NBA Season Preview: The Miami Heat

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Thumbnail image for Heat_huddle.jpgLast season: 47-35, fifth seed in the East. Their reward for that? The Boston Celtics in the first round. Ouch.

Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra, who is one of the best young minds in the game and a Pat Riley protégé. Which means Riley is not going to go Stan Van Gundy on him this season (if he does the backlash will be insane).

Key Departures: Former No. 2 pick Michael Beasley (now in the basketball Siberia of Minnesota), Jermaine O’Neal (who could come back to haunt the Heat as part of the Celtics), Quentin Richardson (who could come back to haunt the Heat as part of the Magic, plus some other minor parts.

Key Additions: Don’t know if you heard, but LeBron James chose Miami. Hate the man if you want, he remains as good a basketball player as there is walking the face of the earth.

The Heat re-signed Dwyane Wade. They brought in Chris Bosh from Toronto, now people will see just how good Bosh really is (I’m not sure the general public gets it).

They brought in Mike Miller to be the sharp-shooting, floor-spreading guy they need with all those penetrators on the roster. They re-signed Udonis Haslem. They signed Zydrunas Ilgauskas to provide depth up front. The re-singed Joel Anthony to be the rim protector they need. The re-signed Carlos Arroyo. They brought in Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magloire to be the old guys on the bench.

Whew. That about covers it, we think.

Best case scenario: An NBA championship. Anything less and next summer be filled with “what’s wrong with the Heat?” stories. It won’t be the championship the Lakers/Celtics won, but the one the Heat lost somehow.

For that to happen: The Heat have to defend. They do not need to be the 2004 Pistons in defense, but they need to be good.

Look, they are going to score. The concerns about Wade/LeBron/Bosh being able to play together are overblown — these are not the crazy-high usage guys who never pass. All three are good teammates, guys who give up the ball (remember, when you climbed all over LeBron for passing to the open man with the game on the line?). This team is going to be an offensive force.

And all three are good defenders. The pressure that James and Wade can put on opposing wing players will be intense — the Heat are going to get turnovers and easy (occasionally spectacular) transition baskets.

But in today’s NBA, with no handchecking on the perimeter, Dwyane Wade can’t guard Dwyane Wade. The league’s best penetrating wing players are going to get to the rim, other teams will do it with crisp ball movement (see Jazz, Utah). In today’s NBA you need a big man to protect the rim and own the paint (and glass). You need Kendrick Perkins or Dwight Howard or (a healthy) Andrew Bynum to anchor that defense.

Joel Anthony is a shot blocker. He works hard and gets as much out of his game as anyone. He is still 6’9″ and other teams are going to try to exploit that. Not many can. The Heat have the talent to go stretches with Bosh at the center spot, to use Big Z, to get by just fine most nights. But there will be nights when the run into a roster like Orlando where they have a center and other big men to spread the floor making help defense much harder.

The Heat have a season to fine-tune the defense, to see what matchups and lineups work best. Because come the playoffs they will see teams that have the talent to go at their weaknesses and if the Heat have not figured it out they will pay.

More likely the Heat will: Be right in the mix for a title. Can they win it? The Magic 8 Ball says “ask later.” We don’t know. The legendary Lakers with Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain did not — this is no sure thing for the Heat. The Lakers, Magic and Celtics have the talent to hang.

But if the Heat can defend, if they get solid play out of Anthony and Chalmers and Miller, if they can stay healthy, yes they can get a ring. Both this year and several more in the next five years.

Prediction: 64-18, and the top seed in the East. (Forget the 72-win thing, you have to really commit to that and the Heat will commit to rest for the playoffs instead.) From there, it’s all about matchups and how far the Heat defense has come along.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.