What’s going on with the Heat offense?

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The 5-2 Miami Heat are certainly not a bad offensive team. In fact, they are a very good offensive team — as of today, they are 5th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. Considering how good the Heat have been defensively (they’re #1 in defensive efficiency), Miami could certainly make a championship run without significantly improving their offense, which is sort of frightening.

Still, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that the Heat aren’t nearly as good as they could be on offense — after all, both the 09-10 Raptors and the 09-10 Cavaliers had a higher offensive efficiency rating than the Heat do so far this season. Clearly, this Heat squad has the talent to be absolutely dominant offensively, so why haven’t they been as good as the sum of their talents? Here are some possible explanations, starting with the “Big Three.”

What makes Miami’s trio so interesting is its versatility — James and Wade are both great scorers with incredible playmaking ability, James and Bosh are both too accurate from the perimeter to be left all alone, all three players can create off the dribble, and all three are explosive athletes who can get in the paint and convert in the blink of an eye.

However, instead of bracing their versatility, Miami’s trio seem to be fixated on settling into specific “roles”: LeBron the playmaker, Wade the slasher, and Bosh the polite third option. It all sounds nice, but it’s limited all three players in one way or another. Right now, the Heat look like they’re playing to a script; the more settled in they get, the less predictable they’ll be and the more difficult they will be to defend. Here’s what the “Big Three” have and haven’t been doing so far:

1. LeBron James: Not enough action off the ball

Sometimes I get the feeling that LeBron feels the need to answer his critics on the court rather than simply do what would give his team the best chance of scoring baskets. For the first seven years of his career, the main criticism of LeBron was that he was a superlative athlete who lacked skill, specifically the ability to make jump shots.

He worked tirelessly on his jumper and turned himself into a pretty good jump shooter, but his shooting percentages stayed lower than they should have been because he felt the need to show off his jumper all the time, firing deep, contested jumpers with time on the shot clock just to prove to everybody that he could make them. It was unstoppable when it did work, but it didn’t really keep the defense off-balance, and LeBron would have been much better served spending time on the block and figuring out how to create more easy shots instead of working so diligently to convert difficult ones.

After spending a few months getting his character criticized, LeBron seems to be trying to prove how unselfish he is by using his superlative playmaking ability to run the Miami offense and rack up assists, which would supposedly prove how he’s willing to sacrifice his statistics to fit into a team concept and be part of a winning operation.

The problem with that philosophy is that as good as LeBron James can be when he’s making plays, he’s much better when he’s able to come from the weak side and finish them. LeBron driving and kicking to an open three-point shooter or finding a slashing big man from the perimeter is effective — LeBron catching a pass at full speed and going to the basket against a defense trying to recover is all but unstoppable. We saw that in international play, when LeBron shot nearly 70% from the floor by converting easy dunks and open threes.

With all apologies to Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao, LeBron’s never played on an NBA team with players like Wade and Bosh, players capable of drawing enough defensive attention to free up James on the weak side and allow LeBron to punish teams the moment they forget about him.

Unselfish isn’t always about trying to make your teammates better; sometimes, it’s about letting your teammates make you better, and LeBron hasn’t been doing that. Last season, 47.2% of LeBron’s shots at the rim were assisted; this season, only 35% of LeBron’s attempts from that area have come from assists, which would be a career-low for him. LeBron still converts an absurdly high percentage of his shots at the rim (77%!), but his attempts from point-blank range have gone down — of all the weapons Miami has, LeBron going to the basket when the defense isn’t ready for him is the most dangerous one, and neither LeBron or Miami seems to have that in mind when they run their offense.

2. Wade — more playmaking

Wade’s had the easiest time adjusting to the new Miami offense — he’s slashing with abandon, his floaters have been absolutely deadly, he rarely takes bad shots, and his True Shooting percentage is currently a career-high 59.2% despite the fact he’s making only 12% of his deep twos.

However, Wade is also a great playmaker, and he seems to have forgotten that part of his game despite the fact he has better teammates to pass to than he ever has before. Wade is averaging only 3.7 assists per game, which is barely better than half of his previous career-low, and his assist:turnover ratio is also far worse than it ever has been before.

Wade has hardly set anybody up with easy finishes. Last year, Wade averaged 2.2 assists that led to layups or dunks a game, which was a career-low at the time; this year, he’s averaged only 0.6 assists that lead to layups or dunks each game. I don’t know if the main issue is that Wade’s teammates aren’t putting themselves in position to catch passes near the basket when Wade looks to drive or that Wade isn’t looking to pass when he goes to the hoop, but either way Wade should be using his passing more than he has been.

LeBron is a great passer, and Wade is a great slasher, but what makes them two of the best players in basketball is how well they use their passing and their scoring abilities in tandem, and that shouldn’t change now that they’re sharing the floor with one another.

Chris Bosh: Be more aggressive

Tom Haberstroh already touched on this about an hour ago over at the Heat Index, so I won’t linger on it too long here. Basically, Chris Bosh is a very good mid-range shooter, especially for a big man, and that’s the only skill he’s really been utilizing in Miami’s offense. However, what Bosh really excels at is finishing when he sets a pick and rolls to the basket or attacking the basket off the dribble from the high-post, and he hasn’t really been doing either of those things.

Bosh has been polite about waiting for his shot opportunities. Two-thirds of Bosh’s shot opportunities this season have been assisted, which would represent a career-high for him. However, there’s a fine line between being patient and being passive, and Bosh is on the wrong side of it this season.

Unlike, say, Pau Gasol, who dominates on offense with his size, skill, and court vision and can flourish playing off Kobe in the triangle, Bosh’s best attributes are his athleticism and explosiveness when he goes to the rim. As a result, Bosh is at his most effective when he can be aggressive and attack, which he’s been to hesitant to do.  When the Heat have made an effort to feature Bosh, they’ve often dumped it to him in the low post and watched him try and make a play, which is the wrong way to use him — Bosh should be attacking the basket hard, with his teammates moving around him to give him options if the defense collapses on him or opening up seams to the rim for him by attacking the basket themselves. Bosh is trying to give James and Wade space to work, but a player with his talents isn’t doing his team any favors by sitting back and playing Antonio McDyess.

The Heat have become a very good offensive team because their superstars have been willing to accommodate each other’s strengths. When the “Big Three” actually start to play off of each other’s strengths, improvise, and use each other to open up lanes to the basket, they’ll be downright scary on offense.

Watch Stephen Curry drain shots from center-court logo during warmups like it’s nothing

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In case you need any kind of reminder that Stephen Curry is a flat-out ridiculous shooter — particularly during warm-ups, well, you’re in luck.

Check out this pregame video of Curry knocking down shots from the center-court logo at Oracle like it’s nothing.

The man changes the game. Even in warmups.

James Harden being out clouds latest Rockets-Warriors clash

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Houston Rockets have had the Golden State Warriors’ number this season. However, when the teams meet on Saturday, the Rockets will have to play without the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player.

Houston guard James Harden is out due a cervical neck strain. Harden was bothered by soreness Thursday during the Rockets’ 111-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He was seen receiving treatment to the neck and right shoulder during the contest.

The Rockets have used different means to beat the two-time defending champs in their first two head-to-heads since Golden State prevailed in a seven-game conference finals last May.

Houston held a Stephen Curry-less Warriors team to 86 points — Golden State’s lowest output of the season — and just 42 percent shooting in a 107-86 home win in November.

The Rockets then turned Harden loose in the January rematch at Golden State, watching him pour in 44 points — including a game-winning 3-pointer — in a 135-134 overtime thriller.

More than a month later, that game still weighs heavily on the mind of Curry, who countered Harden with 35 points of his own that night.

“They just made one more shot,” he noted to reporters after the Warriors Thursday win over the Sacramento Kings. “We understand how talented they are, how well James has been playing. It’s going to be a dogfight … a defensive test for us.”

At the time of Curry’s statement, the extent of Harden’s injury had not been made public. The NBA’s leading scorer at 36.5 points per game, Harden was bothered by a left shoulder strain prior to the All-Star break but didn’t miss any contests. He has played in 55 of Houston’s 58 games as he missed three games early in the season due to a hamstring injury.

In the overtime win at Oakland, Harden complemented his 44 points with 10 rebounds and 15 assists for a triple-double.

While there was no triple-double against the Lakers, Harden did extend his streak of games with 30 or more points to 32.

The Rockets lost their second in a row and fell to 33-25, a full 12 games below where they stood at this point last season. It’s gotten some analysts grumbling about the club’s style of play and reliance on Harden.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni labeled such talk “absurd” before the Thursday game.

“I don’t know if they watched last year,” he said of the naysayers. “Nobody else can do what he does. … If you’re a ball-stopper, usually you’re inefficient. He’s very efficient. So when the ball stops, it’s a good thing.”

The Rockets earned the home-court advantage over Golden State in last year’s playoffs by finishing seven games ahead of the Warriors during the regular season.

That almost surely won’t be the case should they meet again this postseason. The Warriors (42-16), with the best record in the West, have a nine-game advantage over Houston, currently in the No. 5 seed.

Golden State won for the 17th time in its past 19 games by surviving a late rally from the Kings on Thursday in a 125-123 home decision. Curry finished with 36 points, making 10 of his 16 3-point attempts.

Harden (276) and Curry (246) enter the game ranked first and second, respectively, in the NBA in 3-pointers made.

Harden also led the league last season with what was then a career-best 265.

Curry got the better of his rival in 3-pointers in last year’s playoff showdown, however, making 27 of 75 (36 percent) while Harden was harassed into 19 of 78 (24.4 percent).

Curry saved his best for last in the series, going 7 of 15 on 3-point tries in a 27-point effort in Golden State’s 101-92 win at Houston in Game 7. Harden went just 2-for-13 from long range on his 32-point night.

 

James Harden fined $25,000 for calling referee Scott Foster ‘rude and arrogant’

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“Scott Foster, man. I never really talk about officiating or anything like that, but just rude and arrogant. I mean, you aren’t able to talk to him throughout the course of the game, and it’s like, how do you build that relationship with officials? And it’s not even that call [Harden’s sixth foul, ending his night]. It’s just who he is on that floor.”

Houston’s James Harden knew the fine was coming before he even uttered those words following the Rockets loss to the Lakers Thursday night, in which Foster called two offensive fouls on Harden, one that limited his minutes early and another that set him up to eventually foul him out of the game.

Harden got what was expected on Saturday, the NBA fined him $25,000 for “public criticism of the officiating.”

Harden wasn’t alone in his frustration. Chris Paul fouled out and picked up a technical, and coach Mike D’Antoni picked up a technical as well.

For the game, Foster called 12 fouls on the Rockets and six on the Lakers. This season in games Foster has officiated, the Rockets are 1-1.

The Rockets are not the only team to have frustrations with Foster, he has a reputation around the league for a short fuse that doesn’t let you question calls. LeBron James‘ Heat teams and others have felt how Harden does.

Lakers’ Lonzo Ball could be out longer due to bone bruise in ankle

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Lonzo Ball has missed the last 11 Laker games. In that time the team is 4-7 with a bottom 10 offense and defense, and they have been outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. Granted, LeBron James was out for a number of those games as well, but even LeBron is talking about how much Ball is missed in the rotation.

The Lakers could be missing him a while longer.

While we are starting to approach the ballpark return date projected for Ball’s Grade 3 ankle sprain, he could miss more time due to a bone bruise in the ankle, reports Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.

Ball moved quickly through the early stages of his rehab. He used crutches for about a week and wore a protective boot on his left ankle for less time than that.

Ball began running on an underwater treadmill two weeks ago and last week he began work on an antigravity treadmill, but was limited because of the bone bruise.

Ball injured his ankle back on January 19 and it looked bad when it happened.

The Lakers could use him as they make a push down the stretch to get into the playoffs — the Laker defense is 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Ball is on the court this season. The Lakers, 29-29, enter Saturday as the 10th seed in the West, three games back of the Clippers in the eighth seed and final playoff spot. The Sacramento Kings are also between the Lakers and the postseason — to get in the Lakers are going to need to go on a LeBron-led run. Ball would help with that, but it may be a little while longer before we see him on the court.