It’s isn’t fair or realistic to ask LeBron James to do more. The Miami Heat have the big names, the role players and the championship experience to win any basketball game, yet they have a soft spot that is being exploited.
When Miami plays a team that is tactically adept, highly organized in its approach and gifted in the front court, the Heat struggle to win games. Examining their six losses this season, this point becomes clear. Aside from the Heat’s loss to Washington (more of an anomaly than something you can really assign too much meaning to), the King and company have lost to the Knicks twice, the Grizzlies, Clippers and last night’s narrow loss to Mark Jackson’s Golden State Warriors.
Granted, the Warriors are one of the best road teams in basketball with a record of 9-4 away from the Oracle Arena (15-7 overall), but when you’re defending a title and playing a young team in your own building, you don’t search for excuses, you search for reasons why you lost. It’s bigger than a few missed free throws, a bad foul or defensive rotation. The Heat struggle with a certain kind of opponent, one they’ll be seeing in late April/early May.
The Warriors aren’t the best of the lot either, but had enough pieces in place with David Lee (22 points, 13 rebounds) matching up with Chris Bosh, Harrison Barnes occupying LeBron James, Klay Thompson (27 points, 7 rebounds) giving Dwyane Wade a handful and Stephen Curry running the point to give Miami a massive headache defensively. If the Warriors had Andrew Bogut healthy instead of Festus Ezeli playing center, who knows what the score may have been.
DON’T BLAME THE STAR
Inevitably, the press and fans will come down on James in some way. He is the figure head, the lightning rod for all that goes wrong in Miami. The finger points to the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year before it moves toward Pat Riley or Eric Spoelstra and unjustly so. James can’t determine the team on the floor, just what he can do with it and he’s pretty spectacular at that.
Against the Warriors, James drained big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter finishing with 31 points and 5 assists. Chris Bosh has replaced Dwyane Wade as the team’s No.2 as he finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds to Wade’s 14 points 5 assists, but where was either down the stretch in this game?
Miami found themselves looking to the perimeter for guys like Ray Allen or Shane Battier to come up big shots, or relying on James in isolation instead of being able to run a pick and roll with Wade handling the ball or depend on Bosh to create some sort of presence inside. Golden State stepped up their defense, with Lee taking on James and forcing him away from the basket daring anyone on the Heat to make a shot over one of his teammates. The plan worked as the Warriors scored the final six points of the game.
TALK ABOUT DEFENSE
The Heat have brought Udonis Haslem back into the starting lineup in an attempt to give them some better interior defense and improve their rebounding credentials, but it hasn’t worked. The Warriors outrebounded them 40-38 in this one and were able to force 17 Miami turnovers.
James has played every position for the Heat this season, but they tend to put Shane Battier into the game in big situations for his defensive skill, pushing James to power forward. Another problem then surfaces as the Heat seem to have trouble getting their rotations right and it has never been more clear than on the final play of the game Wednesday when Battier shifted to cover Klay Thompson on a screen along with Ray Allen, leaving Draymond Green wide open underneath the basket where he would lay in the winning bucket.
Asking LeBron James to be a small forward one minute, point guard or power forward the next, serves him just fine, but seems to be confusing the heck out of his teammates.
WHERE IS WADE?
This is James’ team, no doubt. This is his time to be in the spotlight, his time to lead the way, but his big beef in Cleveland seems to be following him. While Miami has given James an incredible team, far better than anything he ever had in the Forrest City, James is still being relied upon too heavily at times.
Dwyane Wade’s scoring and assist numbers are the lowest since his rookie year. Is he taking fewer shots and playing the primary ball handler role less? Absolutely, but the biggest difference is in his ability to get to the line. In his first year of playing with James, Wade averaged 8.6 free throws per game, but that number dipped to 6.1 last season. This year, it’s down to 5.7 per game as Wade has failed to be the lane driving easy bucket creator the Heat have been able to rely on for his entire career.
Without Wade slashing to the hoop, that leaves James as the lone penetrator, but his moving to power forward periodically leads to more of him receiving the ball with his back to the basket and playing in the post. Miami is a team built without a big man, the idea being that the lane had to be kept clear for James and Wade to cut defenses apart. Just one problem, with neither of them driving the lane really, the team now lacks an identity.
Despite all their talent, it seems that LeBron James and the Miami Heat need help. Whether it’s a return of Wade’s athleticism driving to the hoop or the presence of a defensive anchor in the middle of the floor with more strength than Chris Bosh, something has to give in South Beach, or more teams will roll into American Airlines Arena and do what Golden State did on Wednesday night.
Through the course of this season, Wade has to step up. Bosh can’t be relied upon to turn in the performance he gave against the Warriors every night. While he is matching his best numbers in a Heat uniform at 18 points, 8 rebounds and a block per game, the fact of the matter is that this team needs Wade to win still. Whether it’s because he’s getting older or that he’s having trouble playing in the shadow of the league’s brightest star, the Heat don’t have room for Wade not showing up to play. They built the team with him as a pillar, but thus far that foundation appears flawed, beatable and tactically insufficient.