Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
On October 29, the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat faced off in one of the most highly anticipated regular season games in NBA history. After a first half in which the Magic and Heat traded blows like a pair of heavyweights, things changed quickly at the onset of the third quarter. Miami tightened up their defense, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade caught fire from the perimeter, and — in the blink of an eye — an intense game between two rivals turned into a rout.
So much for a matchup living up to the hype. That was nearly a month ago.
My, how things have changed.
After a triumphant victory against the Magic, the Heat have looked mortal and are struggling with an 8-6 record. Injuries have taken their toll on Miami, sure, but this is a roster that looks lifeless and zombie-like. And with each loss, the shadow of president Pat Riley looms larger over head coach Erik Spoelstra. Cue Michael Corleone’s infamous quote from Godfather Part III.
So to preview the inner happenings of the Heat, I gathered the intelligent observations of Michael Wallace of the Heat Index. Formerly of the Miami Herald, Wallace has covered Miami for five seasons and knows what the deal is.
Wallace provides his opinion on Spoelstra’s future, the impact of the Heat losing Udonis Haslem for (possibly) the rest of the season, and more.
On Twitter, you said that the Miami Heat’s loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday was the worst loss you’ve seen in the five years you’ve covered the team. What was it about the game that made you feel that way?
When you weigh the talent level and expectations against the effort and performance the Heat played with against the Pacers, the disparity between those two sides was never greater in any of the games I’ve covered on this beat. That’s no knock against Indiana. But the Heat didn’t defend, didn’t play with passion, didn’t execute anything resembling offensive structure and really didn’t seem to take the loss as seriously, based on their postgame comments, as they probably should. Getting blown out at home by the Pacers simply isn’t acceptable for this team. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
With each loss, head coach Erik Spoelstra’s seat gets hotter and hotter (whether that’s fair or not is another question entirely). In what scenario do you foresee Pat Riley taking over the coaching duties?
The only way I see Pat Riley taking over is if Dwyane Wade loses confidence in the coach that has groomed him the past eight years, first as an assistant and personal workout coach and now as a head coach. Spoelstra and Wade have a deep connection and trust. The moment Wade waivers on that trust, and cedes influence and control of the locker room to LeBron James and the newcomers, is the day Spoelstra losses any legs on which to stand. Nothing short of an all-out mutiny would lead to Riley returning. I’m almost convinced that he’d rather promote another assistant instead of returning to the bench at this point – unless he’s absolutely encouraged to do so by owner Micky Arison.
For whatever reason, the Heat’s offense has been rudimentary and has consistently featured isolations resulting in long two’s or pick and rolls. Why has this been the case? It seems like Spoelstra’s system offensively is no better than what was “featured” by the Cleveland Cavaliers with then-head coach Mike Brown.
This one is simple. The offense, at this point, is predicated on trying to create mismatches and allowing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to make “reads” and go from there. And that’s exactly what defenders want the Heat to do. If Miami is playing in a half-court pace, with Wade or LeBron dribbling down the shot-clock and not really getting into any rhythm, then the battle is already halfway finished. This Heat team needs to be more up-tempo and get into transition more. But that hasn’t happened much because of the Heat’s inability to consistently control the boards and block shots. You can’t speed up your tempo if you’re consistently taking the ball out of the nets after made shots.
What’s surprised you the most with Miami’s 8-6 start to the regular season?
The comfortable excuses that seem to come far too often at this point. Injuries, chemistry concerns, cohesion issues, strategy kinks, lack of toughness, defensively lapses and fluctuating confidence levels have been the norm already this season. It’s basketball. Three of the league’s 15 most productive players are on this team. At some point this collection of talent has to set aside the excuses and do what it takes to become a team.
There’s no doubt that Udonis Haslem is the glue for the Heat. How will the loss of his presence impact the team for the next few months? How does the team possibly replace what he brings to the table?
The hope is that Erick Dampier, the veteran defensive-oriented center, can fill some of the rebounding void created by Haslem’s absence. But no one can replace Haslem’s passion and willingness to get into another teammate’s face to challenge him to do better. There is no one tougher on this team than Udonis Haslem. And you can’t find too may better clutch baseline shooters than Haslem. Those intangibles will be missed. Chris Bosh, Dampier and others must step up in a major way to limit the blow of Haslem likely being loss for the season.
I like to thank Michael for taking the time to answer my questions.