Miami Heat Index: Dexter Pittman

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Will the Heat and the Nets take the top two spots in the East?

In another installment of the Heat Index's 3-on-3 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat host the Nets on Saturday and aim to improve to 12-3.

1. Fact or Fiction: This is a matchup of the top two seeds in the East.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. As impressed as I am with how the Nets have played this season, I'm not ready to sign off on a No. 2 seed for them quite yet. Not with Brook Lopez already dealing with foot problems. Boston is only 2.5 games behind the Nets and Knicks, which is practically nothing this early in the season. Don't count out Atlanta, either.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. The standings right now might reflect that to be the case, but once Boston hits its stride, I think the Celtics will be the team occupying that spot directly behind the Heat in the East.

Brian Windhorst: Fiction. Not ready to give that to the Nets yet. They still have to prove consistency. Also, I expect both the Knicks and Celtics to improve as players get healthy and the season goes on. But Mikhail Prokhorov has said he expects conference finals, and he might be on to something.

2. Fact or Fiction: The Heat should have signed Andray Blatche on a flier.

Haberstroh: Fact. I keep going back and forth on this one. Blatche might not have been a good fit with the locker room in Miami, but you can overlook that when he's averaging 18.9 points and 11.4 rebounds every 36 minutes. His scoring potential is well-documented, but his rebounding numbers would easily lead the Heat, and it's not like Erik Spoelstra has shown any interest in Dexter Pittman and Josh Harrellson. This isn't an Eddy Curry situation; Blatche is much further along physically.

Wallace: Fiction. The phrase "should have" seems to be a bit too strong. Miami was coming off a title with a certain roster personality. Pat Riley certainly didn't need to get desperate with anyone. Blatche would be a perfect backup for Chris Bosh from a playing-style standpoint. But just as vital to the Heat is the chemistry in the locker room.

Windhorst: Fact. I know Blatche's makeup doesn't fit in with the Heat's preferred profile. But he was ready to sign for the minimum and is way more talented than the reserve big men the Heat had on the roster or in training camp. The Heat also like cheap reclamation projects, and Blatche fit that for sure.

3. Fact or Fiction: Joe Johnson has had a more disappointing start than Dwyane Wade.

Haberstroh: Fact. Wade has had a rough start to the season by his standards, but that's what happens after knee surgery and foot problems. Johnson, though? That's a bigger mystery. Friday night was just the third time this season he's scored more than 20 points. If there are no injury concerns, he's declining way earlier than he should. Money is of no concern to Prokhorov, but there's $89 million left on Johnson's deal. That's a whole lot of cap space for a guy who trails Wesley Matthews in the scoring column.

Wallace: Fiction. For some reason, Johnson has always avoided the mega scrutiny endured by others who have underperformed from that 2010 summer free-agency crop. But Wade would be the first to tell you he's not pleased with the way his season has started. He's still dealing with nagging knee and foot recovery issues, and he's been absolutely horrible at finishing at the rim. His numbers will improve as he rounds into condition. On the other hand, no one know what to expect from Johnson -- even when healthy.

Windhorst: Fact. Wade is coming off knee surgery, and the Heat don't need high scoring from him anymore. Johnson has one of the biggest contracts in the league, and the Nets are paying for a leading scorer. He is averaging the fewest points since the 2002-03 season and so far is shooting a career-low 41 percent.

Cole's quest: 'Destroy whoever he plays'

July, 10, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace

MIAMI -- So what does a rookie point guard who just won an NBA championship in his first season in the league do for an encore?

For Norris Cole, the answer is simple.

"Right back to work," Cole said Tuesday between practices with the Miami Heat's summer league team as it prepares to play in Las Vegas next week.

Just three weeks ago, Cole was on the Heat's home court alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as the Heat finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to win the title.

On Tuesday, Cole was in his familiar practice jersey, but surrounded by a completely different set of teammates -- young free agents, second-round picks or undrafted players aspiring to NBA jobs.

Cole is the lone player from the Heat's Finals rotation on the summer league team that will play five games in Las Vegas starting Sunday against similar NBA teams stocked with young players. Seldom-used Heat center Dexter Pittman and guard Terrel Harris, who were both with the Heat last season, are also on the summer league squad.

The team's primary goal is to help Cole build on his sporadic rookie campaign in hopes of becoming a consistent contributor in the point guard rotation behind starter Mario Chalmers during Miami's title defense. The NBA's labor dispute prevented Cole from participating in summer league play last season.

So there's plenty of work to catch up on, despite the fact that he was part of a team that passed a major test this season.

"I don't want him ever thinking he's arrived to a point where he's now being hunted," said Heat assistant Dave Fizdale, who will coach the summer league team. "He has to stay hungry. And he has to play this summer like a guy who did not win a title."

Fizdale emphasized that Cole will be featured in just about every aspect of the Heat's game plan while in Las Vegas. He hopes to see Cole, the Heat's first-round draft pick in 2011, take more command of the offense by becoming a vocal leader as well as an aggressive playmaker.

"The offense is in his hands to make the play calls, to make the reads and to really quarterback the team," Fizdale said. "We're breeding Norris a different way. Norris is a hunter. Norris doesn't care about people coming after him, and all that. We're developing him to be an attacker. So he's going out to Vegas with the intent to destroy whoever he plays against."

Cole averaged 6.8 points, 2.0 assists and 1.4 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game last season. He played in 65 games, including 19 playoff appearances. He averaged 11 minutes a game in the Finals.

Cole said the past three weeks have been a whirlwind for him since the championship, but he's ready to end his extremely abbreviated offseason to improve his game and possibly expand his role.

"Even though we won a championship, I know I can get better ... need to get better to help this team grow," Cole said. "I'm going out there [Las Vegas] to get better. Competition is good for everybody."

Heat looking to go small in the draft?

June, 27, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace
Pat Riley
Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
Who might Pat Riley select in Thursday's draft with the 27th pick? His draft guru sheds some light.

MIAMI – With the No. 27 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat select …

It might not be the kind of player many think the defending champions need.

Based on how the Heat effectively finished the season with their small-ball versatile lineups, team vice president of player personnel Chet Kammerer said Wednesday that Miami is more likely to draft a perimeter player than a big man when commissioner David Stern steps to the podium with their draft card Thursday night.

“It's not that we're not going to be interested in a big,” Kammerer said during Miami's pre-draft media availability at AmericanAirlines Arena. “We have the greatest player in the world on our roster. What we have to do is bring a player in that will complement him and our stars. I think it's the most important thing right now.”

Despite what appears to be a glaring need for a center, Kammerer indicated the Heat won't necessarily think conventionally when they select late in the first round. Instead, the priority will be to find a player who is capable of playing two positions and who can fit alongside Finals MVP LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Several mock drafts have the Heat targeting power forwards or centers such as Syracuse's Fab Melo, Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli or Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn, whereas ESPN's Chad Ford sees Vanderbilt's wing Jeff Taylor as a possibility for the defending champions. Kammerer said he's followed several of the media-produced mock drafts, but wouldn't put too much stock in where players are slated to go beyond the top 14 picks.

Although team president Pat Riley's challenge to his draft staff is to find “a good big,” the Heat don't believe any of the potential centers on their draft priority board will be available in the late 20s when their pick comes around.

“I think it's going to be difficult to get a big man at No. 27,” Kammerer said. “For us to find someone, at No. 27, that will totally excite us.”

Kammerer, who has been evaluating draft prospects for the Heat for two decades, said he sees plenty of depth and potential in this year's class, particular with players he has rated between the No. 20 and 40 picks. Miami has worked out 41 prospects in the days leading up to the draft.

Kammerer's mission to “find the right fit” could have multiple meanings for the Heat.

Miami could be on the lookout for a player who can play both small and power forward, one who could buy James a few minutes of rest during the regular season. The Heat might also target a power forward or center to add depth behind converted center Bosh with so much uncertainty at those spots on the current roster.

Power forward Juwan Howard and centers Eddy Curry and Dexter Pittman all enter free agency on Sunday. Small forward Mike Miller is evaluating options that could include back surgery and, possibly, retirement despite having three seasons remaining on his five-year contract.

A few things Kammerer was fairly certain about entering Thursday's draft was that the Heat likely won't trade out of the pick or make a move to acquire a second-rounder. The plan also is to acclimate their draft pick into the system as quickly as possible, with a spot on the Heat's entry in the Las Vegas summer league next month.

Pittman along with first-year guards Norris Cole and Terrel Harris are likely to play on the summer league squad. Kammerer also said 2010 second-round pick Jarvis Varnado, who has played overseas the past two years, is scheduled to play with the summer team.

But for now, the objective is to add a productive young piece to the veteran mix – not necessarily a new developmental project.

“With the way we ended the season, it's more likely we look at a perimeter (player) more now than we would have two weeks ago, frankly,” Kammerer said. “We ended up switching a lot defensively this year, which turned out to be pretty successful for us. So if we can find a player that's versatile, that can fit and play defense and switch and not cause mismatches, that's going to be pretty important.”

Haslem opens up, NBA shuts him down

May, 23, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace
Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem was suspended one game by the NBA on Wednesday for his flagrant foul on Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough midway through Game 5.

Haslem will serve the suspension when the teams meet for Game 6 on Thursday in Indiana, with the Heat holding a 3-2 series lead and looking to close out the Pacers.

Haslem was scheduled to travel with the Heat on Wednesday to Indiana, but will not be allowed to attend the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as part of the normal suspension terms. The league also suspended Heat reserve center Dexter Pittman for his lunging elbow that took out Pacers reserve guard Lance Stephenson in the final seconds of Tuesday's game.

Both Haslem and Pittman attended the Heat's practice on Wednesday in Miami, although Pittman was not made available to the media after the workout. Haslem, a Heat co-captain, spoke with reporters after practice but before he learned of the NBA's ruling that was announced early Wednesday evening.

Q: What did you think of the team honoring your nine stitches by handing out promotional bandages to fans in Tuesday's game?
Haslem: It was cool. I'm glad they did it. I don't like being stitched up, but it's part of the process.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on what the league might do to you? Have you been in touch with the New York office?
Haslem: Nah. Nah. Yesterday was yesterday and today is today. I came in and I'm getting prepared for the next game with my team. Like I said, I'm waiting to see. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to just get ready for the next game.

Q: We saw you over there talking to Pat Riley after practice. What was his message to you?
Haslem: He just told me that yesterday was yesterday and today is today. He told me to just prepare your mind for the next game.

Q: Does the attention on all the hard fouls and rough play take away from the focus that the Heat have a chance to close out this series with a win in Game 6?
Haslem: Not at all. Not at all. It's the playoffs. So there's always some kind of noise. So we'll just focus on going in there, and it's going to be the most hostile environment we've faced so far. So we'll get mentally prepared to go to war.

Q: Is this series playing right into your comfort zone with all of the physical play, momentum swings and intensity?
Haslem: I'm enjoying the competition. Everybody is competing. Everybody is playing hard. It's playoff basketball. Seeds two and three. Eastern Conference ground and pound matchup. So it's a fun series to be a part of.

Q: Danny Granger reportedly said your foul on Hansbrough was as dangerous as Metta World Peace's elbow to James Harden's head. What are your thoughts on that?
Haslem: I'm not interested in no Danny Granger, man. That's why we've got league officials to look over that stuff and make that decision. I'm sure Danny Granger is going to say what he has to say to help his team. So, whatever. It's unfortunate that he feels that way.

Q: What do you think of Larry Bird calling his own team soft?
Haslem: I don't get into that. That's his opinion of his team. He's entitled to his opinion. We've got a game to play. What they're going through over there is between then and what they have going on over there.

Q: What do you expect from the crowd in Indiana?
Haslem: It's going to be a hostile environment. It's going to be a lot of noise. Very high intensity on both sides. It's going to be a highly competitive game.

Q: The fact that they were called Flagrant-1 fouls on the court and left there, do you think the league should respect the referees' decision without any further action?
Haslem: I hope so. I hope so. There's never been a Flagrant-1 that's gone from a Flagrant-1 to a suspension.

Q: You've done the research on that?
Haslem: Yeah. Something like that. But I would hope so. Like I said, those guys (referees) were right there and they saw it. So we'll see what happens.

Players' Twitter takes on physical Game 5

May, 23, 2012
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

10 Burning Issues for the Miami Heat

March, 27, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade aren't happy with what they've seen over their last two games.

Since storming into the All-Star break last month with the league's best record, the Heat have gone just 8-6 and have split their past eight games. With 18 remaining, there's still plenty of time for Miami to catch Chicago for the top seed in the East, re-establish the rhythm the Heat played with last month, and enter the postseason in beast mode.

But LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and crew must first blast some bad habits, and their teammates need to buck some disturbing trends to get back on their feet. Without further ado, let's break down '10 Burning Issues' facing the Heat.

1. Quack Attack Gone Whack
Perhaps it's time for Erik Spoelstra to again reach out to Oregon football coach Chip Kelly. That “pace and space” offense the Heat entered the season committed to playing is now more like “stand and stare.” They haven't cracked the 100-point mark in a victory since March 6. Meanwhile, opponents have caught up in recent weeks. Miami has surrendered 100 points five times the past 16 games compared with just twice in the previous 20. The Heat committed 55 turnovers the past three games and haven't shot 50 percent from the field since a March 6 win against the New Jersey Nets. It's a team in desperate need of a jumpstart.

2. LeBron's Familiar Woes, Elbows and Lows
Granted, LeBron is making a lot of the so-called “right” basketball plays. He just needs to stop trying to make so many of them to Joel Anthony on the receiving end. For several games now, LeBron has gone out of his way to pass the ball in the fourth quarter. I'm not faulting his overall decision-making or facilitating. And his recent elbow soreness stemming from those hard falls against Phoenix last week is affecting his approach, at least in part. But in Miami's last five losses, LeBron has shot just 33 percent from the field in the fourth quarter. That's the same percentage he also shot in the final period of the Heat's last five victories. That comes in the midst of a season in which he's shooting a career-best 53.4 percent overall. In six of those 10 games, he's attempted three or fewer shots in the fourth. If he's hurting, he needs to sit a few games and get healthy for the moments when these games really count.

3. Time To Panic at Point Guard?
It truly is ironic how just when the Heat make a move to address issues up front, the point guard play springs a leak. Someone needs to check Mario Chalmers' ID. This isn't the Chalmers who tried to play his way into the discussion for the league's Most Improved Player award. The same Chalmers who torched the NBA before he got that invite to the 3-point contest at All-Star weekend is now shooting just 34.3 percent from the field in March. His defense has also reverted to being as inconsistent as his shooting stroke. Rookie backup Norris Cole needs Boston to hurry up and come back around on the schedule. He spoiled everyone with that 20-point game in the home opener against the Celtics, and we haven't seen that kind of breakout play since December. Cole has had his moments this season. But as the team's pace has slowed down, so has his impact on that second unit.

4. Overdue For a Bosh Breakthrough
Off the court, it's a beautiful time for Bosh and his new bride as they await the arrival of their newborn. But on the court, it seems as if Bosh has been on paternity leave. In just the past two games, the defensive lapses and blown coverages have been abysmal. He can search all he wants for ways to be a bigger part of the offense. But until Bosh finds a bit more toughness in the post on defense, this is a problem that will only get worse as the games become more meaningful into the playoffs. Even with the starpower of LeBron and Wade, the Heat aren't a championship team unless Bosh plays to his potential. There's no other way to put it. Bosh's rebounding has been sporadic all season, but it was downgraded to atrocious in losses to the Thunder and Pacers. He had seven boards in 72 minutes against the kind of length he's certain to face in the playoffs. And that's without getting into his nine turnovers in those same two games.

5. Wade Waging Silent Protest?
Something – or someone – is ticking off Dwyane Wade these days. His body language is speaking volumes. He tried to channel that frustration back at Kendrick Perkins, but Perkins didn't return Wade's stare in Oklahoma City after that foot-to-the-face incident. And this recent 3-point barrage Wade is on represents so-called “hero ball” at its most extreme. Wade only attempted 32 threes in his first 37 games this season. He's jacked up 12 the past two – and that's including a fourth quarter in OKC when he didn't attempt any shots and declined to talk about the offense afterward. There very well could be a slight disconnect right now between Wade and LeBron or Wade and Spoelstra – or Wade and both. Those things happen over the course of a season. But how long will this linger?

6. No Sympathy From Schedule
The schedule won't offer the Heat much relief down the stretch. Seven of their next nine games are against teams with winning records, all gunning for playoff spots. It starts with Thursday's home game against Dallas in a rematch of last year's NBA Finals, and includes a visit to Boston and games against teams with the league's two best records: Oklahoma City and Chicago. If there's a silver lining amid that slate, it's that Miami plays seven of its next 10 at home, where the Heat are riding a league-best and franchise-record-threatening 14-game winning streak.

7. Will Spoelstra Adjust?

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Spoelstra's gameplan hasn't worked recently.

Should Spoelstra push his team harder through this current malaise, or pull back and preach patience and bigger-picture perspective? One thing's for certain: Spoelstra is as competitive and active on the bench as his players are out on the court. He gets caught up in the moment, and when his frustrations with defensive lapses overtake him, he storms onto the court and motions for timeouts much like a kid launching into a temper tantrum. Credit Spoelstra for keeping the Heat largely together and focused through distractions – even some that have been self-inflicted – that could have derailed many other squads through these two seasons. But now, his responsibility is to make some hard decisions with his rotation, prove he can adjust with in-game decisions and steer this team back towards the identity it established just before the All-Star break.

8. Still Waiting on Miller/Haslem
The hope was that this season would be the one when the Heat could flex their roster muscle with full contributions from Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, who both missed majority of last season with injuries. Instead, Miller again has missed a chunk of games due to a hernia surgery that kept him out at the start of the year and a recent ankle sprain that has sidelined him since March 10. Haslem has been a shell of himself this season on offense. His lift and touch have largely failed him, although his rebounding and defense have been on par. Perhaps the combination of the surgeries and battling bigger players night in and night out are starting to take a toll. Both Miller and Haslem have three seasons remaining on their contracts, and unless these trends turn around, Pat Riley will be forced to reconsider their roles on this team moving forward.

9. Maximize Turiaf's Impact
Regardless of how the team might characterize it, the fact that journeyman Ronny Turiaf could come off the waiver wire - having played just four games this season due to injury – and roll right into a primary rotation spot is an indictment on Dexter Pittman and Eddy Curry. Pittman at least got an opportunity in games to show where he stands. Curry, for whatever reason, has remained a mystery. In either case, those projects have either garnered a 'F' grade for failing or a 'W' mark for being completely withdrawn from the Heat's course of action in the post. Turiaf's aggressive defense, hustle and ability to catch and finish on limited opportunities near the basket have been a boost. As a result, Spoelstra shouldn't hesitate to tweak his late-game rotations if Bosh or Haslem struggle for stretches moving forward.

10. Far Too Charitable
No team in the league strikes as much fear in opponents for the ability to turn defense into offense as quickly as the Heat. When LeBron and Wade are focused, with, Haslem, Shane Battier and Joel Anthony providing backup, the Heat can swarm foes into submission. In football, you counter that speed and over-pursuit with misdirection action. In basketball, you use the skip pass and work back-door angles to get the ball inside. The better teams in the league (Bulls, Lakers, Thunder, etc.) have exposed this weakness in the Heat. And it's come to light in a major way the past eight games, when Miami has been outrebounded by a total of 46 boards and has allowed teams to shoot 42.2 percent from 3-point range. It's been a disturbing case of too many open looks for opponents from deep, as well as far too many second-chance opportunities. Even the most lethal knockout brawlers are susceptible to a disciplined counter-puncher.

What do the Heat have in Ronny Turiaf?

March, 21, 2012
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
Ronny Turiaf
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
If healthy, Ronny Turiaf could be a solid backup behind Joel Anthony.

The Heat are expected to sign Ronny Turiaf, who was let go by the Denver Nuggets this week, for the remainder of the season according to sources.

So what can the Heat expect?

Not much at this stage, but it's probably more than what they're currently getting out of the Dexter Pittman and Eddy Curry combo. The biggest thing to remember that Turiaf's size is deceiving; he is not a good rebounder by any stretch of the imagination. But for some reason, he's been known as a rugged rebounder despite the fact that his rebound rate last season was lower than Mike Miller's. He brings width and effort, but let's just say nobody's confusing him with Kevin Love these days.

Statistically, he's more Joel Anthony than Dexter Pittman on the defensive end. Keep in mind, he's only played four games this season and all of them were for the Washington Wizards. So we'll go back to 2010-11 for his track record. For the Knicks last season, Turiaf tallied 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks every 36 minutes. Guess what Anthony's rates were? 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks every 36 minutes. So in terms of production the defensive end, he will remind you a lot of Anthony. He's not as mobile in the pick-and-roll blitz, but he's not Eddy Curry out there either.

From a skills perspective, he's far more polished than Anthony offensively (granted, that doesn't say much). Turiaf brings a fine passing touch, something that none of the Heat's centers can offer. In fact, Turiaf posted the highest assist rate (assists per possession used) among centers last season and three times higher than the average center. Evidently, the French center's handiwork is far more useful than Anthony, who has tallied a whopping seven assists this season in over 1,000 minutes of playing time. Huge upgrade there.

So why did this guy get dropped by the Denver Nuggets and then no one touched him on the waiver wire? The Nuggets needed to drop someone to make room for Wilson Chandler and there's some worry about Turiaf's hand health. He has been out with a broken hand since Jan. 1 so he's probably not in game shape. But if any team has experience in fast-tracking a big man into game shape, it's the Miami Heat.

If/when Turiaf's hand gets healthy, you can expect some time for him to get his wind back. Ultimately, the Heat made a deal for a backup center who can play 5-to-10 minutes off the bench with little expectations beyond that. He's often injured and they'll have to be careful not to rush him back too soon.

It's a good pickup by the Heat since there's little to no risk. Remember, the Heat had an empty roster spot after not bringing Mickell Gladness back. If the Heat were looking for a backup center, Turiaf is definitely worth a gamble. He's a superior basketball player than Eddy Curry and Dexter Pittman at this point and that's all the Heat can ask for considering the pricetag.
LeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
The Heat stroll into Philadelphia with a 4-4 record since the All-Star break.

In another installment of the Heat Index's 3-on-3 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat visit the 76ers (25-18).

1. Fact or Fiction: Heat fans should be bummed about the trade deadline.

Haberstroh: Fiction. My Twitter inbox was filled with panic from Heat fans looking for a backup center, but I have a box of chill pills to dole out. The Heat might not have a legitimate center on the roster that can play 5-10 productive minutes, but the Heat still have the sixth-highest rebound rate in the NBA and the top basket defense in the league (by opposing field goal percentage at the rim).

Wallace: Fiction. Fans who have an ounce of perspective will realize that the Heat lack reasonable assets beyond LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Truth is, you can't really complain much when you've got a roster with those three at the top. On the other hand, the could be options to upgrade the roster in the coming days through free agency via the waiver wire.

Windhorst: Fiction. No player traded was as good as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. They're still doing quite well, it seems.

2. Fact or Fiction: Miami will have a new starting C come playoff time.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Joel Anthony might not be the rebounder or the scoring big man that fans want, but he's among the best pick-and-roll defenders in the league. In today's NBA, that's a huge asset even though it doesn't pop up in the box score. As offensively limited as Anthony is, there just isn't much out there.

Wallace: Fiction. Joel Anthony will be the guy. If Miami does add a center, it will be in the form of a backup. As Pat Riley has said all along, this team might be limited in its ability to get bigger, but that doesn't mean those here right now can't play bigger That means far more is needed collectively from Anthony, Bosh and Udonis Haslem.

Windhorst: Fiction. They can dream about Chris Kaman or Jermaine O'Neal (yeah, O'Neal would be an upgrade to their rotation) but the circumstances make it seem doubtful a starter-quality center will shake free. The Heat's best hope may be that Dexter Pittman continues to improve, a process that's been incremental.

3. Fact or Fiction: Andre Iguodala is LeBron James' toughest defender.

Haberstroh: Fact. No one can bottle up LeBron on a nightly basis, but Iguodala has the length, athleticism and attention to detail to at least keep up with him on that end. LeBron shot "just" 47 percent against him in the playoffs last season and scored just 19 points against Iggy last time out. Of course, defending LeBron one-on-one is like throwing out plastic road spikes in front of an army tank anyway.

Wallace: Fiction. I don't know what the numbers say. But Metta World Peace strikes me as having all of the tools -- and psychological instability -- to disrupt LeBron as much or more than anyone else in the league. No one can stop LeBron, but there are a select few who can bother him a bit. Iggy would at least make him work on both ends.

Windhorst: Fiction. Iguodala has developed into a world-class perimeter defender over the last several years. But I do not believe LeBron loses much sleep worrying about him. I'm not sure there is one at the moment in his career. He physically just overpowers players at his position.

Heat search for identity during rough patch

March, 16, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
During the recent skid, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have had little help from the supporting cast.

PHILADELPHIA -- At this point, the diagnosis is simple by most accounts.

A Miami Heat team that has lost its way a bit the past three weeks just needs to regain its basketball identity. So even as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stumble into Friday's game to finish off a road trip in Philadelphia, none of them will lift a finger to push the panic button.

But they each can point to some familiar signs of collective frustration.

“No, I'm not concerned,” Wade said. “I just want us to play better as a group, for everyone to continue with confidence. Confidence is key. I don't want guys to lose confidence in their individual ability. In anything, you're going to lose some games, you're going to go through some tough stretches. That builds a team. We'll deal with it and we'll move on and eventually get it under control.”

Since entering the All-Star break late last month with the league's best record, the Heat (31-11) have gone just 4-4 and have lost four straight games on the road. A loss to the 76ers on Friday would make it Miami's longest road skid since the Big Three came together before last season.

Three weeks ago, the Heat were storming through the league while winning nine consecutive games by double-digit margins. Everything was clicking. Everyone was cohesive. All was good. Miami was playing so well - so efficiently at the time - that some were questioning whether the team might be peaking too soon. It was a notion at which the Heat's players and coaches scoffed.

But that was then.

The All-Star break disrupted their rhythm, although Miami opened the second half of the season with a blowout victory in Portland. Since then, the Heat have lost four of seven and are coming off consecutive losses to Orlando and Chicago, teams that pounded Miami inside and further exposed a glaring weakness in the middle.

Miami was outrebounded by double figures in both games and also picked apart by small, quick point guards who penetrated the lane at will late in games.

Although the Heat have been encouraged by the play of point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole overall this season, the team watched Thursday's trade deadline pass without making a move to add help in the frontcourt. Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony, Miami's primary power rotation, had no answers Tuesday in Orlando, where Dwight Howard posted 24 points and 25 rebounds. A night later in Chicago, the Heat were outrebounded 50-34 and outscored 21-7 in second-chance points.

Offensively, Bosh and Haslem have been inconsistent all season and were a combined 4 of 20 from the field with just seven rebounds against the Bulls. The Heat have worked out several low-budget free agents in search of help in the post and will continue to monitor the waiver wire to see if more options might be available in the aftermath of Thursday's league-wide trades.

But for now, Miami's lack of consistent toughness inside is an issue that must be addressed within.

“We've been playing some big teams the second half of the season so far,” James said. “We don't have the size. But we've just got to figure it out. We've got to put more bodies on guys and just try to do it as a collective group, a collective effort.”

James also said the recent losses to the Bulls, Magic, Lakers and Jazz on the road aren't indicative of the Heat's overall play this season away from home. Miami's 13-9 mark entering Friday's games was tied for the third-best road record in the league.

“I think it's more of a rough patch than a concern,” James said. “We know how to win on the road. We've won on the road before. I don't get too caught up in the standings. At the end of the day, in the playoffs, you've got to go win on somebody's floor, you have to win on the road.”

There are other issues that have factored into the Heat's recent slippage. The bench has tailed off in recent games and shooters such as Chalmers and Shane Battier have lost their touch from beyond the arc. Mike Miller, second in the league in three-point shooting percentage, is recovering from a sprained left ankle and did not travel for the Heat's three-game trip.

Wade and James have been overextended in some areas, while the supporting cast hasn't provided enough to consistently bridge the gaps since the break.

“We certainly have to own it, no doubt about that,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we will. We have a group that doesn't dodge this. We couldn't keep on playing during the All-Star break. We had to break like everybody else. And that's how fragile things are in this league. But the character and makeup of our group … we'll work together to find a way to get back to where we were. We were playing excellent basketball three weeks ago. But that's in the past.”

Assessing the Heat's options post-deadline

March, 16, 2012
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
etty Images
Ronny Turiaf, Chris Kaman and Jermaine O'Neal will be on the Heat's radar this upcoming week.

MIAMI – Before any discussion on weaknesses the Heat have or what player they might add before the playoffs there needs to be some reality check. So here it is: the Heat are not desperate; there are probably between 20-25 teams that would gladly swap problems; they’re still one of the favorites to win the title.

Now that’s done with, there’s a reason the Heat have been combing the country to find a player who could give them something, anything at the center position. Defending certain big men and rebounding – they have been outrebounded by 53 in their four losses since the All-Star break – are their biggest issues.

Since they decided to use their draft pick on a point guard and their free agent dollars on Shane Battier, the Heat have been scrambling to address this issue. From bringing in Eddy Curry and putting him on a weeks-long weight-loss routine to working out Rasheed Wallace to bringing in guys who are just back from the Chinese league like Shavlik Randolph, it’s been a deep search.

They’re not looking for a starter, there’s barely a chance of that. The Heat’s front office is hoping for a guy who might be able to play 5-10 minutes more effectively than Dexter Pittman, who ranks 73rd among centers in player efficiency rating (Curry, by the way, is 80th and the since deposed Mickell Gladness is 78th).

Now for some more reality: the pickings are slim, bare-boned in fact. Here’s a look at what the Heat are looking at for their last roster spot:

Buyout options
The two on Heat fan’s tongues are Chris Kaman, who survived the deadline with the New Orleans Hornets, and Jermaine O’Neal of the Boston Celtics.

The hurdles with Kaman are many. Team general manager Dell Demps told the New Orleans Times-Picayune “our intention is to keep Chris” but “never say never.” Even if Demps wants to buy Kaman out the ownership – the league’s 29 owners right now – would have to approve by a majority. There would seem to be little to no chance of that happening because owners wouldn’t want to help a rival.

Even if that somehow too place Kaman would have other suitors and some may be more attractive to him than Miami. Clearly, he’d be the Heat’s dream late-season pickup and likely would move into the starting lineup quickly. But it also seems like it’s a bit of a long shot.

As for O’Neal, the Celtics just lost center Chris Wilcox for the season because of a heart issue and they are currently lined up to play the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. Very slim chance he’s let go under those circumstances. It's also worth noting that O'Neal took to his Twitter account early Friday morning -- the first time he'd used it in six months -- to deny any rumors he'd wanted a buyout as was floated.

One name that likely will be on the market is Ronny Turiaf. The 6-10 energy guy is headed for waivers after the Nuggets traded for him Thursday as part of a larger deal. But he's only managed to play four games this season for one of the worst teams in the league in Washington.

There will certainly be a player or two who gets bought out before the March 23 deadline that is unexpected – it happened with Mike Bibby last year – and the Heat have their fingers crossed the surprise buyout this year is a big man. That’s been their hope all along.

There are a couple of veterans who have been playing in the D-League waiting for a call up. Two that standout, scouts say, are Dan Gadzuric and Mikki Moore.

Gadzuric is not a banger but still moves well and that would fit in with the Heat’s system. He’s currently playing for the Texas Legends and averaging a double double. He played last year for the New Jersey Nets.

Moore hasn’t played in the league in two years but has been playing well for the Idaho Stampede. He has never been a great rebounder, though, which might limit the interest the Heat have in him.

Free agents
There are a couple big bodies who are waiting for the phone to ring and presumably staying in shape. The names will not inspire confidence. The most intriguing – Kenyon Martin and Joel Przybilla – have already turned the Heat down to sign elsewhere.

At the top of this list is Kyrylo Fesenko, who hasn’t been heard from since a deal to sign with the Golden State Warriors fell through in December. An injury and a long time in his native Ukraine left him badly out of shape at the time. He’s supposedly been focusing on getting in playing condition. He’s a wide body that the Heat would be interested in but they don’t have time for him to play his way into shape like Curry and Pittman did.

Also on this list are Soloman Jones, recently cut by the Clippers, and DJ Mbenga, the rugged center who carved out a niche with the Lakers on their latest title teams. But neither would seem like a true upgrade from Pittman at the moment.

European options
There are several players who are overseas that could fill the spot. But there are contractual issues that often get in the way of these types of moves. Nenad Kristic, for example, is locked into a deal with CSKA Moscow. As is Andrei Kirilenko. There are some other former NBA big men like Darnell Jackson, Hilton Armstrong and Alexis Ajinca in Europe as well. But, again, it’s a question of whether any of them could give the Heat more than Pittman or Curry.

It does seem likely that the Heat will add a big man with their 15th roster spot. Perhaps he’s mentioned here and perhaps he’s not. Pat Riley has pulled off roster miracles before but the overall outlook shouldn’t be to expect the cavalry.

Why Miami might not need backup at center

March, 7, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace
Dexter Pittman
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE
Should the Heat be satisfied with Dexter Pittman and Eddy Curry, or should they make a trade?

MIAMI – Of course, Pat Riley didn't ask me.

But if he did, here's a suggestion for the Miami Heat's president of basketball operations if he's really serious about prying a veteran big man out of retirement to bolster his team's depth for the season's stretch run.

Dust off your best motivational speech, take a few steps down the hallway at AmericanAirlines Arena and make one more passionate plea to player-turned-executive Alonzo Mourning. It'll require a more powerful recruiting pitch from Riley than the one he executed to get LeBron James to Miami.

But still.

I'm joking. Sort of. However, I'd bet that Mourning – right now, today, at age 42 – could give the Heat as much, if not more, than some of the names they've been linked to recently in search of spot-duty help down low.

For now, Miami will continue to sort through a few past-their-prime, on-their-last-leg or completely-out-of-the-league options to see if anyone out there can provide about 10 minutes a game to support Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony in the power rotation.

There are some nights when Heat seldom-used project centers Dexter Pittman and Eddy Curry try to remind everyone they could be as serviceable as anyone realistically available among cast-off free agents or those on the trade block.

One of those nights came Tuesday, when Pittman was called upon early after starter Joel Anthony picked up two quick fouls. Pittman responded with a career-high 10 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes. Granted, it was against the woeful New Jersey Nets, who were without Brook Lopez and were forced to play Shelden Williams and Johan Petro in the paint.

So discount Pittman's performance, if you must, considering the competition. But then again, aren't the likes of Williams and Petro the very sort of players the Heat are scouring the big man bargain bin in an effort to find a deal?

The Heat are working simultaneously on two tracks. Erik Spoelstra insists Pittman and Curry are continuing to develop at a deliberate, yet patiently productive pace behind the scenes – even if it doesn't always manifest with playing time during games. Meanwhile, Riley and front-office staffers Andy Elisburg and Nick Arison had privately courted Kenyon Martin and Joel Pryzbilla – both signed elsewhere – and reportedly worked out retired center Rasheed Wallace.

“Pat and Nick and Andy are always doing their due diligence,” Spoelstra said. “For me, my plan is with this team and what it takes to get this team to the next level. We feel we have enough. And I think we've proven already that if we play the way we're capable of, we feel confident against anybody in this league. It's more about that, and less about personnel for us.”

At times, it's also been about the Heat proving they can get away with gambling. It's been about seeing how long Bosh, Haslem and Anthony can masquerade as centers in small-ball. And when one of them is unavailable, struggling or in foul trouble, then it's about turning to LeBron James as the emergency center. It has worked well against the against the Pacers, Knicks or Trailblazers. But that challenge becomes much greater when facing the Lakers, Thunder or Bulls.

What this past weekend revealed about the Heat is that the absence of Bosh suddenly takes this team from creatively deep up front to depressing thin. It's clearly the Heat's one weakness. But encouraging outbursts like the one Pittman had Tuesday also shows that, if given extended minutes, there could be hope for an in-house solution.

So the question is whether the Heat are better off shopping for another project or sticking with the slow-developing ones they already have in place? Riley's pondering the answer.

“We really don't pay attention to that,” Pittman said of the speculation the Heat might be headed to the scrapheap for help. “All we do is come in and get better every day. As long as my teammates have confidence in us, nothing else really matters. I just need to get in shape and make sure these guys have confidence in us.”

For Pittman and Curry, this season has been much more about conditioning than contributing. There have been times when Pittman, in his second season out of Texas, has been encouraging one night and flat-out embarrassing the next in his low-post matchups. But the one constant has been a commitment to losing weight in order to reach the Heat's conditioning goals.

Pittman said he has lost about 40 pounds since training camp, and now weighs 278. That's down from the 322 pounds he believes he weighed on draft night two years ago and well below the 395 he reported to the University of Texas carrying as a freshman.

His coordination and timing have been affected by the reshaping of his body, which has factored into the slower-than-expected progress on the court.

“I feel like I'm getting comfortable (but) it took me a while at first,” Pittman said. “I thought I could overpower everybody still. But that wasn't a fact. Going up against guys like Dwight Howard, you have to have skills and fundamentals. That's what I'm trying to (add).”

It's not an overnight process. And with the pace of this season's truncated schedule, it's understandable if the Heat don't feel they have all day to wait. The fact that Pittman was quickly benched and the Heat never even turned to Curry to fend off 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol during Sunday's loss to the Lakers could be seen as a sign of where things stand in terms of Spoelstra's confidence.

But James said the only way to change that is for Pittman to make the most of those limited moments.

“Every opportunity he's getting, he's making the best of it,” James said. “Spo is getting more confidence in him, starting to trust him more. He's starting to feel better out there. He hasn't played much, so he's kind of like a rookie. But the more minutes, the more games, he's going to feel more comfortable out there and he's going to continue to get better.”

Like Pittman, Curry's season has been more defined by the weight he's lost than any role he's gained. And Curry knows all about the Heat's clandestine operations when it comes to private workouts.

It was this time a year ago when Curry and the Heat formalized interest in one another after he was traded from New York to Minnesota and then release by the Timberwolves. At the time, the Heat were sorting through the previous batch of stop-gap options that included Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire.

“It absolutely is a business,” Curry said of the Heat's dilemma. “I just hope they give us a look from time to time. If they do, we'll surprise them. If I could just get some more minutes, man. That's the key for me. I feel like I've done all the right things. I'm just going to keep plugging away.”

Now, Curry is on the inside looking out.

And the view is fuzzy right now for the Heat at center.

Should they trade for Denver's Chris Andersen at the expense of, say, Mike Miller? Or do they wait for Pittman to put it together enough to be trusted if needed in the playoffs?

Does Miami roll the dice and hope that 'Sheed will get in shape and won't self-destruct? Or do they count on Curry and see if the minimum investment ultimately produces a reasonable return?

That's the million-dollar, Troy Murphy question.

My answer? Check in one more time with Zo.

Just to see how it goes.

Progress Report: Heat's Midseason Grades

February, 29, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace
Miami Heat
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The Heat are off to their best start in franchise history. But who has passed the test so far?

MIAMI – Just before the All-Star break, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra asked his team two pertinent questions that will define their destiny.

“What kind of team do we want to be?” Spoelstra probed. “What's our motivation?”

The Heat will resume their search for those answers on Thursday, when they open the second half of the season with a game in Portland. But to this point, what we've seen from the Heat is a team that appears determined to return to the NBA Finals and finish the job this time after falling to Dallas in six games last season.

Miami is far from perfect, but it very well could be in the midst of the best basketball we've seen since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in the summer of 2010 to alter the league's landscape. They've yet to define their destiny, but the Heat have developed this season into a team that tied with Oklahoma City for the NBA's best record entering the break at 27-7, and one that resumes play riding an eight-game streak of victories by a double-digit margin.

Overall, the Heat deserve an “A” for a midterm grade after getting off to the best start in franchise history. But I'll go a step further and break down the marks for each player on the roster, along with evaluations of Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley based on the progress they've made amid Miami's lofty championship-or-bust expectations.

(3.0 PPG; 4.3 RPG; 1.2 BPG)
Upshot: There have been stretches this season when Anthony has simply dominated the paint defensively with his shot-blocking. His offense has improved enough to the point where he's developed a decent jump hook, and there's a pretty good chance he'll actually catch and finish once in a while.
Downside: Being undersized and mainly a non-factor overall offensively puts the Heat in a tough spot. His rebounding numbers could also be better.
Midterm Grade: C

(4.5 PPG; 2.1 RPG; 1.1 APG)
Upshot: The cold front finally ended about two weeks ago. Maybe it coincided with his guy, Jimmy Buffett, coming to town for that concert. It finally appears his offense is catching up with his defense. Battier also ranks among the NBA's leaders in drawing charges, and will be key down the stretch.
Downside: His first half was such a struggle offensively, he shot just 38.9 percent and sometimes looked like a washed-up player on both ends of the court. Consistency is a significant concern.
Midterm Grade: D+

(18.4 PPG; 8.30 RPG; 2 APG)
Upshot: It finally seems to be sinking in for Bosh that he might never be as productive, statistically, as he was as a featured man in Toronto. He's had a great attitude and is trying to make the most of his adjusted role. Recently, his rebounding has picked up and his mid-range jumper continues to drop.
Downside: Bosh just doesn't spend enough time attacking the lane. He should easily be a 20-10 player, but too often falls short. His play will ultimately determine how tough Miami will be in the postseason.
Midterm Grade: B-

(11.1 PPG; 2.5 RPG; 3.6 APG)
Upshot: Chalmers is justifying that new $4 million-a-year salary by having a career season. He's developed into one of the top 3-point shooters in the league. He's always been confident about his game, but we're now seeing a dependable and consistent presence from a far more mature Chalmers.
Downside: If he faced Jeremy Lin every night, Chalmers would be just fine defensively. But that's one area of his game that leaves a bit to be desired at times. He should be that motivated every game.
Midterm Grade: B

(8.7 PPG; 1.7 RPG; 2.5 APG)
Upshot: Two words you'll never use to describe the Heat's rookie point guard: Bashful and slow. The kid is flat-out fearless on the court and has proved to be a late first-round steal. Cole has been the change-of-pace guard Miami needed to push the pace for it's much-improved second unit this season.
Downside: For a guy who gets to the rim with relative ease, Cole should be a much better finisher in the lane. He also needs to make more plays as a facilitator and learn when to shift gears to mix things up.
Midterm Grade: B

(1.1 PPG; .7 TOT; .1 APG)
Upshot: Even though he's privately frustrated with the lack of playing time, Curry has publicly maintained a professional and positive demeanor about his role in Miami. He lost a ton of weight to prove to Pat Riley that he was serious about this comeback after nearly three years of inactivity.
Downside: Spoelstra is more comfortable with second-year center Dexter Pittman than Curry. That doesn't bode well moving forward for Curry's chances on a team that already prefers to play smaller.
Midterm Grade: I (Incomplete)

(.3 PPG; 1.4 RPG; .3 APG)
Upshot: The second-year development player was brought back for a second 10-day contract on Tuesday, and could be one step closer to remaining for the rest of the season. Gladness, a slender shot-blocker, showed enough talent to make the team out of camp but opportunities have since been slim.
Downside: Gladness needs to spend more time in the weight room to bulk up. He's also learning the hard way that life trying to get his shot off in the NBA is a lot more difficult than in the D-League.
Midterm Grade: C- (Incomplete)

(3.3 PPG; 2.6 RPG; .9 APG)
Upshot: Harris has the size, strength, scoring ability and defense to contribute on any roster that doesn't include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Norris Cole in the perimeter rotation. But when he got the opportunities, Harris showed in games that he's a legit NBA prospect.
Downside: Unfortunately for Harris, the Heat have contract commitments for their perimeter players that extend beyond this season. He'll be the next Anthony Morrow to get away amid a numbers crunch.
Midterm Grade: B-

(6.3 PPG; 8.1 RPG; .7 APG)
Upshot: He's healthy. That couldn't be said about Haslem much of last season when he missed most of it, including the first two rounds of the playoffs, to recover from foot surgery. The Heat certainly missed his interior toughness and rebounding, which have been exceptional so far this season off the bench.
Downside: Those baseline and straight-away jumpers that have been automatic for Haslem the past few years are flat broke right now. He's struggled to find an offensive rhythm and is shooting a career-worst 41.8 percent.
Midterm Grade: B-

(.8 PPG; .7 TOT; .3 APG)
Upshot: Howard is a proud vet who resents being reduced to this tag, but he's been a consummate professional and solid locker room presence. At 38, he is clearly along for the potential ride to a title. His best work comes in pushing Bosh, Curry and Dexter Pittman in workouts. He also still does a mean Cabbage Patch.
Downside: But nobody does the Cabbage Patch anymore. And it hasn't been easy having a locker next to LeBron for home games and being smothered by media lining up for those postgame interviews.
Midterm Grade: C

(27.4 PPG; 8.10 RPG; 6.8 APG)
Upshot: So far, no one in the history of the game has done it better or more efficiently on the court that LeBron, who was named conference player of the month for December/January and has positioned himself well to win his third MVP award. He's added a post-up game, as promised, and has been on a tear lately.
Downside: LeBron still can't get out of his own way sometimes. The flirting with Cleveland and the fallout from the way his All-Star performance ended created serious questions that just weren't necessary.
Midterm Grade: A+

(3.3 PPG; .9 RPG; .2 APG)
Upshot: There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Jones is capable of knocking down big shots when needed. He's shooting 42 percent from 3-point range and also continues to grade well defensively by draw charges. The fact that he re-signed shows how badly he wants to stick with his hometown team.
Downside: Having Jones and not playing him is a luxury. In hindsight, though, would the Heat have been better off using Jones' or Howard's spot to get younger and more athletic at power forward/center?
Midterm Grade: C+

(6.3 PPG; 3.4 RPG; .7 APG)
Upshot: Just like Haslem, Miller is enjoying an extended stretch of good health after missing a major chunk of last season with injuries. He's second in the league in 3-point shooting at 51.7 percent, has thrived defensively and has found a comfort zone on the second unit with Battier, Haslem and Cole.
Downside: He remains the Heat's most realistic trade asset beyond the Big Three should Riley seriously pursue adding more size. Miller is on pace to average career lows in minutes, points and assists.
Midterm Grade: B-

(1.5 PPG; 1.5 RPG; .1 APG)
Upshot: Big body, big hands and solid footwork are all major assets for Pittman, a second-year center still trying to prove he can be a long-term fit. He's also dropped plenty of weight to show he's serious about maintain a roster spot in Miami. Pittman can at least say he's beating out a veteran in Curry.
Downside: Pittman has had enough time to crack the rotation. Still, Spoelstra would rather play Bosh, Haslem and Anthony at center. That tells you all you need to know about Miami's project centers.
Midterm Grade: D+

(22.4 PPG; 4.40 RPG; 4.8 APG)
Upshot: LeBron's efficiency is obviously rubbing off on Wade, who is ranked second behind his teammate in PER. Wade has been a different player since he came back from the foot injury that cost him six games. His boost helped propel the Heat to their current eight-game streak of blowout victories.
Downside: Wade is praised for his ability to help out in the lane and block shots, but he also deserves a bit of the blame for blown assignments that have led to the Heat giving up a ton of open 3-point looks.
Midterm Grade: A-

(27-7, First place in the East)
Upshot: Miami lost eight games by the time it played 17 last season. This year, the Heat have yet to reach eight setbacks through 34 games. Credit Spoelstra for finding the right buttons to push. He's altered the playing style, managed egos, settled on a rotation and has Miami rolling through a tough schedule.
Downside: No other coach works under the assumption that anything less than winning a championship could be considered a failure. That leaves Spoelstra in a tough spot regardless of that new contract extension.
Midterm Grade: A

PAT RILEY, President of Basketball Operations
(27-7, First place in the East)
Upshot: Riley was absolutely right about one thing: The Heat didn't need major roster tweaks after finishing two games short of an NBA championship in the first season of the Big Three era. Instead, they only needed to get healthy and focus a bit more on the game itself and less on distractions.
Downside: It's too early to know if offseason investments in Battier and Chalmers will pay off in the playoffs. But the lack of depth in the post has yet to be addressed as the March 15 trade deadline looms.
Midterm Grade: B
LeBron James
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
LeBron James didn't have his best game, but he didn't need to with the way Chris Bosh played.

Led by Chris Bosh's 24 points and 11 rebounds, the Heat move to 20-7, their best start in franchise history after 27 games.

The Heat put on quite a performance for the Washington crowd, thanks to some fireworks from the Big Three and some bench support from Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem.

What went well for the Heat? What didn't go well? What do we still have to learn?

In another installment of Heat Index's 3-on-3 series, our writers give their takes on Miami's 20th win of the season.

1. What is the biggest positive takeaway from the Heat's win?

Tom Haberstroh: That Chris Bosh found himself again. The Heat really missed that guy recently. When Bosh has it going, it alleviates so much pressure from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The rare 20-and-10 should count even though it was against the Wizards. He looked that out of order recently.

Michael Wallace: The Heat will need to rely on their bench for a significant boost during this six-game trip, and that's exactly what they got to put away the Wizards. Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mike Miller filled in the gaps perfectly to help Miami avoid a major letdown against a struggling team. Also credit Chris Bosh for getting sort of beastly down low.

Brian Windhorst: This was the gimme win on the trip and the Heat took it. The next three games promise to be very challenging again teams with rest advantage. Also, it was a second straight good shooting game for Shane Battier. He was probably the happiest guy in the locker room.

2. What is the biggest concern from the Heat's win?

Haberstroh: Keeping Mike Miller vertical. Seriously, they need to find a way to keep him on his feet without taking away his energy and aggressiveness. That fall in the second half was scary and I'm surprised the twisty-ties that hold his limbs together didn't come undone.

Wallace: That's back-to-back relatively subpar games from LeBron James, who still had 18 points and nine assists. But he seems to have hit a bit of a lull in recent days. But the fact that Miami is now 4-1 this season when LeBron finishes with less than 20 points says a lot about the Heat's depth. LeBron will be fine, but get the man some much-needed rest when possible.

Windhorst: Something must've happened with Eddy Curry. Erik Spoelstra continues to play Dexter Pittman ahead of him for no reason that is apparent. Pittman certainly isn't earning the minutes with his production. Curry's limitations on defense must be a reason.

3. What is the biggest question going forward for the Heat?

Haberstroh: Can they get some rest for the Big Three in this upcoming back-to-back-to-back? No team is better equipped to survive long stretches with a star on the bench, so expect Spoelstra to find some rest anywhere he can find it.

Wallace: Can the Heat survive the upcoming back-to-back-to-back relatively unscathed? With three physical teams on deck in as many nights (Atlanta, Milwaukee and Indiana) starting Sunday, Miami's depth and conditioning will truly be tested. Simply surviving that gauntlet without a major injury would be considered a huge success considering what's gone on in the league this season with the slate of injuries.

Windhorst: What does it mean that the Heat are 4-1 when LeBron scores less than 20 points? Probably a lot of different things. One is that the Heat can be pretty good when they spread the touches out.

Wait-Watchers: Curry simmers for Heat call

January, 17, 2012
Wallace By Michael Wallace

MIAMI - By the time it was over, Heat assistant coach Keith Askins slammed his protective pads to the ground and released a powerful sigh that was part relief, part cry for mercy.

"That's it for me, man," Askins shouted Monday afternoon, drenched in sweat. "I'm done. Whew."

Askins, a wiry 6-foot-7 and not much more than 210 pounds, had just gone to battle in the post with massive Heat center Eddy Curry and forward Udonis Haslem during a post-practice workout. Even with the extra padding, Askins was outweighed by about 100 pounds when he leaned against Curry. This was the "cool-down" period of the practice for Curry, who had just completed his most extensive work of the season as he looks to finally make his Heat debut, possibly during this stretch in which Miami plays eight of its next nine games at home.

Curry, a 10-year veteran trying to work his way back into NBA shape, has come a long way since he signed with the Heat on a make-good contract on the first day of training camp last month.

Challenged by team president Pat Riley to get in the vicinity of 300 pounds, Curry responded by dropping more than 70 pounds in the past 18 months, including about 30 since last fall. He's close to meeting the team's conditioning standards, but probably not close enough to be activated for Tuesday's game against the Spurs.

On Monday, coach Erik Spoelstra offered his strongest endorsement of Curry so far this season, when he thought long and hard before he responded to a question about whether Curry might finally get a chance to play at some point this week.

Curry then addressed his standing with the team as he awaits a chance to get on the court with the Heat.

(Where do you stand after going through your first extensive workout on Monday since the start of training camp?)
Curry: "I feel like I'm close. I just did everything hard. I just tried to compete on every single play, and that showed."

(Over the next few games, the Heat face big teams that feature Tim Duncan, Andrew Bynum, Spencer Hawes, Andrew Bogut and others. Do you look at that and say, 'Hey, get me in there. I can bang with those guys'?)
Curry: "Definitely. I mean, I'm glad that (Dexter) Pittman got out there (against Denver). I hope one of us can get out there and show what we can do. But yeah, I kind of look at every game like that, whether I'm suiting up or not. Just how I can match up and how I think I can help this team."

(Being this close to finally getting the go-ahead to play from the coaching staff, how tough is it to stand on the cusp but still not quite be over the hump?)
Curry: "It's tough because I want to play. But it's not tough because (Spoelstra) communicates with me. He lets me know I'm close. He lets me know to keep working hard. That's all I can really do."

(How close do you feel you are to playing? In all honesty?)
Curry: "I feel like I'm close. Me, personally, I'll say I'm there. But, you know, we'll see what happens. You know, it's all in (Spoelstra's) hands. When he calls me and lets me know that it's that time, then I'm right there, ready to lace them up."

The Heat's big question at center

January, 15, 2012
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
Eddy CUrry
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
Erik Spoelstra might not admit it, but the Heat could use a center. Is Eddy Curry the answer?

DENVER – Heat center Joel Anthony might not have a bigger fan than Erik Spoelstra, who has helped nurture him from a training camp project to a starter with a respected defensive resume.

But even Spoelstra couldn’t take much of Anthony against the Denver Nuggets Friday night. After seeing the undersized Anthony get worked over continuously by Nene and Timofey Mozgov, Spoelstra pulled him seven minutes into the game and never brought him back.

It wasn’t all Anthony’s fault, those are poor matchups for him. The Nuggets certainly knew it, they attacked Anthony with their size right from the start. On one telling play Mozgov, hardly known as an enforcer, just shoved Anthony out of the way for a basket while Anthony helplessly fouled him. A few moments later Nene did the same. They rebounded over him and swatted Anthony’s shots, too.

In short, it was not a game made for the Canadian big man. That’s not a huge problem, in most games he’s going to be effective in his role, which is to challenge shots and rebound. With the league going smaller overall and the Heat wanting to play with a more athletic lineup anyway, Anthony is the correct choice to be the starting center from the choices on the roster.

The problem is that the Nuggets’ wide and rough front line is very much like what the Heat could face down the road in the playoffs. Both the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have big, bruising frontcourts that could make it hard to rely on Anthony. He did hold his own against the Bulls in the playoffs last year but the Heat had other center options at the time.

Friday, Spoelstra had to use Dexter Pittman at center for 15 minutes to attempt to slow Denver down. He was the biggest active player on the roster and sort of the last line of defense there. Pittman is also not in great shape and quite raw and it showed.

“We needed size at the rim … I thought Dexter gave us productive minutes with his size,” Spoelstra said. “He got a couple of good rebounds, he got a block. That is what we’re looking for, the physicality.”

Spoelstra is both right and wrong with that one and he’ll discover it when he watches the film from the game. Pittman actually had no rebounds and no blocks and missed several bunnies near the rim, shooting 1-of-4. But he did, to his credit, pick up the first assist of his career.

Spoelstra is correct, though, that the Heat are looking for that physicality. And so now comes the inevitable discussion: Eddy Curry.

Quietly during the Heat’s road trip, Curry was able to put together several workouts with the team. This is a significant accomplishment. Curry hadn’t been able to make it through more than a couple training camp practices for the last several years. This year, he hurt his hip on the second day.

But after dropping more than 70 pounds during the summer in an effort to get an invite to camp, it appears that Curry’s conditioning work has cut off another 20 or so more since the start of camp. Now he’s been cleared to rejoin practice. Curry now appears to be in the best shape he’s been in in years.

The Heat are making it clear that they are not rushing Curry to do anything and nor should they. They don’t need Curry to play a few minutes against Denver in a game in January. But there’s a hole on the Heat’s roster that Curry, or someone like him, is badly needed in down the line in a potential playoff series with the Bulls or Knicks.

It might just be 5-7 minutes a game, but it could make a difference. The Heat are well aware of it and what happened against the Nuggets, as Mozgov and Nene racked up
29 points and 20 rebounds on 12-of-21 shooting, was a reminder of why they have Curry around.

Those types of players just aren’t available. Right now, for example, the NBA Development League is virtually devoid of prospects for this role. And so Curry continues to work out and take baby steps to see what might happen.

The Heat might not say so, but they’re holding out hope he can somehow contribute in a role like they needed Friday night.

“We’ll see,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve got to get Eddy into some more practices and then we’ll start to evaluate him.”