Miami Heat Index: Carmelo Anthony

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImageLeBron James and the Heat head to Madison Square Garden to face the Atlantic-leading Knicks.
In another installment of the Heat Index's 3-on-3 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat face the Knicks on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC).

1. The Heat’s winning streak is ________________.

Israel Gutierrez: Multi-layered. It started out with us marveling at the efficiency of LeBron James, but within this streak we’ve seen so much more. Dwyane Wade has looked more like the 2009 version of himself, Ray Allen has fought through his extended slump, the defense has been actually consistent and the wins have come in so many different styles. It has turned a team with minor question marks into a runaway favorite to repeat.

Michael Wallace: Resounding. The Lakers, Clippers, Thunder and Grizzlies all presented different challenges, and LeBron James and crew passed each one with high marks. Along the way, James has played the best ball of his career, and Dwyane Wade has erased many doubts about a lack of explosiveness in his game.

Brian Windhorst: Impressive. Five road wins. Win at OKC. Home wins over Houston, LA Clippers and Grizzlies. A double-OT win. Holding an opponent to 67 points. Historic shooting. Whoa.

2. Heat vs. Knicks is ________________.

Gutierrez: The next stop on the regular-season redemption tour. During this streak, the Heat has avenged earlier losses to the Clippers, Blazers, Bulls and Grizzlies. The Knicks spanked the Heat twice early in the season, but that Heat team wasn’t anything like the machine that’s on display now. If Miami can manage to beat New York, the next stop on the tour is at home against the Pacers on March 10, when the Heat could be riding a 17-game streak. Big game, anybody?

Wallace: Always intriguing. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra couldn't find enough ways to describe how the Knicks pounded, embarrassed, annihilated and torched the Heat in a pair of 20-point victories earlier this season. The Knicks have slipped since that fast start to the season, but they certainly have the Heat's full attention this time around.

Windhorst: A pivotal game. The Heat win, and they have dashed the hopes of another challenger. Knicks win, and it's proof to them they might have a chance against Miami in a series.

3. LeBron’s pregame dunks are ________________.

Gutierrez: Entertaining, plain and simple. Spending time complaining about when he dunks takes away from the enjoyment. The fact that he could probably win a dunk contest after his legs have taken 10 years of NBA-level pounding is impressive enough. But to demand he partakes in the contest is just silly. If it’s OK, I’ll just pocket Magic’s million dollars and end this nonsense, as a favor to everyone. You’re welcome.

Wallace: Much ado about nothing. Having grown weary of all the national debate and attention his pregame dunk routing has drawn in recent days, James finally cracked Friday and reminded the media that he's been doing this since his days in Cleveland. "But I guess it's a small market, and y'all didn't pay attention then," James quipped.

Windhorst: A long-standing tradition. For some reason people are just now talking about them now.
LeBron James
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Is this the look the Heat should have if Game 5 is on the line?

In another postseason installment of the Heat Index's 5-on-5 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat host the Knicks in Game 5 Wednesday night.

1. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks were smart to hold Jeremy Lin out.

Jim Cavan, KnickerBlogger: Fact. Look, we get the whole Willis Reed resurrection narrative thing. But Lin ain’t no Reed, and these ain’t no 1970 Knicks. Besides, I’m not totally convinced that a 60 percent Lin is any better than whatever 100 percent point platoon the Knicks end up going with. Better to wait until next year. We Knicks faithful are used to that anyway.

Tom Haberstroh: Fact. This was fascinating to watch because the organization needed to weigh the short-term payoff versus the long-term risks. Play him now and try to fight your way back into the series at the risk of another knee injury? Sit him and ensure that you have a healthy point guard on the roster for next season? They chose the latter, and that was the smart decision; the realistic upside in playing him just isn't there.

Michael Wallace: Fact. If Lin isn't ready to return from that knee injury, then he simply isn't ready. No need to rush it, especially after seeing two of his backcourt teammates blow out their knees already in this series. It just doesn't make sense to risk setting yourself back for the start of next season in order to play in a series that seems all but over at this point.

Brian Windhorst: Fact. This is a complete no-brainer, to be honest. Let's assume you're Lin. Your knee doesn't feel right, probably more than you're even letting on to the media. Then you see Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis have to be carried off the court in the same week. Are you going to rush it?

Jared Zwerling, ESPN New York: Fact. First of all, Lin hasn’t had ample court time to prepare for the Heat’s swarming pick-and-roll defense, which forced him into eight turnovers on Feb. 23. In addition, playoff games, in general, are a different beast. In recent scrimmages, Lin has moved a bit gingerly and hasn't played with full intensity, so there's no way he'd ready for that level of physicality. After a season with so many injuries, the Knicks would look stupid if Lin suffered a setback for a vain cause. They should invest in his health to make sure he's their long-term solution at point guard.

2. Fact or Fiction: Stoudemire's 20-and-10 was a bigger deal than Anthony's 41.

Cavan: Fact. Carmelo Anthony has been on a rampage for a while now, but Amare Stoudemire's one-handed -- and level-headed -- performance proved how important his high-caliber play is to the success and effectiveness of the orange-and-blue. The optimist in me hopes his run-in with a fire squelcher proves to be a turning point. The realist in me thinks he just recovered really well from punching glass. Either way, the Knicks need a similarly sizzling Stoudemire on Wednesday night.

Haberstroh: Fact. No one saw this coming. The Heat knew he had no jumper and no ability to comfortably drive left, but still he managed to register his first 20-and-10 game in weeks. You have to, well, hand it to the guy.

Wallace: Fact. Considering the Knicks' shortage of players who can actually create their own shot, rebound and get to the free throw line, it baffles me that some thought New York was better off in this series without Stoudemire and no adequate replacement. Miami was able to absorb high-scoring games from Melo before and still won. But there's no excuse for allowing Stoudemire to go off for 20-and-10 with one good hand.

Windhorst: Fact. Anthony won the game for the Knicks, but does everyone appreciate what Stoudemire did? His hand was being kept together by staples and stitches. The palm. The area that touches the ball. You cannot numb this area because you can't play with numb hands. You can't wear too large of a pad because it has the same effect. So you play one-handed. And you go for 20 and 10. Pretty remarkable, no?

Zwerling: Fact. Just hear it from Anthony: "It was big-time. I was surprised at what he was able to do, due to his hand. But for him to just come back and just prove to us and to prove to everybody that what he did was a mistake ... it was a minor setback, he came back, he bounced back and we respect that out of him." The Knicks had been struggling to find a significant second scorer in Games 1 through 3 to complement Anthony, and Stoudemire provided that "punch," as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game.

3. Fact or Fiction: LeBron should be primary defender on Anthony.

Cavan: Fiction: The one glimmer of hope the Stoudemire-less Knicks had for stealing Game 3 -- namely playing Anthony at the 4 and forcing the Heat to throw Bosh on him in stretches -- might've flickered out. If I were Erik Spoelstra, I'd start a hot-shooting Shane Battier at the 3 and put James on Anthony as much as possible. Derp.

Haberstroh: Fact. Call me crazy, but I'd want James, the best isolation defender in the league, to guard the guy who lives on isolations. Battier isn't a poor defender against Anthony, far from it. He's just not the best option for the Heat. Udonis Haslem should take care of Tyson Chandler in normal circumstances; Sunday was the first time Haslem fouled out since Ricky Davis started for the Heat four years ago. Fluke situation.

Wallace: Fiction. For three games, I gave credit to Battier for doing his job and making Anthony work extremely hard to make difficult shots. Battier didn't stop doing his job in Game 4. Anthony just proved why he's an elite scorer in this league. Besides, James has been in foul trouble the past two games -- and Anthony has had calls go his way recently. Asking James to carry such a burden on both ends for extended periods in the playoffs is a bit much to ask.

Windhorst: Fact. At least in the clutch. The numbers speak for themselves. These teams have played five times over the past three weeks. It has been rather obvious with the eye test that Anthony doesn't drive on James as much and isn't able to create as much space against him.

Zwerling: Fact. While Mike Woodson and Spoelstra have given Battier credit for his defense on Anthony, the numbers don't lie. Anthony has been shooting 52.6 percent against Battier in the series, but only 29.3 percent against James. There aren't many players in the NBA who can match up physically and athletically with the Knicks' star, but James can, and he has made Anthony's catches and drives difficult. In Game 5, Anthony better hope his jump shot is on, like in Game 2. The emphasis on closing out the series should be enough motivation for James to guard Anthony down the stretch.

4. Fact or Fiction: James should be ball handler on next do-or-die play.

Cavan: Faction. As with most crunch-time calls, it’s purely situational. If James is riding a Game 3-like fourth quarter, then sure, let him bring his boys home. He’s been getting to the rim pretty much at will, after all. But if Spoelstra sees an exploitable matchup or scheme better suited for Wade or even Bosh, there’s no reason the coach shouldn’t roll those dice.

Haberstroh: Fact. Not only is James the better option to run a pick-and-roll, but Wade is the better option as the basket cutter. Also, not enough people have mentioned this, but Bosh? He was open on the roll to the rim. Regardless, the most important thing is that all three of the Heat's stars are involved. That didn't happen in Game 4.

Wallace: Fiction. Perhaps he should. But I wouldn't define it as a flat-out fact. It depends on what kind of game James is having to that point. It depends on potential matchup issues. There's no one-answer-fits-all equation to this scenario. The luxury Miami has that few other teams (if any) have is that either Wade or James can make game-winning plays in that situation. Both have had failures in those moments, as well.

Windhorst: Fiction. Or Fact. Either way is fine from my point of view. There was nothing wrong with the idea of that play; it just wasn't executed. It would be interesting if James demanded the ball in that situation. But that hasn't been his position all season. Wade has three game winners this year.

Zwerling: Fiction. During the series, James and Wade have both been effective in the all-important fourth quarter. James has been getting to the line (7-for-8), averaging 8.7 points in the period on 44.4 percent shooting, while Wade has been doing it from midrange, shooting 10-for-18 (55.6 percent). They're equally dangerous in a do-or-die situation because they demand double-teams and can get into the lane. And that's where they pose a big threat as passers because of their ability to find one of the Heat's potent 3-point shooters.

5. Fact or Fiction: Mike Bibby should be primary PG over Smith/Anthony.

Cavan: Fiction. Bibby has been somewhat effective off the ball, where he is better capable of hitting the glass (something he’s done well of late) and the occasional open J. If I’m Woodson, making Wade and James work as hard as possible in blanketing the ball-handling J.R. Smith or Anthony might be worth the price of the latter two getting gassed. Which sounds insane, and probably is.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Big dilemma for the Knicks. Don't know how they can hide Bibby defensively; he won't be able to guard Mike Miller. But I also don't know how the Knicks can get the shots they want with Smith and Anthony initiating from the top of the key. If Smith didn't turn into Toney Douglas all of a sudden, this wouldn't be a huge problem. The Knicks might have to just rely on Anthony at point. Gulp.

Wallace: Fact. Bibby isn't the player he was 10 minutes ago, let alone 10 years ago. But by process of elimination due to knee injuries, he's the only true hope the Knicks have at point guard. He still knows how to run a team and push the pace in stretches, even though his shot is inconsistent to nonexistent. Smith and Anthony will need to spell Bibby at times, but they shouldn't handle the bulk of the point guard duties. It takes away from their strengths.

Windhorst: Fact. No one would ever mistake Smith or Anthony for a point guard. They're pretty much the exact opposite.

Zwerling: Fiction. But it doesn’t really matter. Smith and Anthony are going to be handling the ball the majority of the time. What Bibby needs to be able to do is knock down the open 3-point shot off of Smith's and Anthony’s penetration, which he did in Game 4. Bibby hit two clutch long bombs at the end of the third quarter and the fourth to keep the Knicks ahead. At this point in his 14-year career, Bibby is really more of a glorified shooting guard because he’s not quick enough as a playmaker to put pressure on the Heat’s defense.

Is Battier's 'winning role' a losing gamble?

May, 7, 2012
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
Carmelo Anthony
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Erik Spoelstra has refused to switch Shane Battier off Carmelo Anthony, but there are alternatives.

Shane Battier signed with the Miami Heat for moments like the one that came in Game 4.

When Battier announced his free agency choice in December, he outlined the deciding factor:

"I've played out every scenario in my head over and over," Battier wrote on Twitter. "It always came back to one thing for me: a winning role."

On Sunday, he got his wish.

Down by two points with 40 seconds left in a playoff game inside Madison Square Garden and his team desperate for a stop, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra trusted Battier -- not LeBron James -- to contain Carmelo Anthony on the play. It was a controversial move since Anthony mostly had his way with Battier throughout the series -- not to mention that the Heat have a perfectly viable alternative in James, perhaps the only defender in the league who can match Anthony's strength and quickness on the perimeter.

Nonetheless, Battier was the guy. Out on the floor in a critical possession, Battier was given the prized role he wanted back in December. Could he fulfill the "winning" end of the bargain?

As it turns out, the heady veteran got whistled for grazing Anthony's elbow on the follow-through of a pull-up 3-pointer. This is the cardinal sin for a defender, which visibly irked Battier as he shook his head on the floor in disbelief.

Whether Battier fouled him or not, this much is clear: Battier hasn't had much luck guarding Anthony. Anthony is now shooting 53 percent from the floor with Battier guarding him in the series, compared to the 29 percent Anthony shoots against James, according to ESPN Stats & Info tracking.

When Battier tried to muscle up Anthony, the Knicks star batted him away. When Battier tried to close off Anthony's driving lanes, the Knicks star easily maneuvered around him.

This is Spoelstra's big dilemma. The Heat thrive when James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are surrounded with 3-point sharpshooters like Battier, but they leave money on the table defensively every time James isn't guarding Anthony.

Can Spoelstra keep playing Battier if Anthony continues to dominate that matchup?

That's a tough question to answer made tougher by Battier's reputation as a defensive stalwart and his known desire to play in crunchtime. Battier didn't just want to sign with a winning team; he wanted to have a hand in it, too. In this series however, Battier's defensive weapons simply haven't put a dent in Anthony's armor.

So what then?

Spoelstra has alternatives, and Baron Davis' injury will make it easier to go in another direction. Udonis Haslem is one of the league's better defensive rebounders and can take care of keeping Tyson Chandler off the offensive glass, which was one of Spoelstra's cited reasons for sticking James on Chandler instead of Anthony.

Such a move would allow the Heat to play their "Big Five" lineup with Haslem and Mike Miller, all part of the same free agent haul in the summer of 2010. Miller is a superior 3-point shooter to Battier and won't have any trouble staying in front of Mike Bibby, who at this stage in his career has the mobility of a stop sign. That lineup, by the way, has outscored opponents 149 to 103 over the last two seasons.

It also has been used as Miami's closing lineup, but of course, Haslem fouled out in Game 4 and has surprisingly only been a nominal starter in this series (he has only played just 17.8 minutes per game). As far as we know, Haslem is healthy enough to log major minutes, but playing Haslem means that Spoelstra must forgo his favored "symbiotic relationship" lineup that calls for two sharpshooters bookending the Big Three. Inserting Miller allows Spoelstra to preserve some of his 3-point shooting attack while also locking down Anthony and Chandler.

Another option? If Spoelstra must play Battier, it's worth seeing what Battier could do against Stoudemire, whose hand injury has made him more predictable. Battier has guarded power forwards in the past and what Battier lacks in size, he gains in preparation. A one-handed Stoudemire against Battier is a stripped-ball waiting to happen. The question becomes whether the gains of LeBron on Carmelo outweigh the losses of putting Battier on Stoudemire. Worth a try.

Spoelstra's game plan has included a heavy dose of Battier and in the grand scheme of things, it's working. So far, the Heat are up 3-1 in the series and James has been rested. Spoelstra is insistent that the Knicks will not dictate the Heat's rotation. As he has said repeatedly, the Knicks have to prepare for the Heat's personnel, not just the other way around. In the closing minutes of Sunday's game, Spoelstra made it clear that he would not budge even after Battier absorbed a barrage of body blows from Anthony and then a final knockout punch on Sunday.

We might have reached the breaking point after Game 4. With a potential Game 6 swinging back to New York, there's no more time to experiment with Battier on Anthony. Battier might still have a winning role on the team, but his time should wait until Anthony is in the rear-view mirror.

Questions surround Spoelstra after defeat

May, 6, 2012
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
LeBron James/Erik Spoelstra
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Why wasn't LeBron James more involved in the final plays? That's the way Erik Spoelstra drew it up.

NEW YORK -- Out of all the interviews and speeches Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban gave on his championship tour last year, the sharpest blow came when he said his Mavericks knew they were going to win the NBA Finals when his coaching staff noticed the Miami Heat weren’t making adjustments.

Maybe it was needling, maybe it was simple piling on, perhaps it was retribution after there was a belief that Pat Riley had outdueled the Mavs’ Avery Johnson back in the 2006. But it was a direct shot at Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his performance under pressure.

Spoelstra’s overall record is strong and league executives see him as having a long career as a head coach whether it’s in Miami or elsewhere. But Cuban’s comments were also a sign that Spoelstra hasn’t earned complete respect yet. Some of his decisions on Sunday in the Heat’s Game 4 loss to the New York Knicks that extended the series will not help.

In an odd maneuver he declined to fully explain, Spoelstra went away from the strategy that had been working and given his team the overwhelming advantage. And it very likely cost the Heat a chance to win the series in the minimum.

It wasn’t the decision everyone wanted to talk about. The Spoelstra choice that drew the most eyes was what he did on the final play when the Heat trailed by two points. This is always a delicious subject, and with a playoff game in the balance, it was certainly a rather large choice.

There Spoelstra selected Dwyane Wade as the first option, Chris Bosh as the second and LeBron James as the third. It’s easy to attack that strategy, because it didn’t work. You could state and defend any number of opinions and present a strong case.

Being fair, though, Spoelstra called a considered, even if not well-designed, play. It just didn’t work. Selecting Wade, who has made three game-winners this season, wasn’t wrong. He had scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and was brilliant in going to the basket when Tyson Chandler (who had fouled out by then) wasn’t there to stop him. He properly guessed how the Knicks were going to defend the play and got exactly what he wanted: Wade going at defensive liability Amare Stoudemire.

You can bicker about whether James should’ve been the first or at the least the second option -- Bosh set a screen for Wade and appeared to be the backup choice in a classic pick-and-pop set -- when he had just made two big offensive plays. But ultimately, going with Wade certainly can’t be called an indefensible mistake.

The Knicks’ defended the play decently, Stoudemire moved as quickly as he could, and Wade fumbled the ball and the play fell apart.

“I actually had a good shot,” Wade said. “I lost the ball and didn’t get the chance.”

We’ll never know for sure.

For his part, James said: “For me, personally, I would love to have the ball. As a team, we all win games together and we all lose games together. That is all that matters.”

So James wanted it, which is easy to say when he didn’t have to deal with missing it, and Wade bobbled the ball instead. If you want to point fingers, go ahead and debate, but there will never be a definitive answer.

That play, however, was not at the root of why the Heat lost the game.

The Heat lost because they allowed Carmelo Anthony to score 41 points on just 29 shots. Instead of making him the volume scorer they did for the rest of the series, Anthony was able to get the ball where he wanted it, let him get to the line 14 times, and let him get on an offensive roll.

In other words, the only thing that could beat the Heat happened.

Anthony did the bulk of it against Shane Battier, including for the entire fourth quarter. For the first three games of the series, and even for the last game of the regular season between the teams on April 15 that served as a playoff warmup, Spoelstra went with James on Anthony for the stretch run.

Yet this time Battier was left on him as Anthony took the green light to attack him and shoot over him while James guarded Chandler. Anthony scored 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the fourth, picking apart the Heat’s sudden change of heart.

Anthony is one of the best scorers in the league. Perhaps he would’ve made tough shots over James. Perhaps he was due to break out of a slump; he was shooting just 34 percent over the first three games. Perhaps this is just second-guessing.

But the last three fourth quarters Anthony has played where James has taken over -- not including Game 1 when the starters were benched with the game out of hand -- Anthony averaged seven points on 42 percent shooting. Had that happened again Sunday, the Heat would be celebrating a sweep.

At one point, the Heat called for a double team on Anthony, something that usually isn’t required when James was on him, and it created a rotation that led to an open Mike Bibby hitting a 3-pointer.

“LeBron was guarding Chandler to create some other things to do defensively but we still had enough opportunities to win this game regardless of who was guarding Anthony,” Spoelstra said. “You have to give them credit and move on.”

The numbers, which Spoelstra is a devotee of, crush him here. In the series, Anthony has shot 12-of-41 (29 percent) with James guarding him and scored 31 points including free throws. With Battier on Anthony, the Knicks star is 20-of-38 (53 percent) and has scored 56 points.

Heading into Game 4, by the way, Anthony was shooting 14-of-26 on Battier (54 percent). These numbers were compiled by ESPN Stats & Info but Spoelstra no doubt had them, too. But it makes the choice all the harder to defend.

Not every game is the same and coaches change up game plans all the time. Some of Spoelstra’s constant changing is because his bench has shown him little consistency. Not using his best defender on the Knicks’ best scorer when it had a flawless record is hard to justify.

But it does seem like Spoelstra might have outsmarted himself on Sunday by making changes that were hard to understand or defend. And there’s a chance that it cost the Heat a winnable game.
Dwyane Wade
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
If Dwyane Wade and the Heat put the Knicks on their backs again, should New York shake things up?

In another installment of the Heat Index's 3-on-3 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat try to sweep the Knicks in Game 4.

1. Fact or Fiction: LeBron is right; there shouldn't be a champ asterisk.

Tom Haberstroh: Fact. When every other season has an unusual disruption, then it's no longer unusual. It's the status quo.

Michael Wallace: Fact. And beyond that, the NBA champ this season should get even more credit for surviving and winning in one of the most difficult and demanding seasons we've ever seen in any sport.

Brian Windhorst: Fact. There's a reason why championships are so valued, it takes so much to win one. You need luck, you need to avoid injuries, you need your opponents to have troubles. Injuries, bad luck and general insanity happens in every season, the team standing at the end is the champ not matter how it got there. If anything, winning this season should carry a little extra significance because it is so hard and abnormal.

2. Fact or Fiction: The Heat have the three best players in the series.

Haberstroh: Fiction. As admirable as Chris Bosh has been as a third option for the Heat, I can't peg him ahead of Mike Bibby. Wait, did I say Mike Bibby? I meant Carmelo Anthony. Honestly, Bosh and Carmelo are probably neck-and-neck in value. Bosh plays both ends of the floor and doesn't mind making sacrifices for the good of the team. Carmelo's shot-creation ability is immensely valuable, even if he lacks in the efficiency department. Still, Carmelo's reputation far outpaces his actual on-court contributions.

Wallace: Fiction. Let's be real here for a second. Carmelo Anthony is a tad better and a more elite player than Chris Bosh. But there's no shame in the Heat claiming three of the best four players in this series.

Windhorst: Fiction. Carmelo Anthony is the third-best player in the series and from the 2003 draft. Been the case for years. Even if he's not really playing like it.

3. Fact or Fiction: If Heat sweep, Knicks should break up the core.

Haberstroh: Fact. Should happen regardless. Sure, Stoudemire's contract isn't easily moved, but there's no such thing as an unmovable contract in the NBA (see: Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas). Trading Carmelo and building around Jeremy Lin, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler would be the move that makes the most out of they're fragmented pieces. But alas, I can't imagine the Knicks front office trading their biggest star even if it means they don't compromise Lin and Stoudemire.

Wallace: Fiction. If New York can get a taker for Amare Stoudemire's contract, then by all means move him. But good luck with that. More than anything, these Knicks need stability and good health - elements this team has lacked for most of two seasons now.

Windhorst: Fact. Even if the Heat don't sweep. Seeing this Knicks team play vastly different when they are all together and when one or two pieces are missing obviously has been telling. The problem is they are not very flexible. They have used their cap space, used their amnesty and traded away young assets and draft picks. They have a chronically injured former All-Star with an uninsured contract that has three years left on it as the guy they want to trade the most. They can try, but it's not going to be easy.

Heat prepare for Knicks' Game 2 tweaks

April, 29, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace

MIAMI - LeBron James has too much respect to accept that Carmelo Anthony's struggles in the Heat's blowout Game 1 victory on Saturday against the Knicks were anything more than a statistical anomaly.

In other words, James considers it to be in the Heat's best interest to dismiss it as an off night for Anthony against a solid defensive effort by Miami that resulted in a 100-67 win to open the first-round series.

When the teams meet for Game 2 on Monday, the Heat will be expecting much more from Anthony, who had one of the worst playoff shooting performances of his career in going 3 of 15 from the field to finish with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four turnovers Saturday.

"We don't expect him to shoot 3 of 15 (again)," James said Sunday as the Heat wrapped up practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. "But we just want to make it tough on him whenever he takes a shot."

With the Heat looking to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, coach Erik Spoelstra stressed Sunday the importance of his team entering Game 2 with the same focus and intensity they showed Saturday.

Otherwise, Spoelstra said, the Heat would squander a remarkable defensive performance from Game 1 if they stumble on Monday and allow the Knicks to even the series at 1-1 heading back to New York.

"Their game plan hasn't changed," Spoelstra said Sunday. "All they're trying to do is get one on our court. We haven't done anything yet. We haven't even protected our home court (completely) yet."

In attack mode, LeBron dominates New York

April, 28, 2012
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
LeBron James stood tall above Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks in Game 1.

MIAMI – In what could be nominated as the defining play of the 2011 Finals, LeBron James finally went to the basket after meekly considering it for what seemed two hours and smashed into Tyson Chandler.

It was late in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and the game was in the balance, a few baskets for the Heat and they’d be up 3-1 or a few stops for the Mavericks and they’d have tied it. James finished the play by making the basket and the whistle indicated it might’ve been worth three of the biggest points of his career.

But Chandler had been quicker, smarter and braver and instead had drawn the biggest charge of his career. It was part of a fantastic defensive effort the helped the Mavericks eventually beat the Heat.

Saturday afternoon those roles, for a nice little bit of symbolism, had reversed. With the Knicks off to a promising start, Chandler ran over James, who stepped up and accepted a strong blow to his chest, for an offensive foul. It was one of three offensive fouls James drew on the day and one of eight forced turnover he was personally responsible for. The Heat went to the other end and took the lead for good, eventually building it 37 points.

It’s not prudent to create conclusions after Game 1 of any series, much less the first game of the postseason. Chandler, fighting the flu, played terribly, committing seven turnovers with four offensive fouls before retreating to get an IV drip of fluids. Judging him while sick or the Knicks, who were completely out of sorts as they fumbled the ball away 27 times leading to the 100-67 defeat, just based on Saturday afternoon is shallow.

James played a great game, scoring 32 points by taking just 14 official shots. If you’re trying to understand how that’s even possible, shots taken while being fouled don’t count unless you make them. James got to the foul line 14 times in 32 minutes, which you don’t need a statistical explanation to understand is quite strong.

That was not unusual, James has played a lot of great playoff games in his career. In fact, he’s had some flat out fantastic Game 1s. In his first-ever Game 1, for example, he had a triple double. What was different, however, was the way James went about it.

James is not known for taking charges and he’s not known for playing without emotions. But both happened in the opener against the Knicks. It was a businesslike approach that he might aspire to but doesn’t usually favor.

There was something churning inside, that showed when he scored nine straight points after Chandler committed a flagrant foul when he hit James with a blind pick late in the second quarter. But for the most part, James operated with subdued calculation.

“As one of the leaders of this team I just want to be sharp, I’m not always going to play the way I played tonight and go 10-of-14 from the field,” James said. “But I’m going to make sure I’m in tune from start to finish and give us a chance.”

James comments afterward were generally bland and emotionless as well. It was left to others to describe the effort that splinted the Knicks defense.

“He was spectacular, his play spoke for itself,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It seemed as if he had his hands on every single play in some form or another.”

As the weekend approached, James described his pent up emotions and eagerness to get to the postseason. That manifested itself in a strong performance, the type that the Heat will need from him from start to finish in the postseason if they’re going to reach their goals. But it was devoid of matching expression from James.

Perhaps it was just the mood that struck him on this particular day. Perhaps it is James debuting a more weathered exterior after the playoff disappointments of the last three years. That will unfold in the next few weeks.

James’ play has been uneven over the last two postseasons, dazzling at times and adrift at times. Saturday it was dazzling, once again opening the conversation of this perhaps finally being the year James makes this the norm throughout the playoffs.

“I just trying to be in attack mode throughout these games,” James said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Dwyane Wade
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Will Dwyane Wade show some rust in Game 1? Will the Heat win the series? It's time to debate.

In the first postseason installment of the Heat Index's special 5-on-5 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat host the Knicks in Game 1.

1. Fact or Fiction: In crunch-time, you'd prefer Carmelo over LeBron.

Jim Cavan, Knickerblogger: Fact. Melo’s late-game effectiveness is well documented, and he absolutely could win one of these games down the stretch. That said, sooner or later LeBron’s going to uncork a reputation-swinging crunch-time performance – it’s just the law of averages. He has the ability to win games clandestinely, through all quarters and with all tools laid bare. I love Melo, but I’ll take the latter.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. For a last-second shot? Yeah, I'd probably take Carmelo. For a possession or multiple possessions, I'd probably take LeBron. For what it's worth, LeBron is shooting better than Carmelo in crunchtime this season (game within five points inside final five minutes), converting shots at 45.3 percent clip versus Carmelo's 37.8 percent. Put it this way: As a coach, I'm picking LeBron; he'll make the smart basketball play. As a fan, I'm picking Carmelo; he'll take the dramatic shot that I'll always remember.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. I need more information than that. My choice would depend on the team I was playing against, the supporting cast on the court and other variables. Do I need a 3? Am I down 1? If I need a jumper, I'm going with Melo. If I need a general play to be made based on versatility, it's LeBron.

Brian Windhorst: Fact. When they first came to the league most thought Melo and LeBron would be relative equals. This has not turned out to be the case, LeBron is the superior player. But Anthony's resume is unquestionably better in executing clutch shots. In this area, Anthony's really had no peer during his career.

Jared Zwerling, ESPNNewYork: Fact. Among players who have taken at least 20 field goal attempts in game-tying or game-winning situations in the last 15 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime in the past 10 years, Anthony ranks first in field goal percentage (46.2; 24-for-52), according to the Elias. His 24 field goals are second only to Kobe Bryant (26), but he's shooting only 30.2 percent in clutch situations (26-for-86). Melo's also shooting 46.7 percent on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of regulation or overtime -- the second-best mark in the last 16 seasons after the Mavericks' Shawn Marion (47.4 percent). As for LeBron? Not even close to the top of the list.

2. Fact or Fiction: Chandler is the most important player in this series.

Cavan: Fact. For the Knicks, anyway. But – laugh all you want – J.R. Smith ain’t far behind.As one of the few semi-reliable wing defenders the Knicks have, Smith’s ability to slow down Wade and LeBron will be crucial. Ditto his shooting, where Earl’s stellar April (16ppg on 42% from distance) has to continue if the Knicks have any hope of making this a series.

Haberstroh: Fact. Let's frame it in hypotheticals. If the Knicks lose Carmelo Anthony for the series, I think they can still win a game based on sheer 3-point shooting and defense. If they lose Tyson Chandler, they get swept, in my opinion. He's that important to their defense and pick-and-roll attack, which will come in handy once the Heat stymie the isolation ball. As for LeBron, if the two teams were closer in talent level, I'd give the nod to LeBron here. But for the Knicks to have a chance, they need Chandler on the court.

Wallace: Fiction. LeBron James is the most important player in this series. This is as close to a Finals feel for LeBron since, well, since he melted down late in the Finals against Dallas. Tyson certainly had a big series for the Mavs, but the Heat could have overcome all those issues if LeBron resembled anything close to himself late.

Windhorst: Fiction. Chandler's ability to defend the rim is vital for the Knicks to have a chance. But the most important players in this series are the stars. Most of the time it's the stars who decide playoff series.

Zwerling: Fiction. LeBron James. After disappearing in the NBA Finals last year, succumbing to rookie mistakes by fumbling the ball, making poor passes and looking rattled on his drives far too often, the likely MVP has a lot to prove heading into this postseason. And it starts with the first round. He's the most important player in this series because he's the best overall offensive and defensive player. If he can play efficiently as the point-forward and especially out of the post, where he's been excelling more this season, as well as make it difficult for Carmelo Anthony -- easier said than done, of course -- the Heat will have the clear advantage.

3. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks should start Amare Stoudemire.

Cavan: Fiction. With Melo on a tear and the two’s chemistry still in question, bringing Stat off the pine makes a lot of sense. At the very least the Knicks should consider giving him the bulk of his minutes with the second unit. No one says it has to be permanent; they’ll have ample time to sort out the glitches this summer. But now’s no time for basketball alchemy.

Haberstroh: Fiction. He's weighed them down all season long. Take a strong whiff of these numbers: the Knicks are +8.4 points every 48 minutes when Carmelo plays without Stoudemire, but -2.4 when the two stars share the floor. Enough forcing the issue. It's the playoffs. Better to bring Stoudemire off the bench with the second unit and isolate the problem. I get that Stoudemire's making $18.2 million this season, but that's Jim Dolan's problem, not the Mike Woodson's.

Wallace: Fact. He's a starting player in this league. This isn't like a Ray Allen situation in Boston. Amare is still capable of having a major impact on this team. I know Carmelo has flourished while Stoudemire has been out. But this team can't reach it's full potential if Melo and 'Mar'e can't coexist.

Windhorst: Fact. In general, I don't really care who starts games. I'm much more interested in who finishes. In this case, I think having Stoudemire out there adds some challenge to the Heat defense. It forces James to defend Anthony more regularly, which the Heat would prefer to save until late in games.

Zwerling: Fact. Well, first of all, if Tyson Chandler misses Game 1 with the flu, Stoudemire will have to start no matter what. But overall, STAT should be in the starting five. The first reason has to do with defensive matchups. With the Heat's Big Three, the Knicks wouldn't want to start Anthony at the four because that would mean Landry Fields would be on James. And that's a major mismatch. While STAT's not a consistently effective defender, he can make some stops against Bosh with his length and athleticism. Offensively, while Anthony and Stoudemire still don't play great together -- that's because Melo is much more heavy in isolation -- Stoudemire's midrange jumper should come in handy from Anthony's penetration. And Stoudemire is getting that pop back since his back injury.

4. Fact or Fiction: The Heat should be concerned about rust.

Cavan: Factish. To the extent that stealing Game 1 would prove a potentially major coup for the surging Knicks, the Heat can’t afford to lay an egg today. Then again, we’re talking about a team buttressed by two players whose space age makeup is pretty much immune to earthly things like “rust.” Considering the condensed season, rest > rust.

Haberstroh: Fiction. They might be rusty, but I don't think a missed shot here and there is worth being concerned about in the big picture. Looking at the forest instead of the trees, the Heat needed LeBron, Wade and Bosh to be fully rested going into the playoffs. They'll be riding them more than ever.

Wallace: Fact. I don't care how much talent you have, you just can't expect to roll out onto the court and pick up where you left off after two weeks of not playing together. There will be rust early. And if Miami is vulnerable in this series, it's in Game 1. But the Heat have shown they come get on track quickly.

Windhorst: Fiction. Maybe it's a factor in Game 1. But they get to play that one at home, where they were 28-5 this season. Getting rest was vital.

Zwerling, ESPNNewYork: Fiction. Maybe a bit in the first quarter of Game 1, but a few days won't derail the Heat throughout the course of a playoff environment. They will be fired up, especially playing at home to open the series. Now, heading into the playoffs, James is healthy, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh's trainer, Ed Downs, said they'll both be ready to go. Wade dislocated his left index finger earlier in the week and Bosh had been dealing with a left hamstring strain. By the way, let's not forget something here: The Knicks will have some rust, too.

5. Fact or Fiction: The Heat will win in six.

Cavan: Fact. The Knicks could steal a pair, but their point guard and wing defense issues can only be masked so long. Sooner or later, the Heat’s lane-hawking and point-bunch runs will turn tides, and the Flying Death Machine will reign victorious. But if the Knicks can somehow go up 3-2 and force a game 6 in the Garden, buckle your coaster belts.

Haberstroh: Fact. But if Chandler isn't right for the beginning of this series, that'll shave off a game or two. As long as the Knicks understand that Steve Novak and J.R. Smith are their best options next to Chandler and Carmelo, they should steal at least a game. It's bound to happen. But the Heat's strong one-on-one defense will give them the edge in this series against the most iso-heavy team in the league.

Wallace: Fact. That's exactly my prediction. Would I be stunned if the Knicks prove me wrong? Not really.

Windhorst: Fiction. I'll say five. Though the Knicks have the shooters to steal an extra game if they get red hot.

Zwerling: Fact. The Knicks will make things interesting by stealing one game on the road and winning one at home through a combination of their defense, Anthony's scoring exploits and J.R. Smith and Steve Novak's 3-point shooting. During the regular season, the Heat were one of the worst teams at defending threes because they try to utilize their perimeter athleticism to over-trap and over-play passing lanes, leaving guys like Smith and Novak wide open. But in the end, the Heat have too much firepower that will overwhelm the Knicks down the stretch (just like what happened on April 15) -- no matter how clutch Melo is.

LeBron James ready for Carmelo Anthony

April, 27, 2012
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Carmelo and LeBron have faced each other 15 times in the NBA, but never in the playoffs. Until now.

WASHINGTON – Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James have been playing against each other for more than a decade now, dating all the way back to facing off during a camp in 2001 in Colorado when they sized each other up for the first time.

Since arriving in the NBA in the same year in 2003, most of their head-to-head matchups have been featured on national television. But it’s always been a mostly friendly “rivalry” absent of edge and real stakes. That, however, is about to change with Anthony’s Knicks about to face James’ Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

James said he’s been thinking about the matchup possibility for weeks now. He knows it may present one of the toughest individual challenges of a playoff series in his career to this point.

“I absolutely thrive on going against the best and I’ve had my fair share of battles in the postseason with some of the best,” James said. “I’m looking forward to this, it’s going to be great.”

James compared the matchup with Anthony to past playoff battles against Paul Pierce. James and Pierce have gone against each other in three playoff series. In 2008, they staged a historic duel in Game 7 when James scored 45 points and Pierce scored 41 as the Celtics escaped.

Like with Pierce, James and Anthony will likely spend significant time guarding each other during the series. The Heat will likely use Shane Battier on Anthony for stretches with the plan of saving James some energy for the fourth quarter. The Knicks may also rotate defenders on James with Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields and even Jared Jeffries.

With James and Anthony expected to lead their respective teams in minutes played, it is inevitable they will be facing off routinely. Both when playing the small forward position and at power forward, a wrinkle both teams will likely employ.

In the Heat’s victory over the Knicks on April 15, Anthony scored 41 points, the most allowed by the Heat to an opponent this year. But a defining feature of the game was James taking over the 1-on-1 defense of Anthony in the game’s last six minutes. Anthony finished just 1-of-5 shooting and with his scoring off, the Heat pushed out to an eight-point win.

It could come down to similar situations a few times in the series and how that plays out could alter the direction of things. James said he’s been getting ready for the challenge.

“We’re been preparing for the Knicks,” James said. “I’ve been studying.”

Heat 'Temp Check' Show: Linsanity Looms

February, 22, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace
MIAMI - Credit the Sacramento Kings for at least making the Miami Heat work hard into the fourth quarter on Tuesday. Still, the Heat got 30 points and 10 assists from Dwyane Wade and six 3-pointers from Mario Chalmers to pull away for a 120-108 victory that extended their winning streak to seven.

Next up: Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks on Thursday night. Check out our latest Heat 'Temp Check' show for a recap of Tuesday's win and a look ahead to the most anticipated game of the season as Linsanity looms.

Growing pains different for Knicks, Heat

January, 27, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace
Getty Images
The struggles of the Heat last season simply don't compare to the Knicks' struggles this season.

MIAMI -- Frankly, I don't fault Erik Spoelstra for essentially wanting little part in the discussion.

"I have enough on my plate," Spoelstra dismissively shot back at reporters in Detroit the other night as he looked ahead to Friday's matchup with the New York Knicks. "Thankfully, I don't have to wonder about what other teams go through. But there's no question about it, and nobody wants to hear this in this league, but it takes time."

Yes, time.

When it comes to comparing the frustrating false starts Spoelstra's Miami Heat team got off to last year with the one the Knicks are enduring this season, time is about the only legitimate commodity the two teams have in common.

Time to fix the mess. But even that can be deceiving for the Knicks, who stumble into Miami with their own Big Three project having sputtered to seven losses in the past eight games. When considering how relentless and oppressive this lockout-induced, truncated 66-game schedule is capable of being on teams, the Knicks enter AmericanAirlines Arena standing somewhere between rock bottom and the height of their hysteria.

In either case, it doesn't come close to comparing to what the Heat endured last season. Make no mistake: This Knicks situation is much worse. You could throw Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller on the same team, move the calendar to May, travel back two decades and still not see the Knicks get hit with as many shots as the self-inflicted wounds they've absorbed through the first month of this season.

New York is 7-11 through 18 games as Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler sort through the damage in their first season together under embattled coach Mike D'Antoni.

Through 17 games last season, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were 9-8 as they toiled through those early growing pains while Spoelstra strained to hold things together. Who doesn't think the Knicks would trade places right now and take the Heat's heartache of nine and eight?

For comparison's sake, that Heat team was going through what was probably a well-deserved humbling; these Knicks are going through hell. By this point in the Heat's schedule last season, Spoelstra had already survived his star players' leaks to the media about their discomfort with the offense and a Nov. 27 "Bumpgate" episode in Dallas, where a demoralizing loss was followed by a players-only meeting that proved to be a turning point.

Even amid the chaos and media frenzy in Miami at that time, it was obvious that the lines of communication between Wade, James and Bosh were open and it would only be a matter of time before they would figure it out. And the Heat moved from early-season friction to the NBA Finals.

There have been times already in New York when it appeared Stoudemire and Anthony weren't just on different pages, but working in different boroughs. I credit Anthony for trying to be a bit more of a playmaker, and he's averaging a career-high 4.3 assists this season. But you have to question why he's shooting a career-low 39.4 percent from the field. A Hummer can be parallel parked more efficiently in midtown Manhattan than Anthony has shown he can operate in D'Antoni's uptempo run-and-shoot offense.

And Stoudemire, who anchored the Knicks' modest revival when he arrived in 2010 free agency, has seen his impact and opportunities diminish as New York added what were supposed to be complementary pieces, first Anthony at the trade deadline last season and Chandler as the major addition after the lockout.

Those upgrades have Stoudemire on course to average the lowest numbers he's had over a full season in points, field goal percentage and blocks. Only in New York does it sort of make sense that the one guy putting up banner numbers -- Chandler is shooting a career-high 69.5 percent on 4.5 attempts per game -- gets the fewest touches among the key rotation players.

This time a year ago in Miami, the pressing question was, 'When will the Heat figure this out?'" Meanwhile, the significant chatter in New York is focused on determining whether the Knicks should bail on this project and break it up.

In these kinds of pressure cookers, amid this level of big-market media scrutiny, perspective is about as common as an oasis. Under the current circumstances, Miami these days seem about as tame as Cleveland when gauging the temperature in New York.

"It's never going to work just right overnight," a sympathetic James told reporters after Miami's victory Wednesday at Detroit. "We were the prime example of that. It took us time. We were 9-8 at one point. But it took us even more, long after that, to become a good team, to know each other, to learn each other, to learn what works for each other, what doesn't work."

You get that luxury of ample development time when you sign up in relatively anonymous Atlanta, mundane Milwaukee or perfunctory-yet-passionate Portland. But when the players' salaries are set to pile well into luxury-tax territory and patience runs razor-thin like in New York or Miami, it's basically a win-now or it-won't-work situation.

"People want results now," said James, who believes the Heat are operating in a championship-or-bust mode themselves this season. "Eventually, it just clicks, and you know what's best for the team and how we're going to work together to be successful. We were like, 'OK, let's just play our game and see what happens,' and we took off from there."

The Knicks could easily be at a crossroads coming into Friday's game against the Heat -- much like they were when they arrived in Miami last spring soon after they acquired Anthony and Chauncey Billups from Denver. Those Knicks were in an adjustment process following that Feb. 22 trade. They came to Miami a week later on the heels of a stunning loss to the rebuilding Cavaliers, beat the Heat and went 5-2 over a seven-game stretch.

Where do the Knicks come in from after their latest stinging loss? You guessed it: Cleveland. You can't make this stuff up. But you can't overlook the fact that New York lacks the direction it had during that rough patch last season. And I'm not even referring to the obvious issues with D'Antoni and the philosophical clashes between his preferred style and his isolationist roster.

The Knicks don't have guards or ball-handlers capable of steering this team out of being in its own way. Yes, Billups made that much of a difference in this equation. And they paid him to go away. The Heat had willing passers and facilitators in Wade and James. Miami's problem last season was that it was too unselfish at times. That's at least one diagnosis the Knicks haven't had to treat, ranking 24th in the league in assists and 27th in field goal shooting percentage. In other words, taking shots certainly isn't medicating the problem.

Even in many of their losses, the Heat were competitive. Five of the first eight setbacks were on the road, and four of them were by five or fewer points. But six of New York's 11 losses have been by double figures, and the Knicks have dropped six of nine at home.

The Heat, with all their early problems out of the gate, were still a team you clamored to see. If you've watched the Knicks play recently, there have been occasions when you've fought the urge to cover your eyes.

You can call the Knicks a lot of things right now. Delusional isn't one of them. They know they're a work in progress -- just like the Heat were last season. I guess that's another thing they have in common.

"Once we figure [it] out, we'll become a great team," Stoudemire told reporters in Cleveland on Wednesday. "Until then, we are who we are."

What Stoudemire's Knicks turn out to be remains to be seen.

But there's no doubt about where they are now. And that's is in a much deeper hole than the Heat ever were at this point in the season a year ago.

LeBron's crowd a bad fit with Nike designer

April, 8, 2011
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst

Tinker Hatfield is the Michael Jordan of designers at Nike, a legend in the shoe design field and the guy who runs the company’s “Innovation Kitchen.” He also, apparently, is not a fan of LeBron James’ associates.

Hatfield rarely does interviews and guards his secrets closely. But he did a private appearance at a Miami shoe store last week in which he took some questions from customers. During the session, which was recorded and posted on YouTube, Hatfield said he stopped personally developing James’ signature shoes because he didn’t like dealing with those around James.

“I don’t like working with LeBron’s entourage,” Hatfield said. “It’s too many people, too many ideas, too many opinions.”

It is the second time in the last six months Hatfield has publicly taken a shot at James various friends and managers. During a similar event last October in Santa Monica, Calif., Hatfield told a group of listeners at a shoe store that “I used to work on LeBron’s, until his entourage kind of pissed me off.”

Hatfield was the main designer on the first generations of James’ shoes, starting in 2003. But according to sources, in 2008 he stopped working with him to focus working on Kobe Bryant’s shoes and the Jordan Brand. In the meantime, Hatfield said last week that James’ products have “suffered a little bit” and “hasn’t done as well as the Kobe stuff.”

“[Working with Bryant] one guy comes into the room with him and he has ideas and is very forward thinking and is smart about what he needs to do, what he thinks he needs to do to be a better player,” Hatfield said last week.

“LeBron is a great guy, I really like him, but when he comes into the room and he’s got like eight other guys saying things. That is one reason why the LeBron stuff, even though it does OK, it isn’t quite as exciting to me as the Kobe stuff or what we’ve done with the Jordan Brand.”

Hatfield also said he enjoys working more with Carmelo Anthony, who works with the Jordan Brand, than James’ advisors. He said Carmelo Anthony is “kind of quiet, which is all right because he doesn’t have a big entourage that gets in the way and we can actually sit down and talk to him.”

A Nike spokesman said the company continues to support James' brand.

"Tinker is one of our highly respected designers and was expressing his personal preference of engaging in a one-to-one creative process with the athlete," Derek Kent, Nike's U.S. director of media relations said. "Nike is proud to work with LeBron on his highly successful product collection which continues to be popular throughout the world."

According to a source, the seventh version of James’ shoe that was released last year was the best-selling edition yet. He signed a new long-term contract with Nike last season.

Welcome back, East!

March, 25, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
The East
NBAE/Getty Images
The Eastern Conference is back, and the NBA is better for it.

Drawing conclusions from anecdotal evidence provided by taxi drivers, old friends and bartenders can be dangerous. But we don't need a full demographic survey to know that the NBA's regular season has captured the attention of people who were previously disinterested in pro ball -- certainly before mid-May.

The television ratings are conclusive. Ratings are up 27 percent on ESPN and 38 percent on ABC over last season. And it's not just the Heat driving interest. Strip away Miami games and ratings are still up 17 percent over last season on ESPN. The nation's economy is sluggish and much of the United States has endured a brutal winter, conditions that tend to keep folks inside and in front of their sets.

But there's a more likely diagnosis for the uptick in interest: The league is more competitive and its storylines more fascinating than ever. And much of that can be attributed to a revitalized Eastern Conference.

It's not just that superstars have relocated or that the overall strength of the conference has increased. Sure, competitive balance always makes for a more interesting landscape, but what's emerged is far more riveting than that. The current Eastern Conference reads like a good novel.

For the first time in a long while, we have a scrap heap atop the standings of teams that have carved out compelling identities. The upstart Chicago Bulls have established themselves as a squad with a high collective basketball and emotional I.Q. -- a team that has fully bought in and doubled-down on the defensive philosophies of the rookie savant coach who paces the sideline. Watching the Bulls' confidence grow over the season has been hugely entertaining.

You can't ask for a better incumbent power than the Boston Celtics. The C's are struggling right now -- just as they did a year ago at this juncture of the season -- but there isn't a team more serious about the business of basketball than the Celtics. That level of austerity has repeatedly victimized and intimidated playoff opponents, no matter how much raw athleticism, star power and camaraderie those opponents bring into a series.

Fair or not, the Heat elicit more hate than any team in NBA history. The late-80s Pistons more readily embraced their loathsomeness, but nothing compares to the venom the Heat attract from detractors. Maybe that's a manifestation of the Internet and the several million ways fans can convey their disgust for the Heat, but like our editor here says, that hate is the salt in the ocean that is the 2010-11 NBA season. Even though that ire doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, I appreciate it as an essential feature of the story. The NBA needs villains as a narrative vehicle and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have served admirably in that capacity.

The Magic's gutsy but desperate attempt to hang in the ranks of the East's elite has made for good theater. Some nights, Howard's presence under the rim and the precision of their inside-out half-court scheme look like the machine that hummed through the bracket in 2009 (and the first two series in 2010). The Magic's precariousness coupled with the ingenuity of their combustible coach make Orlando the wild card as the No. 4.

For dramatic purposes, it's good for the 5-through-8s to carry some intrigue, and no team has offered more than the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony's protracted story continues to swirl, as the success of his former team outshines what's transpired on the west side of Manhattan since the trade. After crawling through the wilderness for the better part of a decade, Knicks fans unleashed a barrage of boos on their team Wednesday night as the seconds ticked away on another home loss.

The reclamation project in Philadelphia has coaches studying film furiously to identify exactly what Doug Collins has injected into the bloodstream of his squad. The Heat might not say it aloud, but they'd much rather try to score buckets against New York or Atlanta than grind out games against the Sixers' quick, athletic and responsive defense. Even poor Atlanta, wallowing in its lost potential, will every once in a while show flashes of that team we fell in love with when they scrapped with Boston as the No. 8 seed in the 2008 postseason.

Arguing about the best (or worst) sports cities in North America is a timeless parlor game, but New York, Boston and Chicago are unquestionably in a select group -- old, ethnic cities that place a premium on civic pride (which is different than boosterism). These cities serve as national reference points. They aren't places I want to live -- I hate it when my contact lenses freeze onto my eyeballs -- but their relevance as NBA destinations draws in impartial fans and excites the more diehard ones.

The East has been building momentum for a few seasons, but its full-scale relevance has finally arrived. It's no longer the NBA's alternate reality -- but its actual one.

HoopSpeak on what LeBron can learn from Melo

March, 1, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
A binary debate over NBA superstars (i.e. LeBron and Kobe, LeBron vs. Carmelo) often prevents us from appreciating the other guy's game because we become so intent on defending our argument. That's frustrating because there's no reason we can't fully celebrate all the glorious things both guys do on the court, even while we make our case for one over the other in the MVP race.

By most accounts, LeBron James is more efficient and complete player than Carmelo Anthony. But you know what? There are some nuanced parts of the catch-and-attack game where Anthony is better. On Sunday night, Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak applied his careful eye while watching the Heat and Knicks. He noticed a couple of details where Anthony excels and where LeBron could stand to improve:
Let your teammates do the work.

Carmelo Anthony does a great job of not asking for the ball until he establishes the position he wants. Rarely do you see him chase the ball or dribble for five seconds to get to his spots. Instead, Carmelo works without the ball to establish position in his favorite places on the court, and trusts his teammates, especially Billups, to find an angle to feed him the ball. He’ll actually refuse the rock until he can get it where he wants to begin his move, whether that’s on the wing or on the block. The effect is that Melo often needs two dribbles or fewer to score once he receives the ball. One of LeBron’s worst habits is that he will relinquish excellent position in his eagerness to get the ball. Or, even if he catches the ball in a position of power, he’ll immediately surrender it by dribbling out to the perimeter to get a better view of the court -- a position that for him, seems to feel more powerful ...

Don’t bail out the mismatch.

On Sunday, when Carmelo Anthony was cross-matched with either a big guy or a smaller, quicker player, he did a great job of sticking with his “drive first” game plan (not always the case for the jab step king). Carmelo’s insistence on catching where he wants enables this attacking style. Against smaller players who can stay in front of him, like James Jones, Carmelo likes to contact then spin for either a short jumper, or, if he can get his pivot foot around the smaller player, a layup. Against bigger players, Carmelo will often at least threaten to attack the hoop before pulling up or shouldering past his defender.

LeBron, on the other hand, still has a tendency to settle for his step back jumper against players ill suited to keep him from getting inside. This is partly because LeBron typically has a live dribble against the mismatch, often after a switch initiated by a pick and roll. If the big sags off him, driving is complicated even further by other defenders sinking into the lane in anticipation of a drive. Yet on Sunday night, isolated against Rony Turiaf on the left wing, James opted for a twenty foot step back ...

We might not characterize Anthony as an efficient player in the macro sense of the word -- he shoots a lot and never has an impressive true shooting percentage -- but he moves incredibly efficiently in the half court. As Mason points out, Anthony doesn't like a long commute to the basket. Carmelo is a guy who wants to live near his office.

LeBron, on the other hand, values space over proximity. He wants the court to occupy his full periphery. In many respects, this makes him the player he is, and one reason why he's such a gifted playmaker for others. But that tendency doesn't come without some ancillary costs -- at least for the time being as he continues to refine his game below the foul line.

The Heat's empty possessions

February, 28, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
When the Heat were dropping games early in the season, Erik Spoelstra would sit behind the podium in the interview room at AmericanAirlines Arena and explain that the Heat were enduring a process. In Spoelstra's estimation, his team was a living organism. All that ugliness we were witnessing on the floor -- the lack of execution, direction and performance? Those were all natural parts of the transformation a team undergoes as it learns what it is.

Spoelstra's theory seemed smart after the Heat started to pull it together. As it turned out, the Heat needed "20 games to jell," even though that seemed like coach-and athlete-speak at the time. There were still some rough edges. The Heat were having trouble beating elite teams and still had a lousy record in close games, but those shortcomings were also part of the process and would be addressed in due time.

Due time arrived last night with the Heat leading the Knicks 84-78 with about three minutes left in the game. A six-point lead with six or seven possessions remaining in regulation gives a team a healthy margin for error. Grind out a bucket or two and you're basically requiring the opponent to run the table if they want to win or extend the game.

That being the case, we can tell a lot about a team's poise and competence by how it executes these possessions.

How did the Heat choose to approach these opportunities? Did they resort to hero ball, something they've been prone to do at their worst moments? Did LeBron James and Dwyane Wade trust their teammates, something Spoelstra preaches as gospel? Did the Heat use their superior talent and instincts to make smart basketball plays? Was each possession approached with a purpose?

With that six-point cushion, the Heat didn't need to be perfect. In fact, they didn't even need to be average. Even after Carmelo Anthony trimmed that six-point lead to four, Miami could withstand being significantly worse than New York and probably still survive.

It's one thing to say that a team has trouble closing out games, but that doesn't offer a specific diagnosis as to why.

How did the Heat manage only two points over their final seven possessions on Sunday?

Possession No. 1 (Heat up four, 2:50)
The Heat's lineup for the stretch drive includes Wade, James, Mike Miller, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony.

Credit the Heat for a defined plan on this possession: to go to their shuffle/UCLA cut, something they've been using successfully over the past month or so. James brings the ball up the left side. Miller sets a back screen for Wade at the left elbow. If executed to perfection, Wade's man, Bill Walker, will get hung up on that screen and Wade will fly to the hole where he'll either be completely alone or, if Billups (who is assigned to Miller) makes the switch, Wade will have deep, deep post position.

Miller's screen doesn't get any space for Wade, but it's not the end of the world. This is a resourceful set with plenty of options. Once Wade clears, Miller quickly offers James an angle screen on the left wing, which gets LeBron a mismatch when the Knicks switch.

Miller is a busy dude. Once LeBron draws Billups to the top of the floor, Miller sets a pindown for Wade, who curls counterclockwise along the left sideline.

This is good stuff because there are few things more dangerous in the NBA than Dwyane Wade on the move. For months we've begged the Heat to do more work off the ball, and that's precisely what's going on here.

One problem: As Wade swings around with Walker trailing well behind him, LeBron's bounce pass is snared by Billups and we go the other way.

You can't fault the scheme whatsoever. This is a beautifully drawn play and, if LeBron can execute the simplest pass to Wade on the move, almost certainly results in a layup or at the very least a couple of free throws if a help defender can wrap Wade up in time.

Possession No. 2 (Heat up four, 2:22)
Again, it's difficult to fault what the Heat have conceived here. They want a two-man game with Miller and Bosh on the right side. When Amare Stoudemire fronts Bosh in the mid-post, Bosh offers a step-up screen for Miller in order to get open. He's successful, as Miller passes the ball to Bosh at the right foul line extended area.

Isaac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty
Dwyane Wade: "We get the shots that we want."

It's debatable whether Bosh has sufficient room to launch an open jumper from 18 feet, but it's safe to say Bosh has attempted that shot with less daylight.

It's no matter, though, because the Heat have spaced the floor beautifully. Wade has been parked in the left corner. Once the Heat set the play in motion on the right side, Shawne Williams and Walker (Wade's man) cheat over. The moment Wade is no longer the focus of Walker's attention, he makes a sharp cut along the baseline to the basket, where Bosh tries to hit him with a pass.

Not unlike the previous possession, the Heat get Wade on the move to the hole. You can't ask for much more, except to make a clean pass. The feed from Bosh isn't horrible, but it's clunky enough to allow the Knicks to recover. By the time Wade gathers the ball, he's surrounded by a scrum of blue jerseys. Wade has to take a dribble in traffic, move from beneath the backboard, where he doesn't have a good angle, and launch the shot off-balance.

If he looks behind him, Wade would find Miller with not a soul within 10 feet of him behind the arc and Bosh wide open at his favorite spot at 17 feet. But with the ball that close to the hole and his propensity for drawing contact, Wade stays with the play.

The shot is no good.

Possession No. 3 (Heat up two, 1:41)
After Billups makes a runner, James -- unquestionably the Heat's primary point guard during this stretch drive -- brings the ball up.

Of the first three sets, this is far and away the least coherent, and it breaks down fairly quickly. After getting freed up from a down screen by Anthony, Wade received the ball from James at the top of the floor and gets a double stack high from Anthony and Chris Bosh. This is a play the Heat have run routinely and one that's also popular in Boston. Wade goes to the left of the screen, while Anthony rolls to the hoop.

Not that hitting Anthony with a pass inside is a very inspired idea, but Wade's feed is deflected slightly. Anthony is able to grab the ball but at this point he's surrounded by Knicks. Anthony manages to get the ball back to Wade along a congested baseline.

With the play disintegrating into chaos, Bosh does something smart: He streaks down a wide-open lane where Wade hits him on the move. But as he elevates for a close-range shot, Bosh has the ball slip out of his hands. The Heat get lucky, though, as the rock lands in Wade's hand on the right side at about 12 feet. With the shot clock clicking down, Wade launches a fadeaway that's short.

Sunday's night game was uncharacteristically sloppy, with plenty of poor passes and slippery execution. Place this possession into evidence.

Possession No. 4 (Heat down one, 1:01)
This possession follows Billups' enormous step-back 3-pointer.

Much of what Miami does offensively originates with the ball going into Bosh at the elbow. As is often the case, the nominal point guard (on this possession that's Wade) lobs an entry pass into Bosh, then moves to the corner to set a screen for his teammate on the wing. That's what Wade does, but Bosh senses a one-on-one advantage against Stoudemire at the elbow.

We often criticize Bosh for not being more willing to put the ball on the floor and attack, yet that's what he does here. As he drives middle, Williams moves off Anthony (and why not?) to help, which prompts Bosh to kick the ball out to the perimeter. Unfortunately, Bosh performs one of the cardinal sins of basketball and elevates before he knows where he's going with the pass. Bosh's intended receiver is Miller ... but the actual one is Billups.

Possession No. 5 (Heat down three, 0:43.2)
When the Heat get jittery, they often go back to the most rudimentary solution: put the ball in the hands of LeBron James.

James wants a high screen and, more importantly, a mismatch against a Knicks' big man. That's what he gets when Bosh screens Anthony at the floor. James promptly puts his head down and drives to the rack, beating Stoudemire and drawing the foul on the attack.

There's something almost poetic -- and somewhat ironic -- about the Heat's only two points in the final three minutes of the game coming from a set with the utmost simplicity. The Heat probably can't win a seven-game series running 3-4 and 3-5 pick-and-rolls for James more than a couple dozen times per game, but there are few things more reliable in basketball than James devouring a backpedaling big man on a dribble-drive.

Possession No. 6 (Heat down one, 0:12.7)
Eddie House is now in the game for Joel Anthony. Miller inbounds the ball to James who this time doesn't get a screen. The Heat spread the floor wide for James for a one-on-one drive against Melo in isolation. James attacks left and Carmelo does a solid job walling off the paint. James never gets the kind of space he wants, but still manages to get off a shot at close range.

But that's when Stoudemire darts over from the right side to challenge James at the rim. Stoudemire swats the ball away into the hands of Williams.

Whoever had the tandem of Anthony and Stoudemire stopping James on a decisive drive to the basket can claim clairvoyance. The defensive stand by the Knicks was as incredible as it was improbable.

Possession No. 7 (Heat down three, 0:06.7)
The Heat confronted this same scenario exactly two weeks earlier in Boston.This time, Miller inbounds from the right sideline into the half court.

Rather than rely on one of his 3-point shooters (and the Heat's best one, James Jones, is sitting on the bench), Spoelstra opts for the ball to be inbounded to James. LeBron gets open up top, courtesy of a sturdy pindown from Bosh at the top of the arc. Bosh pastes Carmelo Anthony as James darts to the top of the floor to receive the inbounds pass.

James has a reasonably clean look at about the 5.7-second mark, but as Carmelo eventually frees himself from Bosh to close out, James buys a little more time and space with a quick ball fake as Anthony approaches. LeBron then takes a single dribble to his left.

With 4.7 seconds remaining, James has another look, but he also has Wade open to his left. Wade has gotten himself free, like James, thanks to a down screen from Bosh.

Wade is a less proficient 3-point shooter (33.8 percent for James, 31.3 percent for Wade), but a more open one at this instant.

James takes the shot, and it misses. Game over.

Down three, does Spoelstra give his team a better shot at the win if he designs a play for Jones (again, not in the game), Miller or House? Does he give the ball to his superstar in this situation, irrespective of probabilities? How much of this decision is informed by Miller's inability to drain the shot in Boston?

After the game, Wade was asked by Brian Windhorst why the Heat have had trouble executing in late-game situations. Wade challenged the premise:

"I would disagree with you," Wade said. "I think we got good offensive execution, but all our shots haven't gone down all the time. We got what we wanted at the end of the game, with LeBron driving to the basket, and they made a very athletic play. I think we've executed pretty well. We get the shots that we want, that our coach draws up for us, that we as players want. A lot of times they just don't go in. But we don't win 43 games without being able to execute."

It's not so much the 43 wins as it is the 17 losses, including several games in recent weeks against the kind of Eastern Conference competition the Heat will encounter this spring. These seven possessions suggest that the Heat have the talent and schemes to generate points in pivotal situations, whether they're running a UCLA cut, crafty off-ball action or just relying on LeBron James to be LeBron James.

But even the best talent and most creative sets require sharp passes and smart decision-making and getting the ball to the right guys at the right spots at the right moments.

Can the Heat, with a straight face, say they accomplished what they wanted to last night?



Dwyane Wade
21.6 5.2 1.3 31.9
ReboundsH. Whiteside 9.8
AssistsG. Dragic 5.6
StealsM. Chalmers 1.6
BlocksH. Whiteside 2.5