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Sunday, March 4, 2012
Lakers exploit Heat's size issues

By Brian Windhorst




LOS ANGELES -- The Miami Heat had a creative way to look at the rare, two-game losing streak they’re now dealing with following a loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Heat like to say they’re a “no excuse team,” with coach Erik Spoelstra often taking it a step further and calling this a “no excuse season.”

So instead offering up the obvious -- that missing Chris Bosh (personal leave) on their West Coast road trip had a significant negative impact and was a major factor in why they lost Friday in Utah and then in L.A. -- the team’s players and coaches instead chose to turn it around. They would not complain about not having Bosh but instead scold anyone who has ever uttered a disparaging comment about the All-Star power forward. Many of which, apparently, have reached their ears.

“Chris is a major component of what we do on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said after the 93-83 defeat. “That’s why we don’t listen to anybody when they talk about Chris’ importance or value.”

“We always appreciate Chris,” Dwyane Wade said. “It is you guys who don’t appreciate him.”

The Heat don’t mind lecturing detractors, both real and imagined, when they can. Of course they value Bosh; Wade and LeBron James picked him among a few choices to join them in Miami. His strong first half was a contributing factor in the team’s best-ever start to the season.

But the team is also quite aware that Bosh plays the position where they are most vulnerable. The Jazz and Lakers showed it over the weekend. That is more important than getting on the soapbox to praise Bosh after a rough day without him.

There’s a reason the Heat have continued to look to add a veteran big man to their roster. They attempted to sign both Kenyon Martin and Joel Przybilla but weren’t able to do so. A radio station in Miami reported the team worked out Rasheed Wallace last week. According to league executives, the Heat have been calling around to gauge demand for reserve big men as the trade deadline approaches.

The Heat’s biggest weakness is that lack of bulk and depth with their big men, and it is not much of a debate. They have gotten away with playing without a real center all season long and managed it quite well. But it is still there. Every team has a soft spot or two, this happens to be theirs. It’s not an indictment on their entire roster but it is something that could stand between them and a title depending on how things play out.

Joel Anthony is an athlete for his position, and he’s competed with every center he’s faced. But he’s a power forward masquerading as a center and the Heat get away with it because of their overall team quickness and ability to move and cover for each other. Until they don’t.

There’s not much margin of error there and without Bosh it glares. The Heat had their two worst defensive rebounding games of the season against the Jazz and Lakers. They gave up 94 points in the paint and 44 second-chance points in the two games.

These are numbers being used to prove a point but they aren’t really needed. Watching the Heat attempt to patch the hole left by Bosh with some never-before-seen lineups was telling enough.

James was remarkable in the three games without Bosh, guarding Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland and Pau Gasol in L.A. among his regular duties of defending point guards and wing players. But that is not a preferred method. Spoelstra went to it because he didn’t have anyone else.

Project big man Dexter Pittman, who is an actual center, was ineffective in Utah and against the Lakers. In the second half Sunday, Spoelstra benched Pittman and tried veteran Juwan Howard and the results were not good. That was after he'd tried a bizarre lineup that had James on Gasol. Eddy Curry, who the Heat got for this very reason, hasn’t played a meaningful minute in more than a month. Not playing against the Lakers, the exact type of team the Heat hoped to get Curry ready for, was an indication of what they think he can contribute.

The Heat have another big man, rookie Mickell Gladness, who is currently on a 10-day contract. To tell you what they think of him, they didn’t even activate him Sunday despite being down a big man.

Now, let’s be realistic. There are probably 20-some teams that would love to be in the Heat’s position with such problems. James is having a career year -- he had 25 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks Sunday -- and Wade has been fantastic for most of the year, too. He’d scored 30 points in three of the past four games before he was derailed against the Lakers’ strong pick-and-roll defense and a blow to the head in the second half made him woozy.

Maybe they will be able to win it all without having a true center in the rotation. Maybe had Udonis Haslem, who had two substandard games over the weekend including maybe his worst effort of the year against the Lakers, just picked it up a little the Heat would be on an 11-game win streak and not a two-game losing streak.

That is what the Heat believe or, as Spoelstra likes to say: “We have enough.”

Like so much with this Heat team, that’s a statement that will be judged in the postseason.