Struggling Heat find better offense but forget to play defense, lose again

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Since roughly last July, Heat fans have been asking — for the last week begging — to get LeBron James and Dwyane Wade active in the offense at the same time. They needed that long-promised spark.

Tuesday night — in a game were the Heat clearly were gripping at times and playing their stars big minutes — Miami pulled out a rarely used play that worked very well: the LeBron/Wade pick and roll. Miami used it a number of times and there was some spark to their usually stagnant half-court sets.

The result was a Heat team that shot better than normal (51 percent), had 48 points in the paint, and scored 114.3 points per 100 possessions (4 points above their season average). Wade had 38 points (on 21 shots as he attacked and got to the line 14 times) LeBron had 31 (on 20 shots).

The only problem — the Heat forgot to play defense, too.

The improved motion in the Heat offense paled in comparison to the varied actions of the Portland sets. Sets that the Heat struggled mightily to defend.

The result was a Blazers team that scored 125 points per 100 possessions (22 points above what the Heat normally give up). That led to a 105-96 Portland win.

That’s the Heat’s fifth straight loss, with the Lakers — winners of 8 in a row — up next on Thursday.

Wade and James played well, but Bosh had just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. After the game a clearly frustrated Bosh said he didn’t like where he was getting the ball, that plays were not called for him to get the rock isolated on the low block where he is most comfortable. And with Wade and LeBron on the roster Bosh is also clearly not comfortable demanding the ball in games. He needs to start. Mario Chalmers added 10 points for the Heat.

The Blazers bench — Gerald Wallace, Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez — outscored the Heat bench 41-8. The Heat’s depth remains an issue.

But Miami’s usually stout defense was the biggest problem against Portland. The Blazers had 42 points in the paint and more importantly dominated the Heat on the glass. Portland, with its motion offense, was getting looks it liked where it liked. LaMarcus Aldridge had 26, Gerald Wallace had his best game since the trade from Charlotte with 22, and six Blazers total were in double figures.

Give the Blazers credit, they came out playing more like the team that needed the win. They earned this, the Heat did not completely give it away.

But the Heat are not playing up to potential.

Miami is clearly struggling, and internally freaking out a little. As Wade told NBC’s Ira Winderman earlier, they thought this would be easier. But if that feeling of panic causes them to struggle on defense, this streak of bad play is going to extend out much longer than it needs to.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markelle Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice:

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.

Dwyane Wade: Making Carmelo Anthony ‘fall guy’ doesn’t address the ‘real problem’

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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul – the banana-boat buddies – comprise the NBA’s most famous friendship group.

With Anthony nearing his end with the Rockets, that puts Houston teammate Paul in an awkward place. But Wade and LeBron are speaking up. So are the Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner and Damian Lillard.

Wade:

LeBron:

Evan Turner:

Damian Lillard:

It’s unclear whether Wade is scolding the Rockets or fans/media. That comment is far more loaded if he’s referring directly to the organization. I wonder what he sees at the “real problem” in Houston.

A struggling team waiving a minimum-salary player is rarely viewed as making that player the scapegoat. But Anthony has an outsized reputation due to his long, star-level career. With that in mind, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried to defend Anthony.

But Anthony is a part of Houston’s problems. He’s awful defensively and shooting poorly. There is mounting evidence he’s washed up. Downgrading his role, whether or not that includes waiving him, is a step in the right direction for the Rockets.

It won’t solve everything, and Anthony – after all that he has done in the NBA – should be treated with respect. But there’s no way around his substandard current level of play.