MIAMI -- It’s quite popular across the country for people to mock the Heat’s usual late-arriving crowd, which is accentuated by the empty red seats in view of the television cameras. But the people of Miami know when to arrive for a party, and missing the first quarter of an NBA game is usually harmless.
In the playoffs, that isn’t always the case, and it certainly hasn’t been for the Heat in their first four games against the 76ers. Because there are fewer possessions in postseason games, the value of all of them increases, even those oft-lazy “feeling out” ones in the first 12 minutes. The Heat have not been recognizing that in this first-round series.
Philadelphia has taken a double-figure lead in the first quarter in three of the four games in the series so far and has outscored the Heat by a 101-75 margin. The Heat are indeed ahead 3-1 and hardly in danger but admit they have to re-evaluate their strategy at the start.
“We don’t need to overanalyze it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can see a different energy in the second quarter when we’re a desperate team. They have our respect; they have our attention. That type of desperation has to be for 48 minutes.”
The Heat have been much better the rest of the game. For example, their 22-2 run in the second quarter in Sunday’s Game 4 made the Sixers’ 12-point lead after the first quarter seem meaningless. But the Heat know they can’t rely on such recovery runs as they advance.
The easy answer to point out is the lineup that starts the game. It includes, of course, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade along with Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. When Bibby, who is shooting just 6-of-27 in the four games, has been on the floor in the playoffs, the Heat have been outscored by nine points. With Ilgauskas, they have been outscored by 27 points. All told, the Heat's starting lineup has been outscored by 29 points in the series during 60 minutes of playing time.
Meanwhile, when the Heat go to their most defensive and high-energy lineup, which usually includes James Jones and Joel Anthony, things change. They have outscored the Sixers by 19 points with Jones on the floor and by an amazing 55 points with Anthony. That is why that unit usually finishes games.
It isn’t directly because of Bibby and Ilgauskas; it is that this mix of players hasn’t been strong to start the game.
“We don’t have an energizing lineup in to start,” Wade said. “We’ve got to make shots in that lineup. That’s not the lineup where we get out and go. We’ve got to be job of playing to our strengths in that lineup.”
It might be simple to just change the starting lineup, but, of course, it is more than that. The Heat need at least eight players and will have to find a balance within the rotation with different groups on the floor. It doesn’t really matter when they’re actually on the floor. Also, the lineup with Bibby and Ilgauskas has been integral to a lot of victories this season as well.
For the time being, it seems the Heat are going to need more intensity to start the games. With an athletic starting lineup, the Sixers have been getting off to big leads by playing with more energy and speed early in the games.
What is clear is the Heat are admitting it is something they have to address going into Wednesday’s Game 5.
“We’ve got to stop digging holes for ourselves,” Bosh said. “We know they’re athletic and they’re going to come out aggressive. We have to take the challenge.”