2010-2011 vs 2011-2012. Reasons for optimism.

There are certainly similarities between this season and last season for the Heat

In the past two years, the Heat have dominated most games with explosive offense and suffocating defense in spite of unprecedented media scrutiny, and were more over less the favorites to win the East and NBA Finals.

Over the next weeks we will consider and analyze some of the differences from last season, and why these are changes of optimism, in hopes of bringing the Larry Obrien trophy to South Beach.

Tonight I present to you,

Norris Cole.

Last year’s second unit was decent. The lineup is fairly similar, with Haslem and Miller leading the charge three fourths into the first quarter. This year, Miller’s shot is much more on point, and although Haslem is averaging career lows of 6.4 PPG on .418% shooting, he still remains somewhat of an offensive threat and stifling defensive presence.

But it’s Norris Cole that is bringing the Heat the punch they need coming off the bench.

His shot selection is flat out ridiculous sometimes, and he can turnover the ball in a way that makes you cringe… all of which though is expected out of a rookie

But if Norris Cole is nothing else, he is completely fearless.

And his fearlessness is combined with a natural ability to score, both from midrange jump shots and his ability to drive to the hoop.

As I’ve stated before, he has offensive similarities to Allen Iverson.

He’s only averaging 8.4 PPG, but it’s when and how those points come that matters.

It usually happens the same way. Three minutes left in the first quarter, the Heat pull out either Wade or Lebron (sometimes both) and put in Haslem, Miller, and or Battier, and Cole.

And Cole explodes.

In games where Cole scores 10 points or more, the Heat are 13-2.

He isn’t a top NBA player by any stretch, and some in depth analytics offered by 82games.com or Basketball-reference.com show some undeniable, borderline disturbing holes in Cole’s game.

But it’s the stretches in the first and third quarters when Spo rests Bron and Wade that Cole’s impact on the team is grandiose.

It’s almost humorous watching him sub into games. He has more energy than he knows what to do with. He reminds me of the Joker in the Dark Knight, attempting to explain to Batman how and why he operates the way he does “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just do things.” (Reading the quote doesn’t do justice to the impeccable performance by Ledger, check out the clip.

 

 

Norris Cole is a natural basketball talent with more ferver than he has the ability to contain. He’s a young player with a blossoming and inherent sense of excitement mixed with physical ability; a dog chasing cars.

But the car is the ball.

And the kid can put it in hoop.

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Conclusions. Heat 90 Magic 78

1

– Lebron James was pumped and excited at the start of the game, jumping and getting the Heat stadium involved right before tip off.

– First quarters have been nothing short of exciting, as the Heat continued to start games with high energy, hoping to take the opponent out early in the game

– Although the start was undeniably exciting, the Magic were able to keep pace through the first quarter.

– Over or under. Lebron James’ halfcourt alleyoop to Dwayne Wade finishes at number three on ESPN’s Top Ten.

– Wade’s reaction as he hung from the rim was nothing short of euphoric, and the feeling was contagious as the crowd in American Airlines Arena similarly went Bizerk (spell check?).

– The first quarter had the best three plays of the entire game, Lebron’s first alleyoop to Wade from Halfcourt. His second alleyoop to Wade that left the Magic clueless on how to answer the Heat’s offensive rhythm. And Wade’s ridiculous fade away jump shot as the shot clock expired.

– Wade looked hungry in the first half. Being very aggressive on both offensive and defense, with some very Jordan-esque finishes at the rim.

– Chalmers has really come into himself offensively this year. He wouldn’t fit into any offensive scheme in the league, but is flourishing under Spo. He’s shooting a brilliant .518% from the field, .473% from three point land, and averaging 11.1 points per game, all of which are career highs. With Wade and Lebron on the court, the Heat have needed a dependable offensive weapon that can spread the court. Three letters. R I O

– Although it seemed like the Heat dominated the first quarter, the Magic closed the period strong, closing the lead to four at 22-17

2

– Does anyone else feel bad for Stan Van Gundy? He certainly deserves some consideration for Coach of the Year

– The Magic have the most two dimensional, predictable offense I’ve ever seen

– It’s one of two choices. Howard in the post, or Howard kicks it out from the post to either Redick, Richardson, Anderson, Turkoglu or Nelson for a three point attempt

– The Magic are a phenomenal three point shooting team, and after a while you think the Heat would at least go man to man to eliminate the constant barrage of downtown shots. The Magic opened the second quarter on a 13-0 run behind three’s from Redick and Anderson.

– But then again, this was against a Bosh-led second unit

– A three point blitz from the Magic put them up by three… Until Spo put Lebron and Wade back in

– That was the last time Orlando lead the game

– Sometimes I forget that Bosh is even a member of the Heat. This is because of two separate points. The first of which is he is on a team with arguably the two most explosive offensive and defensive players in the league… Anyone would be overshadowed if teamed with Wade and James. The second reason makes me pity Bosh… a bit. Every night, every game, there are highlights of the chemistry between Wade and Lebron. From their endless highlight reels of alleyoops and fast break dunks. I do feel as if Bosh may feel a little left out of the fun… He did join this team with his two best friends, and probably did not predict to be thrown so far out of the spotlight… Just a thought

3

– Miami held Orlando to an impressive 31 points at the half

– Jeff Van Gundy’s comparison of Wade and James to Jordan and Pippen DEFENSIVELY was spot on

– Wade had 20 points with ten minutes left in the third quarter. Yet again it seemed as if Wade was capable, and determined to go off for 40 points. He ended with 27, just another example of the selflessness across the board for the Heat.

– Miami had some great second efforts due to fantastic Defense and placement for rebounding

– Three pointer after three pointer after three pointer after three pointer for the Magic.

– Redick is terrifying from beyond the arc, connecting on 5/6 by the third quarter

– Dwight Howard was nearly non existent offensively during this game. You can tell that Spo had a very specific plan on how to eliminate him.

4

– Miami was up by 16 at the end of the third, and controlled the pace from that point on

– Haslem was able to establish a nice rhythm, nailing 18 foot jumpshots both straight on and from baseline. It’s like 2008 all over again! He finished with 10 points.

– Everyone was able to get involved in the fourth. Norris Cole played aggressively. He is reminiscent of Allen Iverson. Fearless to take any shot any time any place, no matter how stupid of a shot it might be.

– Battier got some good looks at the end. He has had a rough season, and if he doesn’t find a groove he may be watching a majority of the 2012 playoffs from the bench.

– James was guarding both Howard and Big Baby in the post and looked GOOD

– The Miami Heat currently hold the best record in the League, half a game ahead of the Bulls.

 

J.R. Smith. Pass.

Today it was announced that J.R. Smith, former forward for the Denver Nuggets, has agreed to a deal that would land him in the Big Apple, playing alongside Melo, Stat1 and Lin-Sanity.

This comes as yet another minor, yet interesting blow to the Miami Heat.

Miami was not on Smith’s list of desired destinations. The Heat have now lost out on the opportunity to sign desired veteran free agents this season, including (but not limited to) Chauncey Billups, Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis.

Ironically Smith, Chandler and Davis all signed with the New York Knicks.

Each one of these players offered both statistical help, and the intangibles of a veteran player, well versed in deep playoff runs.

But given the success of the this season… Do the Heat really need them?

Certainly it never hurts signing a new free agent. If the Heat did land Smith, he would certainly get minutes and add a punch of energy to the bench (Smith and Norris Cole as a lead to the second unit would have been fun to watch)

But at 24-7, it’s hard to argue an upgrade is even needed.

It could help. but it could also hurt. More so than other sports, chemistry and locker room harmony are pivotal in the NBA, and Smith certainly has a reputation as an infectious and negative player.

It’s almost a nice change of pace. Last season, it seemed as if every veteran free agent put Miami on the top of their wish list. Now it’s New York. Give the Knicks all the attention. With their free agent signings and the newly beloved Lin, it allows the Miami Heat to coast quietly (or as quietly as possible… quietly-er?) heading into the All Star Break.

Hopefully the media continues to turn their attention away from the Heat, as a couple weeks or months under the radar (more so than before) could provide an opportunity for the team to thrive without the constant microscope analyzing their every move.

Now, what of Chris Kaman?

 

“Fun, joyful.” Lebron.

After what can be described as a catastrophic ending to last years’ NBA finals, Lebron James has attempted to rise from the ashes of his criticism as a Phoenix of sorts.

A Phoenix that is, of “fun” and “joy”.

During a lengthy interview with ESPN, James touched on his goals for the upcoming season. His plans were to strip himself of the role as a villain, and pursue a more lighthearted, enjoyable approach to the post lockout season.

“I started to play the game of basketball at a level, or at a mind state that I’ve never played at before … meaning, angry…  (I’m) getting back to loving the game and having fun with the game,”

As the NBA All Star break comes closer, James is playing some of the best basketball of his life, shooting nearly .545% from the field, and averaging 8.2 rebounds a game, both career highs. Add in the league best 32.5 PER rating (Chris Paul is a distant second with 26.82) and you have a season where having “fun” is clicking for Lebron.

Anyone who has watched the Miami Heat this season, or at least caught a couple of ESPN Top Ten Plays, can attest to the fact that Lebron has been a man on fire, and has dominated the highlight reel.

Basically he’s been dunking the ball a freaking hell of a lot.

And dunking is fun.

James played a different game last season. His stats were still sensational, but his play was different.

This year he’s playing at a level nearly unseen before.

And that’s clicking with the Heat, who are only 1/2 a game behind Chicago for the best record in the league.

James seems enlightened. Elated. Ecstatic. And any other “E” words you want to throw out there.

This has been infectious in the Miami Heat locker room, as the whole team seems to be playing as a fantastically cohesive unit.

The true test will be, whether or not a more “fun” and “joyful” approach, will dictate post season wins for the Heat, and clutch fourth quarter play from James.

Only time will tell.

But we are all captivated along the journey.

 

Conclusions. Heat 107 Hawks 87

1
-The Heat started the game proper, with an aggressive offense and defense. Lebron played out of the post, Wade was driving the ball to the hoop, Bosh finished at the rim and even Mario Chalmers contributed to an offense that scored six of it’s first sixteen points on fast breaks.

-The Heat finished the first quarter on 58% shooting, and were able to keep the Hawks to 38% field goal shooting.

2

-Lebron and Wade continued to be ferocious, constantly attacking the rim, which typically ended in a dunk, layup, or free throws.

-The second quarter featured the second unit of the Heat, led by Bosh. Although they played with heart, they were sloppy at best as Atlanta was able to take the lead from fourteen down to seven

-Then Spo put Wade back in, and after three minutes the Heat were back up by eighteen

– T-Mac has been a great pickup for the Hawks

-The Hawks really miss Horford. Without the presence of a big man, Miami was not only able to drive at will, but finish.

– The defense looked great holding Josh Smith to 3/10 shooting with five minutes left in the second quarter.

-Wade looked like he would go off for 50 this game, netting 21 points on 50% shooting in the first half. He was a man possessed. He did not score a single basket in the second half though, ending the game with the same numbers.

– Interesting fact courtesy of ESPN… Atlanta is 13-1 vs teams under .500, and 5-8 vs teams over .500

-With that in mind, let me ask, where is the Atlanta Hawks franchise headed? Yes they can win games. Yes they can make the playoffs and probably win a series or two, but are they championship contenders? Absolutely not. The ownership of this team seems content with their current strategy of winning games in the regular season, without making a move or paying a player that can push them to contend. If you think about it, shouldn’t the team at least attempt to land Dwight Howard? It’s his hometown, and they have enough talent on the team to make a decent playoff push year in and year out. It’s certainly a gamble with possibility of Howard leaving them at the end of the season, but what other choice do they have? Hope that Josh Smith and Joe Johnson will bring them to a ring? I think not. If this franchise is willing to pay Joe Johnson 18 Million dollars this year over five years, shouldn’t they be willing to at least try for the best Center in the league?

3

– Yes the Miami Heat have been lax on defending the three the past few weeks. Is it really a concern? No. Live by the three, die by the three. The Hawks couldn’t sink a shot beyond the arc to save their lives tonight.

– Interesting stat, Mario Chalmers is shooting almost .500 this season (as opposed to .400 average prior) and is currently ninth in the NBA in 3 point shooting percentage, hitting an impressive .452%

– The Heat were cruising to victory by the mid third quarter

– Hoping to jolt some sense of life into the game, the Hawks went to a defensive zone midway through the third quarter. It didn’t help much.

– Something to ponder. Coach Spo left the Big Three in the game with four minutes left in the third quarter despite leading 81 – 49.

– With 44 seconds left in the third, Spo pulls Wade and Bosh out and leaves Lebron in, despite a 29 point lead. This has been an interesting, reoccurring theme Spo has experimented with. Mr. James himself said he wanted to have more fun this season, and Spo allowing Lebron to play minutes that most coaches would bench their best player shows a fascinating effort to let Lebron play the game of Basketball and just have a good time doing it. It was almost reminiscent of the Pacers home blowout where Lebron played nearly the whole game, and seemingly had a great time scoring at will.

4

– This game was over by the start of the third quarter.

– Sloppy fourth quarter

– Did anyone else forget that Juwan Howard and Eddy Curry were members of the Heat???

Conclusion to the 107 – 87 victory

This game yet again proves the Miami Heat are the best team in the league when they want to show up. If every game was against a decent team on national television, the team would probably be undefeated.

The Heat were dominant both offensively and defensively. Now we will see how they play tomorrow night in Wisconsin and the day after in Indiana, in the teams first back to back to back of the season.

Defense?

It’s unfair.

It’s unfair to judge the Miami Heat (just as the rest of the league) on their current standings.

20-7 is a fantastic record.

But it hasn’t always felt fantastic.

I think any and every proper Heat fan is very nervous about the possibility of not winning the championship this season.

As an intensive supporter of the team, I’m not sure how I’ll be able to handle any finish to the season that doesn’t include championship rings, a parade in Miami, and a Pit-Bull-Marc-Anthony-Rick-Ross-Heat-tribute song.

The Heat are in the best position in the entire NBA to hold the O’brien trophy over their heads in June.

But where’s the defense?

Since the acquisition of Lebron James, I have personally converted from a Lebron hater to a Lebron lover. His game is nothing short of a pleasure to experience, and as an intensive fan of a professional sports team, there is nothing one is more thankful for than the privilege of witnessing your colors compete, game in and game out. In an overly opinionated sports society, it seems fairly safe to say that right now, Lebron James is the single most talented player in the game.

But where’s the defense?

Dwayne Wade has been a little up and down this season (due to the obvious series of injuries to his leg) but he has generally played brilliantly. He’s playing ferocious, attack-first basketball, and seems to have a genuine desire to drive the ball first and not settle for jump shots as often. This is also an obvious observation when looking at his 3 point attempts this season. If this were an 82 game regular season, Wade would be on pace to shoot thirty 3 point attempts. Compare that to last season when he shot 206! (He is 0 for 9 though, shooting a league low .0 0 0 %) He is playing the most courageous basketball of his career

But where’s the defense?

Norris Cole has provided a much needed spark off the bench, Mario Chalmers has had an improved shot selection, our rotation is constantly improving, we have the second best record in the conference, the second highest scoring offense in the league and are still the favorites to come out of the East.

But still.

The Heat’s defense is by no definition bad. It’s certainly a shell of itself from last season. Last season the Heat’s defense ranked sixth in opponents points per game (94.6) and second in opponents field goal percentage (.434)

This season the Heat are 16th in opponents points per game (95.4) and 13th in opponents field goal percentage (.477)

When statistically compared side by side the numbers don’t seem to drastic of a difference, but the results are undeniable. Last season the Heat prided themselves (and were arguably defined) as the most disciplined, suffocating defense in the league (along with Chicago).  Although a certain sense of defensive cohesiveness exists, it is a fraction of the intensity of last season.

Spoelstra has done a phenomenal coaching job this season, but a little more emphasis on establishing a stout defense could help further define the identity of a Heat team that is very talented, but at times lost.

With so much on the line, its very easy to be overly critical.

Just counting down for the Pit Bull- Marc Anthony- Rick Ross track.

Trust the team. Trust the organization. Trust your colors.

Mark my words, this is the most important season in the history of the Miami Heat.