a weak Eastern Conference. Once Wade bought into the concept, his teammates followed and made the job easier for Erik Spoelstra, a first-time head coach who needed to make a mark for himself.
"We'll go into the season knowing we need to play good defense to achieve what we all want to achieve," Spoelstra said.
When the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen two years ago and teamed them with Paul Pierce, the immediate response was scoring wouldn't be a problem for the suddenly rejuvenated Celtics. Well, Boston won a title that year with defense, which was overlooked among the fuss. And defense helped Boston return to the NBA Finals last summer. So much for the idea that offensive superstars can't or won't concentrate a fair amount of energy and effort on the other end of the floor.
But Miami didn't trade for a KG, and on the current roster, only James and Wade ever made the All-Defensive team (both made it twice, with Wade being named to the second team). Bosh was a member of some atrocious defensive teams in Toronto.
What the Heat could use is a Bruce Bowen-type, someone handed the responsibility of doing the dirty work and being a tough guy and enforcer. But only Udonis Haslem comes close to that definition. Does Joel Anthony become that player? Mike Miller? (Just kidding.) And with the possible exception of Anthony, there's no shot blocker anywhere. You hardly expect such senior citizens as Juwan Howard and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to get enough minutes to be a defensive presence, let alone make a defensive impact.
Defense will come into play when the rivalry between Miami and Orlando hikes up a few hundred degrees. Sure, the Magic will certainly scramble to find ways to play the Big Three straight up. Just the same, who's going to do anything against Dwight Howard, except collect fouls? (Answer: nobody.)
The topic of interior defense might crop up a time or two in games against the Celtics (KG) and Lakers (Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol), perhaps the only other teams standing in the way between Miami and the Larry O'Brien trophy.
In reality, until the Heat luck into a Ben Wallace-type down the line, defense will be conducted by committee, each player doing his part to cover for one of the few Heat concerns this season.
"It's about how we perform as a team," Bosh said, "despite all the attention given to individuals."
We'll remember that when Orlando is spoon feeding Howard in the low post, and Kobe is licking his lips.
1. BIG THREE STAY HEALTHY
They've been durable, Bosh never playing less than 67 games in a season, James 75. Wade has had minor surgeries to the hip, knee and shoulder but doesn't have to carry the load anymore.
2. EGOS CHECKED AT DOOR
Time will tell if the Big Three coexist. Does anyone care about the last shot? Or how many touches? Or who picks up the tab after the game?
3. SUPPORTING CAST CHIPS IN
Three players cannot win a championship, unless it's Russell, Jordan and Magic. Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem must step in and deliver.
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LAST YEAR: 47-35, 3rd in Southeast
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
LEBRON JAMES, FORWARD
29.7 PPG | 7.3 RPG | 8.6 APG
Two-time defending MVP looks to quiet critics by capturing first title.
CHRIS BOSH, FORWARD
24.0 PPG | 10.8 RPG | 0.96 BPG
Sold all-around forward would not be third option on any team but this one.
JOEL ANTHONY, CENTER
2.7 PPG | 3.1 RPG | 1.66 BPG
Raw and athletic, his best contributions will come on defense and the glass.
DWYANE WADE, GUARD
26.6 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 6.5 APG
Already has a championship; will he be willing to concede go-to role to Bron?
CARLOS ARROYO, GUARD
6.1 PPG | 3.1 APG | 1.8 RPG
Just give up the rock and get out of the way. And he can do that very well.
|Mike Miller||6-8||218||F||Very solid shooter but sometimes a reluctant one as well. What's up with that?|
|Udonis Haslem||6-8||235||F||Fan favorite and hard worker, he will see plenty of fourth-quarter minutes in the post.|
|Mario Chalmers||6-2||190||G||Didn't distinguish himself last season; maybe that changes, since point guard isn't a strength.|
ADDED: Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dexter Pittman, Jarvis Varnado, Da'Sean Butler, Mike Miller, Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, James Jones, Jamaal Magloire, Juwan Howard, Carlos Arroyo, Eddie House, Patrick Beverly
LOST: Jermaine O'Neal, Dorell Wright, Daequan Cook, Michael Beasley
ERIK SPOELSTRA, COACH
Did Pat Riley just do Erik Spoelstra a favor by delivering three All-Stars? Or did he just set the young coach up for failure? No question, Spoelstra will feel the heat, so to speak, if Miami burps anytime this season. Besides juggling the egos, Spoelstra has to motivate the other nine players on the roster and find a way to make it all work. We just haven't seen enough from the young coach to know how he'll do. Losing is not an option, given the stakes and expectations. Either Spoelstra gets it done, or Riley will look elsewhere. Maybe in the mirror.
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