Miami Heat Index: Kendrick Perkins

Can Heat clear hurdle against Celtics?

April, 10, 2011
Wallace By Michael Wallace
Dwyane Wade
AP Photo/Charles Krupa
If the Celtics have a psychological edge over the Heat, what can Miami do to overcome it?

MIAMI -- In a bitter series defined by debates over who has the better Big Three, insults about being studio gangsters, Twitter wars, clutch plays and critical misses, the Miami Heat face the Boston Celtics on Sunday desperately looking for a breakthrough after so many beatdowns.

Having lost 14 of the past 15 games against the Celtics, including all three regular-season matchups this season, this hurdle for the Heat extends beyond the boundaries of a basketball court.

It's about mental toughness and intestinal fortitude.

It's about confidence and respect.

It's about demons and monsters.

“And we've got to slay that demon, so to speak,” said Heat swingman Mike Miller, who missed a wide-open 3-pointer that could have sent the previous meeting with Boston into overtime at the Garden.

Instead, Miller's bad miss sent the Heat to yet another demoralizing setback against their biggest demons in the league.

“I don't want to put a tag on it and say they're the monster team,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “We're the monster team. That's how we feel going into each and every game. So there is a clash there. We want what they've gotten before. It's real important to beat them. For one, for our confidence.”

For all the talk about monsters and demons, the Heat are 0-3 against both the Celtics and the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls this season -- the two teams ahead of them in the standings.

But these 0-3s are not the same. One team has clearly haunted and hounded the Heat like no other. And it's the team that brings an identical 55-24 record into AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday, but also a decided psychological advantage over the Heat as a result of recent history.

With the Bulls having locked up the best record in the East, at stake Sunday between the Heat and Celtics is the driver's seat for the No. 2 seed in the conference and home-court advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

“We look forward to the challenge,” Dwyane Wade said. “We're a different team than we were when we played them the first three times.”

Boston has won once in Miami this season and was the team that knocked Wade and the Heat out of the first round of the playoffs last season in five games. During their run to the NBA Finals last season, the Celtics also included dispatched LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.

So the Celtics have dominated and dispatched Wade and James not only individually, they've also done it collectively this season. Some call this a hurdle. Others refer to it as a hump. But what everyone in a Heat jersey agrees is that its time for Miami to get over it against their conference nemesis.

“They might think they've got a psychological advantage because they beat us,” said guard Mario Chalmers, one of four players on the Heat's active roster who's struggles against Boston date to last season. “But we feel like we can beat them. We've got all the right ingredients. We just have to put it all together. We're getting closer and closer. We have to find that turning point and make it happen.”

It didn't happen when Boston beat Miami twice in the first two weeks of the regular season because the Heat said they weren't quite ready, that Wade, James, Bosh and their new-look lineup hadn't had enough time to jell and overcome an established veteran championship team.

It could have happened when the teams met again in Boston on Feb. 13, but Wade again struggled, the Heat got almost nothing from the bench and their late rally to force overtime fell short when Miller's top-of-the-key 3-pointer clanked wide left.

So the Heat are still trying to put the pieces together.

“All of it right now is conjecture,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of just how much the Heat needs a confidence-boosting victory against the Celtics heading into the playoffs, with the teams potentially meeting again in the second round. “I don't think it means anything to the other guys, that we were ousted by them last year and haven't had a lot of success against them since they put together their championship group. That's irrelevant to our team.”

So what's relevant?

“The fact that they outplayed us three straight times -- and were the better team all three times,” Spoelstra continued. “Again, we feel like we're a different team. But until we prove it on the court, all of it is just talk.”

Miami and Boston are different teams than they were the three times they played before the All-Star break. The Heat have since added veteran Mike Bibby as the starting point guard, have developed more sets and rhythm between Wade and James on offense and have played with a smaller lineup at times that features a more aggressive Bosh at center.

“And we have a little bit more experience together,” Bosh said. “We have more of an attack. We were shooting more jump shots back then. We didn't put as much pressure on the rim as we do now. It will be interesting to see what happens [Sunday]. We want to attack the rim and play our style.”

Meanwhile, the Celtics have since traded rugged center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for versatile forward Jeff Green and now have guard Delonte West and center Jermaine O'Neal back from lengthy injuries. There are some who suggest the Celtics lost some swagger, toughness and defensive grit with Perkins no longer patrolling the middle.

The fact of the matter is that Perkins didn't play in the first two games against the Heat because he was recovering from knee surgery. He had 15 points, six rebounds and four turnovers in the third meeting.

Spoelstra refuses to buy into the notion that the Celtics might be more vulnerable against the Heat without Perkins. Instead, Spoelstra sees what Boston continues to have in All-Stars Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

“We haven't seen them with their new group and new dynamic,” Spoelstra said. “They're starting to get a little bit of a rhythm. But they still look the same to me when they have the Big Four out there.”

And that Big Four has been formidable.

When asked what it might take to exorcise their Celtic demons, James told the story of how his Cavaliers teams used to feel the same way about the Detroit Pistons before Cleveland finally had a breakthrough in the 2007 playoffs and advanced to the NBA Finals.

“After that moment, we just started to dominate that team,” James said. “I feel the same way for myself, and from watching D-Wade [against Boston] before I got here. We just have to keep going, keep grinding. There are games in the regular season that are more meaningful than others. There are statement games when you try to make statements. We look at the game Sunday as a big test for us.”

And what do the Heat make of themselves if they don't pass Sunday? Would getting swept in the season series potentially have a crippling carryover effect going into the playoffs?

“We know more than likely, they're going to be a team we'll see again to get to the Finals,” Chalmers said. “And you've got to get at least one win in the regular season, so we we know what we can do and can't do against them -- to get a little confidence.”

Chalmers' teammates agreed.

“It's important for a couple of reasons,” Miller said. “Obviously, we want to get that No. 2 seed. One of the biggest ways we can do that is win out. The bottom line is we need to go in there blazing. Play like it's a playoff game. And if we don't win, at least you've put everything out there. But we ain't focusing on not winning. Nah. So we've got to play.”

Monday Hotness

February, 14, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
  • We outlined the Heat's final possession at Heat Index, and Sebastian Pruiti offers a nice pictorial account at NBA Playbook. LeBron James is taking criticism again for passing the ball out of the double-team into the hands of a prolific -- and wide-open -- 3-point shooter in a set play. Pruiti responds: "It is actually refreshing to not only see Spoelstra run a play appropriate for the situation, but seeing LeBron have faith in his coach and his teammates and not break the play off. For whatever reason, people seem to think LeBron not breaking off the play is an indictment of his heart, how much he wants to win, or how clutch he is. However, if you think about it, LeBron willing to pass it to the best three point shooter on the court rather than try to do it all himself shows how much he wants to win the game."
  • How do we gauge a bad loss? What percentage of the Heat's 90 offensive possessions must produce a cringe? Should we look at field-goal percentage or the quality of the look when it leaves a shooter's hand? Can we toss out a concentrated four-minute stretch like the beginning of the second quarter when the normally reliable Wade-Bosh unit gave the ball away on the majority of its trips downcourt? The Heat have produced a series of ugly losses (and wins) this season that have called into question their capacity to generate consistently good shot attempts in the half court, but Sunday's defeat in Boston -- crazy as it might sound -- just doesn't fall into that category when you watch it again. Couper Moorhead of "Supposedly, that’s the sort of loss that ascribes Miami a certain fate come the postseason, but taken on its own, it’s another step in the team’s evolution. Whether or not some open shots fall in the final minutes, the HEAT, in their ugliest and most physical game of the season, did not revert as much to the easier, home-run style of offense that Erik Spoelstra laments."
  • Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix on how the Celtics bullied the Heat on Sunday: "Dwyane Wade was called for a flagrant foul after leveling Kevin Garnett for what Wade perceived to be an illegal screen on Mike Miller. A grand gesture? Yes. An example of physical play? Not even close. Physical is the way Boston's big men chip Wade and LeBron James when they go through the lane, how they dent Bosh's back with forearms every time he turns his back to the basket. It's how Rondo sacrifices his body in an unexpected matchup with James and angrily glares at teammates who dare offer him help. They play until the whistle in Boston. And then they play a few beats longer."
  • In future meetings, can the Celtics get away with sticking Rajon Rondo on LeBron James? Paul Flannery of WEEI: "To be clear, this wasn’t part of the game plan. Lawrence Frank, for one, turned to Rivers and said, 'We can’t do this.'"
  • Red's Army admires a photo of Kendrick Perkins blocking a left-handed layup attempt by Dwyane Wade, then asks a pretty sensible question: "Seems like a great block. I wonder how Perk had zero blocks in the box score."
  • Basketball Prospectus' Bradford Doolittle reminds us that the battle for the top seed in the East extends farther than the eastern seaboard: "You just get the feeling that the top seed this year is more important than it was last year. By the way, don't forget about the Bulls, who are just two games behind Boston in the loss column and one game behind the Heat. The Bulls have two games remaining against the Heat, one home and one away, plus one more home game against the Celtics."
  • Do the Celtics have Dwyane Wade's number? The Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman: "But Wade has certainly appeared uncomfortable in games against the Celtics this season. In his first two this season, Wade was 6-of-28 shooting from the field. Of course, in the first game against Boston, Wade had just returned from a hamstring injury he sustained during the preseason. Known for his clutch performances late in big games, Wade scored just seven points in the second half against the Celtics on Sunday. He did make an important three-pointer with 8:20 left in the game but did not score a field goal in the final four minutes."
  • The Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman answers a reader who wants to know when Kevin Garnett last fouled out in Boston: "If you read the collective-bargaining agreement carefully, you will notice it's actually not allowed in the commonwealth. The officials have special buzzers to notify them when he has five fouls. If they blow their whistles in such situations, they would be electrocuted."
  • Rajon Rondo staked out on the edge of the Heat's timeout huddle. (H/T: Trey Kerby/TBJ)

Rondo guarding LeBron: did it work?

February, 13, 2011
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
LeBron JamesJim Rogash/Getty ImagesThe Celtics made their big third-quarter run with Rajon Rondo guarding LeBron James.

Within the "5 things" Kevin Arnovitz and I posted before the game, we noted that we might see LeBron James defend Rajon Rondo for long stretches in Sunday’s game.

Well, as it turned out, Rondo got the assignment on LeBron for long stretches -- not the other way around.

At the 9:45 mark of the third quarter, with the Celtics up by three points, Celtics coach Doc Rivers switched up his strategy on James after Mike Miller entered the game for Mario Chalmers. This is the “point-less” Heat lineup that was supposed to cause matchup hysteria for opposing defenses. And to the surprise of many, Rivers reacted by sticking Rondo on James, who has nearly 100 pounds on the Celtics point guard.

So what did James do? He immediately brought the ball up the floor and started posting Rondo up at half court.

At half court.

Recognizing the enormous size mismatch, James backed Rondo all the way from half court down to inside the 3-point line. At this point, Celtics center Kendrick Perkins saw that James easily backed Rondo down for 30 feet across the length of the floor and decided to rotate from the weak side to trap James in the corner. James scurried out of the pressure and passed to Chris Bosh for a jumper, who was fouled by Kevin Garnett on his way up.

It appeared Rondo needed help guarding James. But nonetheless, Rivers maintained faith in his point guard who was selected to first team All-Defense in 2009-10.

On the next Heat possession, it’s more of the same. Rather than pick up James at half court, Rondo hounded him as soon as he took the inbounds pass under the opposite basket. Once again, James turned and backed him down. This time, James did so at the 3-point arc and forced Garnett to double-team him. James passed out once the help came and tried to re-post against Rondo.

Then the lockup happened -- one of the more memorable moments of the game.

Even though James had previously overpowered Rondo, the Boston point guard refused to let James get good positioning on the block and locked arms with the two-time MVP for several seconds. Rondo stood his ground to prevent James from going anywhere. Rondo successfully deterred the first entry pass from Bosh until James finally wrestled free and received Dwyane Wade’s pass.

And once again, we saw why this might not be the best defensive strategy for the C’s. As James had Rondo on the left block, Perkins and Garnett came to Rondo’s aide, opening up the weakside corner for Mike Miller to camp out. James saw the flood coming and fed Miller for the uncontested 3-pointer. (Actually, it was contested if you count Von Wafer leaping from the bench to scream in Miller’s ear).

Miller missed the wide-open shot, but the Celtics' defense rarely surrenders those kinds of looks. In the process-over-results mode of thinking, that’s not a successful defensive possession for the Celtics.

The surprising decision to assign Rondo to James got inside the Heat players’ heads too, but probably not in the way Rivers envisioned. On the fourth possession with the full-court cross-match, James brought up the ball again saddled by Rondo, but this time Zydrunas Ilgauskas leveled Rondo on a legal screen as the ball crossed the half-court line. The hit knocked Rondo down to the floor, but he immediately stood up and wrapped up James at the center of the court for a foul call.

“Come on, Perk,” Rondo yelled at his teammate, who failed to alert Rondo that Ilgauskas was setting the screen.

But the Celtics would get their revenge. On the ensuing Celtics possession, Garnett laid out Miller on a similar blindside screen, which then prompted Wade to give Garnett a two-handed push later in the possession. Wade got whistled for a flagrant foul and Garnett then hit two free throws.

The game got testy at that point and it was all started by Rondo hounding James up and down the court. And Rivers apparently liked what he saw, because he kept sending his point guard to defend James.

With the deficit ballooning to 13 points, the Heat went back to James on the block to take advantage of the mismatch. And for a third time, Perkins left Ilgauskas underneath to put a hard double-team on James. Bad decision. James saw it all the way, and delivered a beautiful behind-the-back bounce pass to Ilgauskas under the basket. Helping from the top of the key, Garnett tried to block Ilgauskas’ layup but fouled him in the process, sending Ilgauskas to the line for the and-1 opportunity.

And wouldn’t you know it, on the next Heat possession, they went to LeBron on the left block again. But instead of sending the double-team, which left the defense exposed several times already, the Celtics changed their approach -- they let Rondo try to stop James in the post all by himself.

But it didn’t work. James pummeled Rondo into the paint and the 170-pounder couldn’t do anything but foul James as he turned his left shoulder to the rim. James made the layup, marking the second straight and-1 opportunity surrendered by the Celtics.

As the lineups changed over the rest of the third quarter, we didn’t see a Rondo-on-James matchup again until the final possession of the third quarter. And this one was particularly fascinating because, even with Eddie House on the floor, Rivers elected to have Rondo cover James. Not Paul Pierce. Not the taller Von Wafer. Rondo.

With the shot clock ticking down from 10 seconds, Rondo attached himself to James’ hip as they stood at center court. James palmed the ball with his right hand, holding it as far away from Rondo as possible, then turned and attacked. Rondo successfully stayed in front of James as he executed a spin move into the lane. But that drew Von Wafer to shade off of House and, once again, James delivered the ball to the open man. House launched the 3 -- from the exact spot where he hit the game winner against the Thunder just days ago -- but he missed.

The quarter ended as Boston extended the lead to 13 points. That was the end of the Rondo-on-LeBron showdown on Sunday. Miller barely played in the fourth quarter, which enabled Rivers to trust Pierce on James thereafter.

Was the unconventional move a success? If you gauge it solely by the scoreboard, yes -- that was when the Celtics made their big run.

But it’s hard to imagine the Celtics could duplicate their success in the next Celtics-Heat matchup. James is blessed with incredible floor awareness and routinely crushes defenses when they send an extra man to double-team him in the post. And he did it on Sunday.

When James wasn’t setting up and-1 opportunities, James found Miller and House wide open on the perimeter. The Celtics were lucky that Miami didn’t convert on its golden opportunities. Otherwise, we may have seen a different outcome in the game.

Ultimately, Rondo guarding James provided riveting theater during a matchup that was already loaded with fireworks, while adding yet another wrinkle to the budding rivalry. We’ll probably see it again next time around, but don’t be surprised if the overall results change.