Miami Heat Index: Israel Gutierrez
In a battle of division leaders, the Heat travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors. Yup, the Raptors lead the Atlantic Division with a record of 6-8.
1. Can Miami keep streaking until the Indy game (Dec. 10)?
Israel Gutierrez: Sure, why not? It'll only add to the narrative of that budding rivalry between the two best teams in the East. It won't be easy, though. That Pacers game will be the last of a four-game road trip for Miami, so getting there on a win streak would first mean victories at Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit.
Michael Wallace: No. Playing with that level of consistency and energy for six more games, with four of them on the road, is a bit much to ask. Heat streaks tend to die in Chicago, which looms next week. And if not there, two nights later in Minnesota could be dangerous.
Brian Windhorst: They have a great chance. They will be the heavy favorite in each game, and there's only one back-to-back, next week in Detroit, where there's a good chance Wade will sit. Of course, there's a game in Chicago in that stretch, and the Bulls are always a challenge. They're probably privately hoping they get a chance to end another Heat streak.
2. What are the chances Haslem's rotation removal is permanent?
Gutierrez: Very low. It's unlikely Shane Battier will go the rest of the way at power forward without wearing down at some point. If that happens, Erik Spoelstra will likely turn back to Haslem as a starter. But it has become clear that if he's not starting, Haslem's not playing.
Wallace: Slim. Coach Erik Spoelstra's rotation is known to go away from folks for extended periods, but they always seem to come back around at some point via injury or the ineffective play of someone else. That said, it will be difficult to overtake a healthy Shane Battier, a productive Michael Beasley or a consistent Rashard Lewis at this point.
Windhorst: Nothing at the back of the rotation is permanent. The Heat have a deep team, and they use it. The rotation will continue to change all season.
3. Can the Raptors actually win the Atlantic Division?
Gutierrez: No, the Raptors won't win this division, regardless of what's going on in New York and Brooklyn right now. The funny part is, if this talent (DeMar Derozan, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas) were on another one of these Atlantic teams, we would have pretty high expectations for them. But there's something about Toronto over the past several years that brings down expectations.
Wallace: It's possible, but I seriously doubt it. There's still faith to some degree that the Knicks will right the ship when Tyson Chandler returns from injury. And there's still plenty of time for the Nets to stop making a mess of themselves. It's way too soon to rely on the Raptors to get this done. Still, a .500 record may be all that's required to do it at the pace.
Windhorst: Probably not. The Raptors are the only team in the division that are performing at the level that most expected. Everything else has been a surprise. You would think the Nets talent would give them traction when they get healthy, especially since the Raps aren't putting much space between them.
The Suns (7-6) have been one of the biggest surprises in the early part of the season. Can they keep pace with the defending champs on Monday night?
1. Your biggest concern about the Heat right now is ...
Israel Gutierrez: That LeBron’s celebration dance is getting ripped off in the NFL (Cam Newton, Julian Edelman). Seriously, look at the calendar, look at the Heat’s history, look at the Heat’s roster and look at the rest of the Eastern Conference. If you’re still concerned about anything concerning the Heat, it might be time to seek medication.
Michael Wallace: Complacency. This is hardly a new challenge for Miami. But after all of the hype entering the season about all the potential threats to the Heat in the East, only the Indiana Pacers have lived up to expectations. Miami has needed about eight minutes of great play to win games this season. The biggest challenge is getting motivated to play a full game.
Brian Windhorst: Dwyane Wade's health. This has been the team's No. 1 concern for three seasons now. They are doing the absolute right thing by giving him games off every time he experiences issues, which is a luxury they can afford.
2. Fact or fiction: LeBron has been a better facilitator than scorer.
Gutierrez: Fact, because it is always a fact. Even when he does score in bunches, it doesn't come as consistently as his ability to distribute. Plus, if you look at his attempts, they’re at a career low, by far. So you realize that he’s being especially selective, therefore shooting near 60 percent from the field and 49 from three. It’s not as if he’s on some scoring tear.
Wallace: Fact. Now that he's added the cross-court, one-handed breaking ball to his arsenal, it's safe to say LeBron has the complete pitching package when it comes to creative ways to distribute the rock. I've seen him score 30-plus and shoot 60 percent quite often. But I'm just waiting to see him truly channel his inner Magic Johnson and average 10 assists for a season.
Windhorst: Fact. LeBron is averaging just 15 shots a game -- more than two fewer than the least number of shots in his career -- yet his scoring is steady. Being more efficient as a shooter has freed him up to focus on setting up teammates even more than usual.
3. Fact or Fiction: Michael Beasley should be behind Rashard Lewis.
Gutierrez: Fiction. Erik Spoelstra is trying to get the most out of them, wherever he can. Long term, there’s still no telling if either can be trusted for extended minutes against elite teams. But for now, it’s hard to complain about how each is being used when Beasley’s shooting 59 percent and giving you 26.2 points per 36 minutes, and Lewis’ plus-minus numbers have been great.
Wallace: Fact. Sure, we see the dynamic scoring at a point-per-minute pace for Beasley. The Heat need his punch and energy off the bench. But Lewis has gained the coaching staff's trust because of his unselfish ball movement and comfort level with the team's defensive concepts. Still, both have recently enjoyed a rotation promotion of sorts, having moved ahead of Udonis Haslem.
Windhorst: Fact. Lewis has a longer history with this group and has been playing his role well. For all the attention the ninth man in the rotation seems to get because of Beasley, though, if this is ever really an issue than it means the team is having much bigger problems.