Miami Heat Index: Joel Anthony

The return of forgotten man Joel Anthony

June, 1, 2013
6/01/13
1:33
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Joel
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
With Chris Andersen suspended for Game 6, Joel Anthony steps into the spotlight.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Did you forget about Joel Anthony?

If you did, it's hard to blame you.

It seems like a decade has passed, but it was only two years ago when Anthony was the Heat's starting center in the playoffs and regularly logging 20 minutes a game. But Anthony has been a forgotten man for the Heat this past season as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to stretch the floor with shooters in his "pace-and-space" system. Without a jump shot to speak of, Anthony didn't fit, nor did he have the finishing abilities of Chris Andersen, whom the Heat picked up at midseason. Anthony sat on the bench for 18 games of the Heat's streak of 27 straight wins.

But now, up 3-2 in Indianapolis, the Heat need him.

With Andersen suspended for Game 6 for his altercation with Tyler Hansbrough in the Heat's Game 5 win, Spoelstra indicated that Anthony would be called upon to help fill in.

So what can we expect from Anthony?

He's a pick-and-roll detonator on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he deploys his wide stance, quickness and long arms to wall off the gaps after a screen. Offensively, he's a liability as a roll man because he has fly swatters for hands. With Roy Hibbert's tendency to drop back in pick-and-roll coverage, Anthony may not be an asset there anyway.

Hibbert was asked at Saturday's shootaround to give his scouting report on Anthony. His response may have been the most generous assessment ever handed to Anthony.

"He's a strong guy. Terrific rebounder, terrific post player," Hibbert said.

If we're being honest with ourselves, Anthony is closer to "terrible" than "terrific" as a rebounder and post player. For his career, Anthony has gobbled up 11.2 percent of the available rebounds on the floor, which is right in line with Mike Miller. As for his post game? He once set Twitter on fire by airballing a reverse layup.

What Anthony will bring in Saturday's game is shot-blocking and hustle -- two things that Andersen already provided off the bench. But what sets Anthony apart from Andersen is an incredible knack for thwarting the pick-and-roll on defense. Anthony swarms the ball-handler and has remarkable ability to retreat to the basket and recover to his man. He covers more ground than perhaps any player on the team other than LeBron James. For this reason, he has often been called "Avatar" by his teammates.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said at the Pacers shootaround that Anthony lacks Andersen's finishing skills around the basket, joking "anything less than 1,000 percent [field goal percentage] would be a dropoff."

Vogel is right. Anthony learned basketball as a 16-year-old in Montreal by reading a book he picked up at his school library. Spoelstra says that when they invited him to training camp after Anthony spent three years ay UNLV, Anthony struggled to score in an empty gym. Heat assistant coach Keith Askins used to play a game of peek-a-boo where Anthony would have to turn around and catch a bullet pass from Askins, who stood 10-feet away, and do it over and over until he could consistently catch the ball. He still can't.

A month has passed since Anthony has played 10 or more minutes in a game, but you can expect he'll get more than that in Game 6 if Spoelstra decides to continue using a big man off the bench rather than going small with Miller or Shane Battier.

Chances are good that Anthony will fumble a pass, blow up a pick-and-roll or swat a hook shot from Hibbert. He is a memorable player, for both good and bad.

Wade, Bosh aim for bounce-back Game 6

June, 1, 2013
6/01/13
1:29
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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One step away from a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, struggling Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aim to regain enough of a stride to help LeBron James finish off the Indiana Pacers.

A sore right knee continues to limit Wade's effectiveness during the least-productive playoff series of his 10-year career, while a sprained right ankle has contributed to Bosh's scoring and rebounding woes the past two games.

Both Wade and Bosh hope to bounce back Saturday when the Heat carry their 3-2 series lead into Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Game 6 with a chance to close out the Pacers and advance to the Finals to face San Antonio.

“Nobody is 100 percent,” Bosh said Friday before the Heat's team flight to Indianapolis. “It's just really all mental. Just knowing you have to come in, you have to do your job better than the other guy and know that everyone is ailing a bit. But that's part of the game, especially this time of the year. Everybody has to rise to the challenge.”

That challenge grew steeper for Bosh when the NBA announced Friday that Heat reserve center Chris Andersen is suspended for Game 6 for his role in Thursday's altercation with Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough.

The absence of Andersen's interior scoring, defense, rebounding and energy will create a void for the Heat that demands more production from Bosh, Udonis Haslem and seldom-used center Joel Anthony against Indiana's physical and productive big men in Roy Hibbert and David West.

Bosh said the only choice is to embrace the opportunity.

“[You] have to love pain, love basketball, love the game,” Bosh said. “And love the position you're in.”

(Read full post)

Chris Andersen, Miami's missing piece 

March, 25, 2013
3/25/13
10:21
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Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
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Chris Andersen
Christopher Trotman/Getty ImagesWho has been the key to Miami's recent dominance? Don't forget about Chris Andersen.

MIAMI -- The Heat’s win streak has now reached 26 games, which is more victories than nine NBA teams have this entire season, and seven shy of the all-time record set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, it’s tempting to look beyond the horizon these days, but let’s look in the rearview mirror.

How have they done it? How come, all of a sudden, they look unbeatable?

Forget LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for a moment. Put aside Ray Allen and Shane Battier's 3-point barrages and Udonis Haslem’s toughness. That core has been with the team all season long and they weren’t exactly rewriting the history books with their play earlier in the season.

So what, then, has been the difference-maker?

Chris Andersen takes flight in Miami

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
2:45
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Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Andersen
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
After just five games, the man they call "Birdman" is already paying dividends for the Heat.

MIAMI -- Chris Andersen is not your usual NBA player. Neither is his offseason conditioning regimen.

What was his secret to staying in shape after nine months away from the game?

Fried rice.

Seriously.

"It was mainly my future mother-in-law’s fried rice," Andersen said after Wednesday morning's shootaround.

"Listen, I’m telling you. She’s from Taiwan. She makes some legit fried rice. It’s not like the fried rice you can pick up from P.F. Chang’s or something like that. This is legitimate, healthy ..."

And then a long pause.

"Man, it’s awesome."

Whatever Andersen did in the offseason, it's working. The 34-year-old -- who is known as "Birdman" but introduces himself to others as simply "Bird" -- is already playing big-time minutes off the bench for the defending champions. It's a big change considering just three weeks ago Andersen was unemployed, gobbling up fried rice and looking for his next NBA opportunity.

If he wasn't in shape then, he is now.

"I was in 'around around the waist' shape, but now I'm in 'six-pack abs around the waist' shape," Andersen said. "My knee surgery didn’t allow me to run mountains or the basketball five-on-five thing at the rec center, or stuff like that."

Andersen underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in July, but you wouldn't be able to notice any rust from the time off. He logged a season-high 15 minutes in Miami's game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday and finished with four points and six rebounds. It took only five games before the new signee replaced Joel Anthony in the Heat's rotation. Already, Andersen looks like Miami's best big man outside of LeBron James or Chris Bosh.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra insists that he's not playing Andersen 12-15 minutes a night just to help get him into playing shape.

"I’m not trying to condition him," Spoelstra said. "I’m playing him because he’s helping us."

Spoelstra likes what he's seen so far. The hustle plays. The rebounds from out of nowhere. The coast-to-coast drives. That's not stuff that you're seeing from Udonis Haslem and Anthony. And you'll never see Andersen take a play off.

"He doesn’t save anything," Spoelstra said. "He doesn’t pace himself. He’ll play until his tank is absolutely empty. Or until he passes out."

Spoelstra admitted that he initially wasn't planning to play Andersen until after the All-Star break. The coach wasn't sure how long it would take for Andersen to get conditioned and comfortable in the Heat's schemes. Those concerns are obviously gone now, but Spoelstra expects Andersen to need another six to eight weeks before he's in top shape.

But the thing that has intrigued Spoelstra the most is what he calls the "vertical spacing" that Andersen brings. The idea: Throw the ball up in the air and let Andersen catch it for an easy bucket. Bosh is usually out on the perimeter. Haslem doesn't have the legs or the height to pull that off consistently. Anthony doesn't have the hands to make it worthwhile. But Andersen has that promise.

At Wednesday's shootaround, Spoelstra as well as James, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and even Ray Allen drilled the lob pass to Andersen over and over. It's what Spoelstra fears the most when playing against athletic big men like Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard. Now, he's trying it out with Andersen.

“We haven’t had that element before other than Dwyane and LeBron in the fast break," Spoelstra said. "Guys are starting to see it now, but the play is there."

James unsuccessfully tried the pick-and-lob play with Andersen in Monday's game against the Bobcats. After Andersen screened James' man at the top of the key, the big man rolled toward the rim, watching James intently while James tossed the ball up toward the rim. Andersen went up to flush it home, only James' lob actually hit the back of the rim.

James, who was working on a near-perfect night from the floor, was credited with a turnover instead of a missed shot. Yes, they'll need some time to work out the kinks. That process started Wednesday morning.

"Working on it in practice and working on it in games is going to be completely different," Andersen said. "We tried one in the last game but it was off a little bit, but we’re trying to build that connection."

Andersen's still getting used to playing with a talent like James. One time in the first quarter against Charlotte, James drove baseline and threw an underhanded bullet-pass to Andersen who was barreling down the lane. Andersen didn't even get a hand on it; it came that quickly.

"I mean, that was a rocket," Andersen said, recalling the play. "I was coming to the ball almost full speed and I was like, ‘Holy smokes.’ He’s so capable of passing that you would not even expect some of these passes. It’s something that I have to get used to. Slowly but surely, we’ll get there."

In a little over a full game's worth of action (52 minutes), Andersen has registered 20 points, 19 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. If he keeps his fouls down to a manageable level (he's already been whistled a whopping 12 times), he'll be a big part of the Heat's quest to repeat. Andersen is still working on his second 10-day contract, but signing him for the rest of the season is a mere formality at this point.

If he keeps up his strong play, there might even be a starting job in his future. When Spoelstra was asked whether he could see Andersen eventually starting for the team down the road, the coach said he prefers Andersen coming off the bench.

At least for the time being.

"Right now," Spoelstra said," I like it."

Who's to blame for Miami's rebound woes?

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
1:41
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Haslem/Bosh
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
Udonis Haslem grabs a rebound from Chris Bosh's hands last week against Dallas -- a notable trend.

It seems the Heat have a rebounding problem.

The defending champs rank in the bottom 10 overall in rebound rate and second to last on the offensive glass. This has generated heaps of criticism toward both Chris Bosh and the Heat's decision to embrace small-ball after winning the title with it.

But here's the thing: The Heat have already ditched small-ball, and when they did, they became a worse rebounding team.

This is Miami's rebounding paradox. Sunday's game against the Washington Wizards marked the one-month anniversary of Udonis Haslem's promotion to the starting lineup. On Dec. 6, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, looking to shore up the increasingly problematic second unit, decided to insert Haslem into the starting five against the New York Knicks and bring Shane Battier off the bench as he rehabbed from his strained MCL.

We can debate all day about the importance of starting lineups or the lack thereof, but this was a landmark move in the Heat's season. Spoelstra, at least temporarily, put the title-winning formula on hold by slotting two traditional big men next to LeBron James.

Spoelstra went "big" and by doing so, it accomplished a couple of things. One, it allowed Joel Anthony to anchor the second unit's previously porous defense. So far, that's worked out and the defense has improved.

Secondly, it gave the Heat an additional big man next to Bosh to help on the boards. Haslem is known as the Heat's rebounding specialist. Earlier this season, he became the franchise's all-time leading rebounder, and last season he ranked eighth in the NBA in defensive rebound rate.

But the interesting thing is that Haslem's promotion has had the opposite effect on the Heat. Since Haslem entered the starting lineup, the Heat have ranked 24th in rebound rate. Before then: 21st.

Dig deeper and the issue becomes clear: The Heat's "big" starting lineup has gotten crushed on the boards. The five-man unit with Haslem next to Mario Chalmers and the Big Three has played 189 minutes together this season, which ranks 26th in the league, according to NBA.com's advanced stats tool. Among the top 30 five-man units with the most minutes in the NBA, that Chalmers-Wade-James-Haslem-Bosh lineup ranks 28th in rebound rate, grabbing just 45.5 percent of all available rebounds. A 45.5 percent rebounding rate would rank last in the NBA behind the Dallas Mavericks.

And it gets worse: That lineup gives up 19.3 second-chance points every 48 minutes -- easily the highest rate among those 30 lineups. It's actually the highest rate of any of the top 50 teams in minutes.

You want to know which lineup ranks 17th in rebounding among those 30 most common lineups?

The Heat's "small" starting lineup with Battier. Yes, better than the Haslem lineup.

How can this be?

There's a big difference between rebounding on the individual level and on the team level. Individually, Haslem does very well on the boards; he averages 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is the highest in Miami's rotation. But on a team level, the Heat have actually done worse on the boards when he's on the floor this season.

You know who in particular has done worse with Haslem on the court? Bosh. In fact, Bosh tallies 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes with Haslem on the bench, according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool. When he plays next to Haslem: 5.8 rebounds per 36 minutes.

This is the opposite of the Bargnani Effect, the phenomenon when Bosh became an all-world rebounder when he played alongside Andrea Bargnani (the anti-Mr. Clean on the glass). When Bosh plays next to Battier in that starting lineup, he grabs 11.0 rebounds every 36 minutes. Those are numbers that Heat fans want to see from Bosh. But Bosh's boards have been cut in half when he plays next to Haslem.

Does Haslem steal Bosh's rebounds? And why do the Heat's rebounding numbers suffer when Haslem is on the court?

These are very good questions, and it's tough to pinpoint the answer. It could hint at something that probably doesn't get the attention it deserves: rebound hogging. That's when a player "steals" live rebounds from his teammates that would have been safely recovered anyway. This seems quite selfish when you think about it, and "selfish" is the last word people (especially those within the Heat organization) associate with Haslem, so something else is probably going on here.

It could very well be the case that when Haslem steps onto the floor, the other Heat players simply get lazy and let him swallow up all the boards. Bosh may be as guilty of this as anyone. Yes, Haslem has been a strong rebounder over his career, but he's 32 years old and his rebounding numbers are their worst since 2008-09 once you adjust for playing time. He may not be up to the task anymore.

That the Heat have rebounded worse with Haslem this season flies in the face of all the conventional wisdom. Bosh has actually been a solid rebounder this season, but not when he plays next to Haslem. It may not be Haslem's fault, but if the Heat aren't demonstrably better as a team on the boards with him on the floor, what exactly is he out there for?

That's a tricky question for Spoelstra that's being made even trickier lately. Haslem collected 12 boards on Sunday, but here's the dirty little secret: they rebounded better as a team when he was on the bench (53.7 percent of all available boards with Haslem on the court, 60.0 percent off the court).

That's the Heat's problem in a nutshell. But can they solve it? It's fitting that their next test comes Tuesday against the Pacers, one of the top rebounding teams in the league. Yes, the same opponent that prompted Spoelstra to put Battier in the starting lineup and go "small" in the postseason. And we all know how that turned out.

The stats behind Heat's head-scratching win

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
12:54
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- It really doesn't seem to add up.

The Heat were outrebounded by the Timberwolves 52 to 24. Heading into Tuesday's game, teams that registered a plus-28 in the rebounding margin were 106-3 since 1985-86, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

One hundred six wins. Three losses.

Here's a chronological visual, starting with the most recent:

WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW
WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWLWWWWLWWWWWWW
WWWWLWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

Now go ahead and add an "L" to the beginning of that string. Somehow, the Timberwolves managed to lose a game in which they were plus-28 in the rebounding margin. First time in 60 previous such instances.

And the Heat won by 11.

Rebounding margin has its flaws. Sometimes a positive rebounding margin means the other team just missed a lot of shots, because the defensive team usually recovers a missed shot. So rebounding margin is not the end-all, be-all. Even so, the Timberwolves shot 43 percent from the floor, which is a ton of available rebounds the Heat didn't gobble up. No two ways about it: The Heat got bludgeoned on the boards.

Yes, the Heat got crushed on the boards, but just as notable is who got dominated. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem didn't collect a defensive rebound all night. That's happened to Bosh only one other time in his career while playing as much as he did on Tuesday (27 minutes).

Six hundred eighteen such games. Happened only once.

And Haslem? The Heat's all-time leading rebounder played 18 minutes on Tuesday and registered a goose egg in the defensive-rebounding column. Like Bosh, that's happened only one other time in his career. Five hundred seventy-three games. Happened only once.

On Tuesday, it happened to both Bosh and Haslem.

So how did the Heat win?

LeBron James had a big hand in it. He registered 22 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds to go along with 4 blocks on the defensive end. That's a complete game. How many players have matched that stat line in the past 15 years?

Here's the list dating back to 1985-86:

James (5 times).
Chris Mullin (once, in 1995)
Clyde Drexler (once, in 1988)
Charles Barkley (once, in 1986).

So, no one other than James had done it in the past 16 seasons. Impressive feat.

But here's the kicker: LeBron didn't turn the ball over even once.

How many players have accomplished at least 27-11-7-4-0?

No one -- until Tuesday night when James did it. To top it all off, he had a zero in the personal-foul column, too.

The game gets weirder. Joel Anthony had more assists (1) than starting point guard Mario Chalmers (0). Anthony had 9 assists in all of last season. Chalmers has registered more than 9 assists in two separate games this season. So there's that.

And then there's this: The Heat tallied 14 blocks to the Timberwolves' 1.

How often does that happen -- registering at least 14 blocks while the opponent gets just one? It's more rare than your birthday. Just 14 times in the past 28 seasons or once every two seasons.

"We just have to keep fighting and figuring out ways," James said.

Indeed.

James, Wade and Heat search for continuity

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
11:26
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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LeBron/Wade/Spoelstra
AP Photo/Elise Amendola
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are getting more say in Erik Spoelstra's rotation shuffle these days.

MIAMI -- Erik Spoelstra hinted this was coming.

Two weeks ago, the Miami Heat coach essentially warned his players – and anyone who follows the team closely – to expect the unexpected.

He said to be prepared for opportunities to come one game, and flee the next. He cautioned to brace for sudden change.

“I don't know exactly how I'm going to go for the next 10 or so games, but I do want to look at some things,” Spoelstra said earlier this month. “It's not necessarily tinkering. But I'm trying to get our lineups consistent where it's a consistent wave of production and efficiency.”

That search for continuity continues as the Heat (14-6) try to smooth out a turbulent stretch that has included three losses in five games entering Saturday's visit from the Washington Wizards. In fact, it was a stunning loss to the then one-win Wizards on Dec. 4 in Washington that exposed the Heat for their inconsistent play this season.

But even before then, a combination of injuries, defensive lapses and sluggish starts has led Spoelstra to change his starting lineup five times in the past eight games and juggle his rotation as he patiently waits for the defending champs to rekindle the playoff chemistry of last season.

The Heat have 10 players averaging between 14 and 38 minutes this season. But none except LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh really knows what sort of role to expect – or how long it'll last – on a given night.

“We know who our top 11 or 12 [players] are,” Spoelstra said of trying to settle on a specific rotation. “Things could change. But that will really be based on how we're playing and what we like and don't like.”

In recent games, Spoelstra has liked a starting lineup that looks quite different than the one he prefers at the finish. Udonis Haslem has replaced Shane Battier as the starting power forward and Mario Chalmers continues to start at point guard despite his recent struggles on both ends of the floor.

But there has been a different set of closers on the floor alongside James, Wade and Bosh late in the fourth quarter. Battier, Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Joel Anthony have been among the finishing options lately.

A clear sign that Spoelstra is still searching was revealed late in Wednesday's 97-95 home loss to Golden State, when the Heat effectively used Cole instead of Chalmers in the second half to slow down Stephen Curry. But Spoelstra replaced Cole with Allen in the final minutes and curiously stayed with Allen after a timeout with 11 seconds left when the Heat needed a defensive stop. The Warriors scored on a backdoor layup with a second remaining after a defensive mix-up between Battier, Allen and Bosh.

After taking the day off Thursday, the Heat went back to work Friday to regroup. It's a continuous process, and Spoelstra has involved his star players in the process as he experiments with different lineup combinations.

“When things are going good, you don't need to voice your opinion that much,” James said. “When things out on the floor are going well and you see a rotation that looks good, you want to stick with that. When you're deep, you go through a couple of phases in the season where you try to find the best combination of lineups, offensively and defensively … and you just go from there.”

James said he's gradually become more vocal over his three seasons in Miami about which players work best around him during certain moments in games. He doesn't dictate the Heat's substitution patterns in games, but he does approach Spoelstra with recommendations in meetings.

“I take on a lot of roles,” James continued. “Hopefully, I'm in a lot of those combinations. I feel that my voice ... that my opinion means a lot. Being out there, it's a fine line. You want to be able to score, but you also want to be able to defend. There's going to be better lineups offensively. And there's going to be lineups that are better defensively. As a coach, you try to find the one that fits in the middle.”

Wade said his suggestions to Spoelstra during challenging times are a bit more personal. They discuss ways in which Wade can be used more effectively and efficiently, considering he's still working his way back to full strength following offseason knee surgery.

Wade's performances this season have been as sporadic as those of his team. His scoring average (19.8 ppg) is the lowest it's been since his rookie season, but his field goal percentage (50.4) is currently at a career-high level.

“So far in the early season, for me, it's been me suggesting what I feel I can give or how I can help myself to help the team,” Wade said. “We're still trying to figure out and find out the way we want to play. It's still early in the season for a lot of teams. This is the time of year where you pick up wins while you're still figuring your game out.”

For Spoelstra, it's also about finding combinations that fit. Last season, that search continued well into the playoffs until he developed a small-ball rotation dynamic that fueled the Heat's push to a championship.

So it's still way early in the process.

“You don't just want guys to say, 'Yeah, well, I'll just sit over here. I don't want to play,'” Spoelstra said. “But our guys understand the big picture. They understand we will need all the guys and it's a long season. It's a luxury that we have that versatility. If everybody has the right mindset, then we can use it to our benefit. If guys get sideways in the mind, there's no point in even having that versatility.”
LeBron James
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
LeBron James and the Heat look to rise against the surging Hawks.

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 Hawks on Monday and aim to improve to 14-5.

1. Fact or Fiction: The Hawks will be the No. 2 seed in the East.


Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. Really want to put "Fact" here because I think the Hawks are legit. Trouble is, I think the Knicks are also legit so I'm going to pencil in Atlanta for the No. 3 slot. With their super-quick ball handlers, the Hawks will be the biggest test of the season for Miami's porous perimeter defense.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. The one constant about the Hawks is that they always manage to disappoint you. In both good and bad ways. You expect them to stay consistent and reach their potential, and the bottom falls out. Count them out of the race, and they're suddenly on your heels. That makes them a solid No. 4 seed year in and out.

Brian Windhorst: Fiction. Some are surprised by the Hawks' strong start and some, who liked them post-Joe Johnson trade, aren't. Either way, despite some early doubts, I think they've proven over the first quarter of the season that they're a playoff team. They have proven they are a good defensive team and that will probably carry them. But I'd be surprised if they got to 50 wins, much less the No. 2 seed.



2. Fact or Fiction: Josh Smith is still a Hawk next ATL-MIA game (Feb. 20).


Haberstroh: Fiction. I have no inside info on this one, but I have a sneaky suspicion that new GM Danny Ferry will flip Smith for assets a la Johnson and continue building around Al Horford. Midseason trades are always more difficult to pull off, but I'm not sure the Hawks want to give free-agent-to-be Smith a max deal after what happened with Johnson. Dealing Smith would ensure they get assets to re-tool with rather than letting him walk this summer for nothing.

Wallace: Fact. Especially if the Hawks somehow keep this successful ride going well through the All-Star break. Smith is probably the second-biggest available trade chip out there behind Pau Gasol. But he seems to be just as valuable if he stays. If the Hawks keep him, he's a free agent after the season and they could have even more cap space. So Atlanta's in a good spot either way.

Windhorst: Fact. Smith has been the subject of trade rumors for a few years, but there's a reason he's still there. He enables the Hawks to swing from playing big with him at small forward to playing small with him at power forward. He's also reasonably effective at both ends. He's also not quite an All-Star. These factors make it hard to judge his value, which is why it is hard to both find a trade for him and hard to want to trade him.



3. Fact or Fiction: Udonis Haslem should start for rest of season.


Haberstroh: Fiction. The key is getting Joel Anthony more minutes. Spoelstra wants the defensive ace in the rotation to help stop the bleeding on that end of the floor, and this is one way to do it. But Haslem's shot has declined so badly -- he's shooting an abysmal 21 percent on jumpers this season -- that he's no longer a big upgrade offensively over Anthony. To me, this feels like a temporary solution. Once the defense starts to pick up, I expect Spoelstra to go back to Shane Battier in time for the playoff run.

Wallace: Fiction. Erik Spoelstra proved he's adequate at making the proper adjustments for the long-term success of the team. The fact that he's flexible and unpredictable with lineup tweaks is a good thing because no one's ever out -- or in -- the rotation for long beyond the top four players. So if Haslem is the man for the job now, so be it. But things can change again in a hurry.

Windhorst: Fiction. I'm rather bored by "starter" stuff because I simple don't care who starts unlike most players and many fans. The bigger question is: "Should the Heat be as committed to playing small ball as they were at the start of the season?" I'm not sure we have an answer to that yet. The negatives have been obvious defensively and Spoelstra is clearly evaluating whether he should play a little more conventionally. It seems, for now, like he's going to and that means starting Haslem and playing Joel Anthony.

Ray Allen spurs Miami's changing identity

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
3:06
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Ray Allen
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Erik Spoelstra wasn't cheering at this moment and it's easy to see why.

MIAMI -- The Heat should write a thank-you letter to Ray Allen, Gregg Popovich and David Stern for distracting everyone on Thursday night from this dumbfounding reality:

The Heat just gave up 100 points to a team that started Patty Mills, Nando De Colo, Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter.

At home.

With four days' rest.

Against an opponent playing on a back-to-back and their fourth game in five nights.

Anyway you slice it, Thursday's game was the cupcake of all cupcakes, yet Miami's once-vaunted defense couldn't seem to slow down the Spurs' JV squad.

This is isn't just an outlier performance for the Heat either. The team's defense has been a hot mess this season, surrendering 103.6 points per 100 possessions to the opponent. That ranks 23rd in the NBA, behind defensive juggernauts like Detroit and Charlotte.

"We know we're capable of more," Spoelstra said Thursday of his defensive struggles. "There will come a time when we just have to do it, but we're much better than what we're showing defensively."

A postgame press conference after a win isn't the most opportune time to focus on a team's weakness, but there's certainly lingering disappointment there. The Heat are proud of their 11-3 record after a month and they should be. Those games are in the books and no one can take those wins away.

But the way they've gotten there? So far, they've taken the outscore-your-opponent maxim to its literal extreme, and that's not exactly the Miami Heat way. Traditionally, Pat Riley-led Heat have prided themselves as an Eastern Conference powerhouse with a grind-it-out, defensive-minded mentality. In fact, in five of the Heat's previous six seasons, their defense has ranked better than their offense according to NBA.com/stats.

But this season has been a fascinating departure from the Heat's modus operandi. Only six NBA teams have been worse this season on that end of the floor; none of them has a winning record. That's not the company that the Heat would like to keep. Not in years past anyway.

In many ways, Thursday night's nail-biter was a microcosm of the Heat's season: LeBron James carried the Heat offensively as the defense hemorrhaged points to the other team, then Ray Allen came in to save the day. On one hand, the Heat could take their 9-0 record in clutch situations and shove it in the faces of their harshest critics that claimed that they couldn't win close games. How 'bout them apples. On the other hand, those same critics could just shrug their shoulders and counter, "Talk to me when Allen comes back to Earth and those late-game shots start going the other way."

How much longer can Allen keep bailing out the Heat? At some point he'll have to miss, right? That's the big question. According to ESPN Stats & Info, after Thursday's heroism, Allen is now 3-for-3 on game-tying or go-ahead 3-pointers in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. No one has more this season. No one else is 3-for-3. And to show how finicky those shots can be, consider that Allen missed all four such shots last season. If those shots don't go down, the Heat could just as easily be looking at a lukewarm 8-6 start to the season.

If Thursday's game was a microcosm of the Heat's season, then Allen is the face of it. Like the Heat, the 37-year-old's offense has been better than many expected, but his defense has been a disaster so far.

Take your pick of the staggering statistics. One trusted advanced metric even points to Allen as being a net loss because of his defensive liabilities this season. With a rate of 2.8 fouls every 36 minutes, Allen is being whistled for fouls more than ever, or at least since he was a rookie. SynergySports, a video-tracking service that NBA teams use, ranks Allen 105th among 114 qualified players on a per-possession basis defensively.

Or you can just watch him on film. Routinely, opposing shooting guards blow by him on the perimeter and he's forced to grab and swipe at his penetrating opponent. Allen has admitted that he doesn't think his ankle will be 100 percent again and you can see it on that end of the floor, especially when he's asked to move laterally.

But feed Allen the ball for a 3-pointer and ask him to rise up? No one has looked better. However, as good as he has been with that shot, it can't hide the fact that the Heat have allowed 109 points per 100 possessions with Allen on the floor and just 97 when he's riding pine.

Allen isn't the sole reason for the Heat's decline on that end of the floor. Dwyane Wade deserves some of the blame as well. Perhaps because of his sore foot, Wade has often taken his time "running" back on defense in transition and has shown only spurts of lockdown defense. And defensive specialist Joel Anthony continues to find himself on the outside looking in. There's plenty of time to improve, even if they've never struggled this badly on defense in the Big Three era.

Ultimately, the Heat will continue to be an elite team if they score the way they have. But it's worth wondering if Allen's clutch play is sustainable and whether they can get away with playing porous defense down the road in the playoffs.

So far, Allen has played the culprit and the savior for Miami's early weaknesses. And so far, it's working. How long will it last?

Battier improving but doubtful for Thursday

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
3:13
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
MIAMI -- Heat forward Shane Battier missed his second consecutive practice as he recovers from a sprained knee ligament and is considered doubtful for Thursday's game against the San Antonio Spurs.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he hasn't made a decision on who will replace Battier as the fifth starter. The Heat worked with two potential replacements in Wednesday's practice alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh.

Spoelstra would not identify those options, but Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis and even seldom-used James Jones are among the choices, depending on the preferred playing style.

Battier sustained the MCL sprain Saturday when he landed awkwardly after a teammate fell into him during the third quarter of Miami's home win against Cleveland. He did not return to the game and was initially listed as day-to-day, although Spoelstra suggested that status was optimistic.

“He said he's feeling better, and we'll continue to evaluate him every day,” Spoelstra said Wednesday. “I doubt he'll play tomorrow, but he's day-to-day. I worked a couple of different lineups today. But I don't think it'll really matter, necessarily, in terms of the starter.”

Battier missed the final 14 games of the 2009-10 regular season as a member of the Houston Rockets with a similar sprain in his left knee. But the 11-year veteran said his current injury is less severe. Through 13 games, Battier has averaged seven points and 2.5 rebounds while shooting 45.8 percent from 3-point range, the best mark of his career.

Should Battier sit out Thursday, it would be just the second game he has missed since he joined the Heat at the start of last season.

“The biggest challenge is we haven't played without him in a long time, so we have to get adjusted to that,” Wade said. “We're used to what he brings to the game for us. Whoever comes in obviously is not going to be able to bring what Shane brings. We've got to make up for some of the things that he does. We'll miss him, but we have guys to step up.”

With Ray Allen, Heat unbeaten in clutch 

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
11:51
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN Insider
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James/Allen/Wade
Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
LeBron James and Ray Allen have been on the winning side of every close game this season. Why?

MIAMI -- Remember the pass that LeBron James made to Udonis Haslem in the closing seconds against Utah in March of last season? The one that didn't end up going the Heat's way?

Ray Allen brought up that play after Saturday's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, a game that ended with James passing to Allen for the game-winning 3-pointer. Haslem missed that controversial shot last March and the Heat ended up losing the game.

But after Saturday's win, Allen said he and his former Celtics teammates agreed with James' decision to pass.

"And he got criticized over it," Allen said. "People were talking about, ‘Should he have made that pass?’ Everybody where I was [in Boston], we all said he made the right play. That was the play, if you had it again, you make that play again. That’s what being a team is. You rely on your guys."

That play keeps up coming up in the Heat locker room these days, because James is still making that play. But now it's netting winning results. In fact, going by the NBA's definition of "clutch" -- when the score is within five points in the final five minutes -- the Heat haven't been beaten. Miami is 8-0 in games that go into the clutch this season, the only unbeaten team left in such situations.

The question is: How are they doing it? The short answer: by playing nothing like they did two seasons ago.

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Why the Heat could be back to square one

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
10:46
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Shane Battier
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireIf Shane Battier misses time for the Heat, the injury will mean more than you think.

In the third quarter of the Heat's win over the Cavaliers on Saturday, Udonis Haslem fell after taking a charge on Alonzo Gee and slid backward into Shane Battier's right leg. After the awkward collision, Battier reflexively collapsed to the floor, grabbing his right knee and twisting around in pain. Battier left the game and watched the Heat's rally from the locker room.

The Heat diagnosed the injury as a strained MCL and Battier announced on Twitter that he would "be back in a few."

A few days, a few games, a few weeks -- we don't know (Update: LeBron James said at Monday's practice that Battier would be out a few games). A Battier injury could prove to be a significant blow to the Heat's game plan. Because if the foundation of Erik Spoelstra's "pace-and-space" attack is built on James, then Battier is the glue (please pardon the cliché).

In order to fully embrace the Heat's "small-ball" philosophy -- or "speed-ball" as Spoelstra prefers to call it -- the team needed a stretch-4 who could space the floor and guard opposing power forwards, which would allow Chris Bosh to exploit opposing 5s and James to occupy the paint offensively. Stretch-4s come at a hefty price on the open market (see: Ryan Anderson's deal), and the Heat couldn't afford to bring in that kind of talent if they also wanted to bring in Ray Allen. So they manufactured one from within.

The corner 3 is arguably the most efficient shot on the court, and no one has made more of them than Battier this season, according to NBA.com's stats tool. Battier makes it all work. He creates critical spacing for the offense and saves James the arduous task of guarding opposing power forwards for a full 82-game season. If Battier misses time, the Heat's starting lineup won't be the only thing impacted; the team's style of play will be jeopardized as well.

If Battier is out for significant time, here are the Heat's three likely options to replace Battier in the lineup and why the choice could signal how wedded they are to the "pace-and-space" program.

1. The easiest transition: Rashard Lewis.
So far, the Heat have struck gold with the Lewis contract. After basically taking off the last two seasons, Lewis signed for the veteran minimum, which is the same deal that Eddy Curry signed with the Heat last season. Evidently, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't.

Lewis isn't the player he once was, but he doesn't need to be for the Heat. If he can be Battier's understudy as a stretch-4 on this team, then the Heat should be thrilled. Thus far, Lewis has shot a scorching 53.6 percent from downtown, but his battered knees have made him a legitimate liability on defense. He struggles to stay in front of his opponent, and his post-up defense has been lacking (his early numbers on Synergy are horrid).

The Heat can probably get away with using Lewis as Battier's replacement in the starting lineup, but Lewis isn't healthy. After a recent bout of the flu, Lewis' conditioning will be questionable at best, and it's important to note that Battier averages about 10 minutes more per game than Lewis. If Lewis starts in Battier's place on Thursday, it would demonstrate how serious Spoelstra is about playing unconventional. Should Lewis get his wind back, it's probably the most likely choice.

2. The safest route: Udonis Haslem.
If you remember, when Bosh returned from his abdominal injury in the playoffs, Battier took Haslem's spot in the starting lineup. The Heat won five of their first six playoff games last season with Haslem starting next to James, Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade, so the Heat know it can be a successful blueprint.

But starting Haslem would indicate a departure from the Heat's game plan. The talents of the Big Three could temporarily hide the fact that Haslem's jumper has been off for two seasons now. To put it in perspective, on a per-40 minute basis, Haslem shot 5.8 jumpers from 16-to-23 feet and made 48 percent of them before hurting his foot in 2010-11, according to Hoopdata.com. This season? He's down to 2.3 jumpers per 40 minutes and a 31 percent conversion rate. Translation: He's taking fewer and making fewer.

Haslem brings leadership, above-average rebounding chops and solid defense to the table, which could give him the upper-hand over Lewis. But ultimately, he is not a proxy for Battier in the least and Spoelstra will probably put a premium on continuity. Haslem is a lot of things, but a floor-spacer, he is not.

3. The square-one choice: Joel Anthony.
Putting Anthony back into the starting lineup would mean one thing and one thing only: Spoelstra desperately wants to fix the defense. The Heat's defense currently ranks 23rd in the NBA, which is embarrassingly low for the Heat organization that prides itself on that end of the floor. Anthony makes Haslem look like Steve Kerr out there and his complete lack of range compromises the Heat's attack, but he detonates opposing pick-and-rolls better than anybody on the Heat, and that's no small thing.

The good news is this: the Heat's defense becomes 3.7 points per 100 possessions stingier when Anthony has played this season. The bad news? The offense is 14.2 points worse every 100 possessions. Much of that is due to the reserves that he plays with, but Anthony has joined a long list of Heat centers of the Big Three era that went from starter to benchwarmer seemingly overnight. Following in the footsteps of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier, Anthony has been nailed to the bench ever since his demotion in the playoffs and has essentially been reduced to an emergency defensive specialist.

To illustrate Miami's radical shift in philosophy this offseason, consider this: the Heat's most-used lineup by far last season featured Anthony as a starter, and it has played exactly once together so far this season. That only lasted three minutes. If Spoelstra chooses Anthony, he would effectively reset to a pre-championship edition of the Heat. Such a move might not sit well with Spoelstra. But neither does the 23rd ranking on defense.
James/Wade
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Should Dwyane Wade play in Denver, or should LeBron James go without his co-pilot?


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 Nuggets on Thursday and aim to improve to 7-3.

1. Fact or Fiction: The Heat need to change starters to fix defensive ills.


Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. The Heat's bench defense has been atrocious thus far so I would start there, not the starting lineup. Pairing Joel Anthony with Ray Allen instead of Udonis Haslem would make a ton of sense to see if it can stop the bleeding. Haslem isn't a threat with his mid-range jumper anymore, making it harder to justify him playing over a defensive savant like Anthony. No massive overhaul necessary yet.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. The Heat have lost three games this season to three of the hottest squads in the league who have proved that beating Miami was no fluke. We're three weeks into the regular season. Relax. If these defensive lapses persist for another three weeks or so, or after 20 games, then it might be time to re-evaluate the approach.

Brian Windhorst: Fiction. The starters issue is almost always, ahem, a nonstarter with me. I have very little concern who starts. Whether you make Shane Battier a reserve or not he's going to have matchup problems guarding power forwards. Where the Heat need to start is to not allow their man to embarrass them off the dribble. That's the genesis of a lot of problems.



2. Over/Under: 1.5 games Wade misses before he plays again.


Haberstroh: Over. Look at the schedule. The Heat could rest Wade in Denver where they've traditionally been blown out, then give him the night off again against the lowly Suns on Saturday and wait until next Wednesday to activate him for the Bucks game in Miami. Take two games off, get a week of rest. If the foot is really bothering him, this seems to be the most prudent path.

Wallace: Over. At least, that should be the case. More disturbing to me than the defensive miscues or the struggles on the road is the fact that both Wade and LeBron James are banged up already. At some point, it's only human for LeBron to hit some sort of wall considering all the high-stakes ball he's played this calendar year. Wade, on the other hand, is having a horrible trip. With his foot now injured, it might be best to shut him down for the final two games in Denver and Phoenix.

Windhorst: Under. He'll sit one game, maybe. In speaking to Dwyane yesterday I didn't get the impression he felt this was a serious issue.



3. Over/Under: 70 Denver points in the paint on Thursday.


Haberstroh: Over. The elevation? Playing less than 20 hours after walking off the court a thousand miles away? Gave up 72 points in the paint last time they faced "the Manimal" & Co.? I'll take the over.

Wallace: Under. Slightly. I can see this one getting away early from Miami, as has been the case in recent visits to Denver. All signs point to the rested Nuggets setting yet another high-scoring ambush for the weary Heat.

Windhorst: Under. I don't have a good reason; it's the best paint scoring team in league and the Heat have been terrible on defense. Ty Lawson is counting down the minutes to the game. But for some reason I feel the Heat will beat low expectations tonight.

What happened to Miami's defense?

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
1:57
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Ray Allen/Erik Spoelstra
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
How come Erik Spoelstra's defense has been so bad? Ray Allen might have a lot to do with it.

You have probably heard the Sesame Street sing-along, "One of these things is not like the others ..." That's what should ring through your head when you pull up the short list of the worst defensive teams in the NBA.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers
29. Detroit Pistons
28. Phoenix Suns
27. Portland Trail Blazers
26. Charlotte Bobcats
25. Miami Heat

(Cue vinyl record scratch sound.)

What do we make of this? A Pat Riley production directed by Erik Spoelstra ranks as one of the worst defensive teams in the world? One that features two premier defenders in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? In what universe do the Sacramento Kings bottle up opponents better than the Miami Heat?

How is this possible?

Lots of fair questions. Let's get to the answers.

1. It is Nov. 14.
Welcome to qualifier season! Notice that every analyst seems to hedge their commentary with an "It's early, but ..." label these days? There's a reason for it: We simply don't know very much when we deal with small-sample-size theater.

So here are some facts. We are eight games into the Heat's season and they are ranked 25th in defense. Eight games into last season, do you know where the Oklahoma City Thunder's defense ranked? Twenty-fifth, the same place where the Heat currently stand. Take a guess where OKC's D finished at the end of the season. Yup, ninth. You know where the Boston Celtics' defense ranked eight games in last season? Eighteenth. They finished second.

So again, it's early. Eight games might seem like a healthy sample size, but just because it's all we have doesn't mean it's enough.

2. Don't blame the starting lineup.
Shane Battier is a commonly used scapegoat. He's the undersized 33-year-old who is now starting against power forwards like Zach Randolph, Blake Griffin and Josh Smith. Obviously that's a losing battle, right?

Wrong. The dirty little secret is that the Heat's starting lineup has been terrific defensively. According to NBA.com/stats, the starting lineup of Wade, James, Battier, Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh has held opponents to 94.0 points per 100 possessions in 104 minutes of playing time. For reference, the Knicks lead the NBA in defensive efficiency at 93.6 points per 100 possessions. Moreover, as Couper Moorhead of HEAT.com pointed out recently, Battier has been scored on once in the 11 post-ups that he has defended.

The starting lineup has not been the problem. If we're going to diagnose the ills of the Heat's defense so far, you have to look at the bench. More specifically, you have to look at a certain Heat newcomer.

3. The Heat have fallen apart defensively with Ray Allen on the court.
When Allen has been on the floor this season, the Heat have surrendered 109.0 points per 100 possessions. When Allen's on the bench? 97.7 points per 100 possessions, or right about where they were last season.

An 11-point disparity is a signal to dig deeper. Why does the Heat's defense fall apart when Allen takes the floor? First, and probably most important, he's new. Acclimating himself with the Heat's system will take time (just ask Bosh or Battier).

Secondly, Allen will never be mistaken for Tony Allen out there as a stopper. It has spelled trouble when Allen is asked to keep up with point guards in the second unit (game film showing what Andre Miller did to Allen should be rated "R" for graphic content). All the small-sample-size caveats apply, but it's no surprise that Allen ranks 161st among 165 players in points allowed per play, according to Synergy Sports (min. 50 plays defended).

Lastly, Allen will fully admit that he's not healthy -- and may never be this season. When he's asked to stand in the corner and drain 3s, Allen is fantastic. When he's asked to move his feet laterally and stay in front of Ty Lawson, you're reminded that his ankle may not be anywhere near 100 percent yet.

But you can't pin the defensive on-court/off-court numbers entirely on Allen. That's not how defenses work. Opposing teams are shooting 41 percent from downtown and 52 percent inside the arc so far when Allen is on the floor. Those two numbers will probably regress toward the mean as the season goes on. Probably.

4. No room for Joel Anthony.
After being the Heat's full-time starter last season, Anthony has played a grand total of 20 minutes this season. The Heat's defensive specialist has basically been glued to the bench. Anthony, the team's leading shot-blocker and resident detonator of opponent pick-and-rolls, has battled hamstring issues from the preseason and hasn't been able to break into the Heat's rotation.

Spoelstra knows what he's getting from Anthony: suffocating defense that makes it seem like the opponent is playing 5-on-6, and pitiful offense that makes it seem like the Heat are playing 4-on-5. He has almost no post moves to speak of. Worse, his complete lack of dexterity on the move essentially renders him useless in the pick-and-roll with James and Wade.

With Chris Bosh starting at center and Udonis Haslem coming off the bench, there just isn't much room for Anthony in the Heat's new "pace-and-space" program. When Anthony lost his starting gig, he might have lost his place in the rotation as well.

5. Overcompensating for lack of size underneath.
It's no secret that opposing teams have put on 3-point contests against the Heat this season. In the Heat's two losses, they allowed 19 and 14 3s against the Knicks and Grizzlies respectively. And they watched the Rockets drill 12 3-pointers on Monday. If it weren't for James' Superman act down the stretch in Houston, they might have lost that one, too.

All in all, the Heat have not just allowed the third-highest 3-point percentage in the league; they've also surrendered the third-most 3-point attempts per game. If you watch the tape, you'll notice right away how teams are doing it: by whipping the ball around the court for jumpers to take advantage when the perimeter defenders like Wade and Allen collapse into the paint to help out Bosh and Battier underneath.

We can see this ball movement on film or in the numbers. According to Hoopdata.com, Heat opponents have assisted on a whopping 80 percent of their jumpers outside 16 feet, the third-highest such rate in the NBA. For comparison, only 61 percent of the Knicks' opponent jumpers are assisted on, and you can take a wild guess who has had the NBA's best defense so far. Ask any player, or just try it yourself: It's much harder to make a shot off the dribble than off a pass.

The Heat should be able to find a healthy balance between defending the perimeter and defending the paint. Spoelstra is a defensive-minded coach who has led the Heat to a top-five defensive ranking each of the previous two seasons. After that 9-8 start in 2009-10, we probably don't need to lecture Spoelstra about the virtue of patience this early in the season.

Or we could just ask Oklahoma City or Boston about it.
Chris Bosh
Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
Can Chris Bosh keep up his hot shooting streak against Marcin Gortat and the Suns?


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 Suns on Monday and try to go to 3-1 on the season.

1. Fact or Fiction: Miami should be concerned about its D.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. If the Heat continue to lay down and give up 100-plus for another week, then it's time to be concerned. But considering the personnel continuity and the sample size, chances are this is just a fluke start and they'll sharpen their defense soon enough. But if you're looking to diagnose, as NBA.com's John Schuhmann pointed out, Miami's bench is probably to blame for the early defensive woes.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. While fans, critics and media pundits will scrutinize any blemish this team shows, the reality is that Miami's core players know their defensive identity. They also know there will be stretches when the energy and execution will lag and opponents will get hot. But the general track record reveals the Heat are capable of being a premier defensive squad when they need to be. It's too early to worry.

Brian Windhorst: Fiction. I'm not sure "concerned" is the proper description. They need to focus more on it. Teamwide, the Heat are clearly excited about the position-less concept on offense and the freedoms that come with it. For it to work, however, the Heat have to be more diligent at the defensive end because teams are going to attack matchup issues. It's been quite obvious the effort level hasn't quite been there.



2. Fact or Fiction: Phoenix handled the Steve Nash situation correctly.


Haberstroh: Fiction. The Suns had forfeited most if not all their leverage by waiting to deal him at the 11th hour to the Lakers. Keeping him for sentimentality reasons is understandable, but that doesn't make it the smart long-term play. The Suns should have traded him at the deadline last season for better rebuilding assets. But instead, they have Michael Beasley as their No. 1 scoring option.

Wallace: Fact. There's no easy way to part with your franchise player. Especially an older vet who deserves a legit shot at a title. The Suns rebuilt on the fly and could prove to be a dark-horse playoff contender in the West. On top of that, they got a couple of assets and decent cap space by dealing Nash to the Lakers. Both teams are better-positioned as a result.

Windhorst: Fiction. They should've traded him last season before the trade deadline. Or, better yet, before last season. That was the best business thing to do. The Lakers trade was the best thing for the franchise at the time they made it, but all their options were gone.



3. Fact or Fiction: Bosh's 40 is a sign of things to come this season.


Haberstroh: Fact. You won't be seeing the Toronto Chris Bosh every game, but don't be surprised if big scoring nights become a semi-regular thing. It cannot be overstated how much breathing room Bosh has gained now that Joel Anthony isn't parked under the rim. With Shane Battier on the perimeter, Bosh can take his man off the dribble or post up without worrying about Anthony's defender coming to the rescue. A 20-point scoring average for Bosh is in play, for sure.

Wallace: Fact. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both said during training camp that one of their priorities this season is to get Bosh going early and to consistently exploit the mismatches he creates on offense at center. Bosh won't average 30 a game, of course. But he is more than capable of going all Harden on foes once in a while.

Windhorst: Fact. Not that it'll always come from Bosh. This is the deepest the Heat team has been in three years, and they run an offense that encourages diversity. If the plan works, the Heat will still win games when neither LeBron or Wade has a great scoring night.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dwyane Wade
PTS AST STL MIN
22.8 5.5 0.9 32.8
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsC. Bosh 8.2
AssistsD. Wade 5.5
StealsM. Chalmers 1.8
BlocksC. Bosh 0.8