By Ira Winderman
2:03 AM EDT, June 19, 2013
JUNE 19, 2013
Q: This win took everything the Heat had and an act of God. What a win. -- Chet.
A: By God you mean LeBron James or Ray Allen, or both? It was an unfathomable sequence, one you well may never see again. But it's like Erik Spoelstra has been saying for months, winning a championship is hard. Today, the Spurs can offer testament to that. Yet just as officiating calls are forgotten years down the road, what ultimately is remembered is who won. Thursday's winner will get those spoils, no matter what transpired Tuesday.
Q: I think the most important adjustments Spoelstra made was not playing Norris Cole on Tuesday night. As good as he can be sometimes, he couldn't be trusted at this stage. And big guts of Spo to bench Udonis Haslem. The loyalty could only go so far. -- Moshe.
A: Such has been the challenge for Spoelstra all season, with almost too many moving parts for Spoelstra to choose from. But that's what desperation does, it makes you opt for desperate measures. Getting Chris Andersen's energy, especially at home, was critical. This is when you tighten to the best eight and ride it out. It will be interesting, though, to see if Tuesday's fatigue is still evident Thursday. You did, after all, have LeBron playing 49:46 on Tuesday and Ray 40:46.
Q: Where does Tuesday's game rank for you? -- Martin.
A: I appreciate how you can get lost in the moment, but I can't recall many with more twists and meaning and moments in my 25 years than this one. I mean, I'm still not sure what happened. One more Spurs free throw, one fewer Heat 3-pointer, and there wouldn't be a season still to finish. For that matter, who knows what would have happened if LeBron put the headband back on? Wow.
JUNE 18, 2013
Q: Ira, one of the ESPN writers said the Heat are "smug" and that's the reason they're in trouble. Is this everyone jumping on again, like they did in the Dallas series? Did "smug" hit all those 3-pointers, and many were contested, by the Spurs? -- Steve.
A: First, it wasn't just any writer, it was Kevin Arnovitz, who spent two seasons in South Florida covering the Heat and is acutely aware of the mindset of this team. And he has a point, in that the Heat often make it harder on themselves than it needs to be by failing to recognize the challenge at hand. The Spurs are good, very good. And they have a coach who might be the best in the business. This is not a team you can take shortcuts against, and yet that's what several Heat players have attempted, a major reason for this 3-2 deficit. When motivated, the Heat can play with anyone. But the mere presence of the Spurs in this series should have been motivation enough. The question now, even at this late date, is whether the reality truly has hit home.
Q: Isn't this what the Heat played hard for all season? Win your games at home and win it all. Why is everyone freaking out? -- Jason.
A: Because everyone thought there should have been some sort of "Easy Button" along the way. And because the Heat have made it harder on themselves than might have been necessary, actually having the nerve to merely go through the motions at times during the playoffs. Lesson learned? We'll see Tuesday, and perhaps Thursday.
Q: The 27-game win streak may be coming back to haunt this team, especially the way they worked in some of those comebacks during the streak. -- Teddy.
A: I think what has haunted this team, and continues to haunt this team, is the burden of being the Big Three, much of it self-created. There is an ease of simplicity with the Spurs. They play. They win. They go home. They don't try to be anyone or anything. You should see the hokey commercials that Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan appear in on local San Antonio television. It's like they're produced on their backyards.
JUNE 17, 2013
Q: Mike Miller being in the starting lineup is not working at all. You can't have a guy on floor with poor defense who won't shoot, right? -- Mike.
A: Exactly. You can't space the floor with a shooter who won't shoot. The Spurs have grown wise to that. And watching the Spurs line up Mike defensively is sort of like watching the Spurs line up Ray Allen. No, Erik Spoelstra has created a monster by giving new life to Manu Ginobili. Now he has to create something of his own. Going back to Udonis Haslem isn't the answer, since there suddenly is no one for him to guard. And starting Allen would only leave the Heat at a greater defensive deficit. No, it has to be all or nothing with Shane Battier, which adds another defensive component and someone, who, unlike Miller, is now taking and making 3-pointers. The Heat won last season's title with Battier on the floor at the outset of the most important Finals games. It's time to revisit those possibilities.
Q: I guess the Heat don't care to re-sign Birdman. Spo's benching of him is a telltale sign. He is statistically the Heat's best shot blocker. I guess that doesn't count. -- Martin.
A: I can guarantee you that none of Spoelstra's moves have anything to do with anything but the moment at hand. But where he got himself in trouble was turning this into a small-ball series that left no place for Chris Andersen. As for Chris, I wouldn't blame him if he now wanted to move on. That's just human nature, to remember the most recent moment. All of that said, if he is part of a championship celebration, that could change everything. For now, we wait.
Q: The score was 17-17 in the first quarter. Then the Heat had five or six terrible possessions. The Spurs went up by 10 or 12 and the Heat had to fight from behind the rest of the game. The five or six terrible possessions in a row in the first quarter on offense is a recurring theme for the Heat in the playoffs. We saw the same thing against Indiana. What is/are the reason(s) for these breakdowns? Bad coaching, lack of focus, bad plays, too easy a season or what? It just seems like this shouldn't happen on a team with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade who have played together for three years now and have a lot of supporting talent (especially in a year they are defending champs). But somewhere along the way this season the Heat picked up this terrible habit and they can't shake it. On past Pat Riley teams when that happened, the play was throw it into the big man. -- Stuart.
A: Which it yet could be again, if the Heat turn to Bosh. But this is about more than play sets. It's about moving the ball. And that comes down to stubbornness by some of the stars. The ball movement in key sequences was reprehensible at times on Sunday night.
JUNE 16, 2013
Q: I am sitting in the dark, scared of how the Heat are going to come out for Game 5. Do they realize the magnitude of winning this game, or are they just going to mail it in like every other game? -- Albert.
A: I hardly would consider losing to the Pacers or Spurs a case of mailing it in. These are good teams playing their biggest games of the season. Now, if you're asking why there isn't more consistency, that's a different, and legitimate, question. To me, that comes down to Erik Spoelstra, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh appreciating the gravity of the moment. In 2011, they chose the hard way, having to come home and win the final two games of the Finals after going down 3-2. Instead, they lost to Dallas in Game 6 and got to watch the Mavericks celebrate a championship at AmericanAirlines Arena and then revel on South Beach. So, yes, Sunday is huge, and the Heat have a significant history lesson at their disposal.
Q: Ira, is it a concern that the Heat are still not getting to the line? LeBron, for all he did on Thursday, still only took four free throws. I thought the Heat were very aggressive. But, not wanting to start a conspiracy, the Heat still had many more fouls called against them. -- David.
A: Like the Pacers, the Spurs make not fouling a cornerstone of their defense. They also pack the paint against LeBron, limiting his ability to get into the lane. As long as the Heat score like they did in Game 4, I'm sure they're fine. But a more aggressive Mario Chalmers certainly wouldn't hurt. As it is, with Chris Andersen sitting and Mike Miller and Shane Battier playing, the Heat are going with players who aren’t necessary players who put pressure on the rim.
Q: It was encouraging to see Battier back in the rotation. Good things happen whenever he plays. Mark my words: His shot will return before the series is over. -- David.
A: He's running out of time. But if he can have just one game in this series like Miller had in Game 5 in last season's Finals against the Thunder, then all the previous struggles quickly will be forgotten.
JUNE 15, 2013
Q: Ira, regarding Chris Bosh's "flop," it would make sense to call the flop at the time of the play, and make it a penalty of some sort at that moment, whether it's a foul or, in my opinion, a technical foul. It's a coward's way out to fine a player the next day for a flop. A fine does nothing as far as having meaning to the game itself. If it is, indeed, called a technical foul at the moment, fewer players will flop. What is meaningful is how flopping affects the play on the court at the time. By the way, there is an offensive flop, when a shooter kicks his leg out to create contact with the defender, which is an offensive foul. -- Martin.
A: That's the part that's never specified when the fines are issues. In the case of Bosh, does that mean the league believes Tim Duncan should not have been called for a foul, or just that while it was a foul, that Bosh's reaction was over the top? Because if it shouldn't have been called a foul in the first place, then who deserves the greater sanction: Bosh or the referee the league basically has identified as blowing the call. You can be cited for flopping even when fouled. In hockey, you can be called for "diving" while still victimized for a penalty, with both players going to the penalty box. Perhaps the Duncan/Bosh incident should have been a double foul.
Q: Assuming we win the series, isn't the biggest question for the Heat this offseason whether they can stay on top with James Jones as a replacement for Mike Miller? -- Michael.
A: No, that's a very small question, considering the minimal role Mike has mostly played. And that's if he's amnestied in the first place. Among Heat offseason concerns, starting with the player option of Ray Allen, the free agency of Chris Andersen, the team option year for Mario Chalmers, anything involving Miller/Jones is way down the pecking order.
Q: Ira, I am in Israel celebrating my daughter's Bat Mitzvah. Today we did rafting down the Jordan River and there were a ton of Arab kids rafting. When we told them we were from Miami, this was their response: "LeBron James! LeBron James! LeBron James! Heat, go Heat!" Can't make this up. -- Stuart.
A: First an NBA championship, now LeBron solving the riddle of the Middle East. Perhaps he should be the one going to North Korea instead of Dennis Rodman.
JUNE 14, 2013
Q: So now who does Erik Spoelstra replace Mike Miller with on Sunday? He turned into Shane Battier. He wasn't even looking to shoot. Isn't that why they started him? -- Jorge.
A: Thursday was different. Thursday was a game when you give the ball to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and get out of the way. It could be argued that any shot not taken by one of the Big Three in Game 4 wasn't the best use of allotted shots. Ray Allen, though, did provide a nice balance. But this was not a night for Battier or Miller to hoist 3-pointers. They didn't have to.
Q: It was spectacular seeing the old Wade. It was nice of him to show how good he is. -- Chet.
A: And now there are two days off to recuperate. And that's another reason why Sunday's Game 5 is so meaningful. Because after that, it's two games in three days to end the series, and who knows what it took just to get Wade into that shape for Thursday.
Q: Why did Spoelstra punish Birdman? He has been one of our best players, and there was Udonis Haslem again, the player he benched. -- Steve.
A: Basically, it was a chain reaction of Spoelstra opening with Miller. That, in turn, largely took Tiago Splitter out of the Spurs' rotation. And that, in turn, left Spoelstra with no one to play Chris Andersen against, since either Bosh or Haslem, who has played him very well this series, were defending Tim Duncan. Basically, the toll of small ball took both Splitter and Andersen out of the game. It will be interesting to see if Gregg Popovich again allows Spoelstra to dictate Sunday's terms of engagement.
JUNE 13, 2013
Q: Ira, the Heat are a veteran-laden team all of whom have played in multiple playoff and championship series. Yet they do not bring the focus and intensity they know to be required to win on a nightly basis. I think you are right. They have been playing with fire too much and if they don't get it straightened out by Game 4, it will cost them another championship. As I see it, Game 4 is must win. We're not winning three straight closeout games against the Spurs. They are too good. It has been exasperating, to say the least, to watch. You don't know which team is going to show up from game to game. It is also inexplicable to me. It'll be interesting to see if they show up from the opening tip Thursday. -- Bob.
A: "Exasperated" is the perfect word. And I agree, there could be no worse feeling than being down 1-3 and having two days to marinate in it until Sunday's Game 4. Motivation tends to be a coaching issue, so the question becomes whether Erik Spoelstra isn't getting his players up for such moments, or whether there simply are too many passive personalities in the mix. We know this, if LeBron James doesn't think his teammates are ready for the fight alongside, he'll find teammates who are.
Q: Is it time for Dwyane Wade to be Heat's version of Vinnie Johnson, come off the bench and give it all in 18 to 20 minutes, where he won't embarrass himself and will actually be an asset instead of a liability? -- Martin.
A: I wouldn't exactly sell Dwyane as a liability at this point. And the middle of the NBA Finals is not when you make such dramatic changes. Besides, if that is the case, then the Heat have to find someone capable of starting ahead of him, and I'm not sure if Mike Miller is all the way back to that type of player.
Q: Reading your "Ask Ira" from Wednesday where you mentioned Mario Chalmers' inconsistency, the same exact thing could be said of Chris Bosh. He has a good game here and there where you say, "Good thing we didn’t trade him," and then mostly inconsistent efforts of low rebounding numbers and low scoring. He's Chalmers in a big man. -- Moshe.
A: I disagree. Mario throws in his share of games where his play actually hurts the Heat. With Bosh, it's more of a case of where he doesn't help enough. Then again, that might be more a function of Mario playing point guard.
JUNE 12, 2013
Q: This is Dallas 2011 all over again. How do the Heat get LeBron James going? Ever since Dwyane Wade complained about the offense, LeBron seems to be playing passive. How did he get 45 against Boston last year? Where is that LeBron? -- Stuart.
A: There certainly are similarities to the Mavericks 2011 NBA Finals, although in that series, the Heat at least went up 2-1. But once again, a Finals opponent is putting the singular focus on LeBron, daring anyone and everyone else to beat them. And, as with the Mavericks, the Spurs are using the Heat's defensive over-pursuit against them to set up open 3-pointers. The reality is this is about more than LeBron. It is getting everyone on the same page at the same time, not having a game where Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers are scoreless, and Chris Andersen doesn't grab a single rebound.
Q: Even if Miami wins this series, which after Tuesday night seems more unlikely than ever, don't you get the sense some changes are coming this offseason? It's strange to say this, but even with Miami only three wins away from a second consecutive title, they just have the look of a team in decline. -- Kevin.
A: Or the Heat could win three of the next four games and then the discussion becomes how Micky Arison can't allow the luxury tax to rip this team apart. This Heat team certainly has been different than last season's team. On its worst days, this Heat team has played some stinkers. But on its best, it still is elite, very elite. Now the question is which version shows up Thursday.
Q: I could not be any more frustrated with Mario Chalmers' inconsistent play -- throughout the season, the playoffs and the Finals. He seems to survive criticism by producing one good game out of many average ones. How long do we keep waiting for consistency? -- Shawn, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
A: Such is the Mario Chalmers Experience. And the thing is, there rarely are "many average ones." For the most part, he's either been very good, or very not so good. Ultimately, we're all just along for the ride. It's who he is.
JUNE 11, 2013
Q: Do you think Mike Miller's play will cause Heat to re-consider (assuming they already considered) amnestying him in offseason? He is very skilled player that can do so much more than just shoot (even though he is great shooter). -- Jeffrey.
A: The issue is not as much Mike as his salary. As long as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are around, he will never be more than a reserve behind two big-minutes regulars. Beyond that, his $6.2 million and $6.6 million salaries essentially triple (perhaps even more) under the more-punitive luxury tax that is about to go into effect. The only way Mike, in his current break-open-in-case-of-emergency role, makes sense is if the Heat can get below the luxury tax. Now, should the Heat sell off one of their higher salaries, which is why you're hearing all the Chris Bosh rumors, then keeping Miller and perhaps adding another mid-level player would make sense. I'm just not sure you can afford, in these tax times, to pay a player mid-level money for one or two weeks a season, even if some of that payoff comes in the playoffs.
Q: Why are we still playing the Finals in a 2-3-2 format when, except for when the Lakers are up, there isn't nearly as much travel as there used to be when it was Celtics-Lakers every year? -- Norman.
A: I agree. With the stakes this high, there should not be a concession to travel or inconvenience. And based on some of the Monday travel follies of those trying to get from Miami to San Antonio (other than those on the team flights), an argument could be made that it could be easier to get from South Florida to the West Coast than Miami to San Antonio. If the highest level of competition is the league's true goal (it isn't), then all rounds of the postseason should be contested in the same manner, in the 2-2-1-1-1.
Q: This might be a stretch, but could Mario Chalmers improve enough to be the next Tony Parker or Rajon Rondo? Wade is getting old and is often injured. We sure need a second consistent scorer and playmaker, and Mario thus far has been invaluable. -- Ryan.
A: I simply don't think Mario offers the type of consistency to be counted upon as a definitive No. 2 option. Yes, he can be very good. But he also can be very not so good. Playing as a complementary player is the perfect fit.
JUNE 10, 2013
Q: Forget everything else about his game, the 3-pointers, the 19 points, making all of his free throws: Mario Chalmers played without a turnover and the Heat only had six. Is that what this series will come down to, turnovers? -- Mark.
A: I don't think it's that simple. I think Tim Duncan will be more efficient at home, the Spurs perhaps getting a more beneficial whistle if they get into attack mode. But Mario was efficient, as was almost the entire Heat roster, with three starters (Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh and Chalmers) playing without a turnover in Game 2. Much of that has to do with the Spurs making LeBron James their overwhelming focus, but even he only had two on Sunday night. Still, I wouldn't overstate Mario's lack of a turnover, considering had closed with two assists, compared to seven for LeBron, six from Dwyane Wade and even four from Bosh. Basically, it was an efficient effort across the board from the Heat.
Q: Just like you said, it is the team that can impose their will that will win the series. The Heat need to do this three more times in the next five games. -- Stuart.
A: The one thing about the Heat is that once they get the scent of victory, they tend to go in for the kill. Having LeBron will do that for you, as well. They were not themselves in Game 1, but something far closer in Game 2. But don't sell short on Gregg Popovich and the adjustments that could arrive in Game 3.
Q: Shane Battier hit a three! The serious is over! -- Eric.
A: I felt good for Shane that even in garbage-time minutes he was able to do that. But it has become clear that the minutes, at this stage, are for Mike Miller to lose. It's almost as if Erik Spoelstra waited until this moment to unleash Miller's energy, after allowing Shane to get beat to a pulp in power rotations through the first three rounds against the likes of Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Boozer and David West. Shane deserved a moment. Perhaps that three restores some of the clearly lost confidence.
JUNE 9, 2013
Q: A big part of the Heat's defensive strategy is to swarm and disrupt the opposing team, which hopefully leads to turnovers. Lots of double-teams, quick rotations and team help defense. One of the ways to beat the Heat's defensive schemes is to be patient as the double-teams form and then pass the ball quickly. The Spurs are well coached and do a great job of moving the ball. They have the players and skill set to break the Heat's defensive schemes, which instead of Spurs turnovers could lead to easy baskets for the Spurs. Do you think the Heat should play more man-to-man defense instead of swarming trap defense? If you stay in front of your man, the other team has to shoot over you and doesn't get open threes. -- Stuart.
A: I don't think you change what you're doing at this stage, unless you become convinced that doing it better wouldn't make a difference. And I wouldn't overstate double-teams or taps. For the Heat, it's more a factor of being active in the man-to-man defense you describe. A lot of times additional energy can make all the difference. With these two days off, we'll see what happens once the "fatigue" angle is eliminated.
Q: I don't care what anyone is saying, San Antonio is not OKC, so you can't assume Miami will win the next four. Fans here are not realistic. Miami is in big trouble. San Antonio played average and still won. Now they have a chance to play great on Sunday and steal both here, plus have three straight at home. This is bad, really bad. -- Julio.
A: Not if the Heat, too, take a step forward, since they won the majority of minutes in Game 1. And if the Heat win Sunday, it's highly unlikely they then would lose three in a row in San Antonio, meaning for the Spurs to win the series, they would have to do it in Miami.
Q: It is disappointing and shocking how Shane Battier's shot has disappeared. If he shot in the playoffs like he did in the regular season, the Heat would be breezing through these games. -- Joel.
A: It is stunning, and he seemingly can't but a break, with a pair rimming out in Game 1. To Erik Spoelstra's credit, he has limited the leash. But I think the entire roster would breathe a sigh of relief if Battier could come out and drain a pair.
JUNE 8, 2013
Q: Everyone is talking that the Spurs are so much better than the Heat. The Spurs won by four points. Tony Parker hit an incredible shot at the end. Everything gets exaggerated. If you break the game into three-minute mini-games, the Heat lost too many of those games within the game. They didn't close at the end of the half, at the end of the third quarter, and when they had a few leads they could never pull away. That is where the game was lost, not on Parker's shot. -- Stuart.
A: I agree. For most of the night, the Heat outplayed the Spurs, but, as you say, not by enough in those stretches. I thought Thursday offered a necessary lesson, that even when playing relatively well, the Heat can't afford empty possessions. When this Heat team relaxes, it can be infuriating. I don't think that will be the case Sunday, after that Game 1 loss.
Q: Is Erik Spoelstra really happy with Chris Bosh taking the long-distance threes? Bosh can be more productive by making himself available for the dump-off pass sometimes, the way Birdman is utilized. The occasional corner three (once or twice a game) is OK, but his best work is done from about 17 feet. -- Robert.
A: I think that also will be a case of a lesson learned from Game 1. The greater issue is whether Chris' sprained left ankle is healed enough to allow him to play with force.
Q: Why didn't the Heat attack the basket like Game 7 against Indiana? When they settle for 3-point shots, frequently bad ones, are they ever that dominant? -- Scott.
A: No. But the Spurs were packing the lane defensively, often seemingly with five players each with a foot in the paint. The only way to overcome that is to hit outside shots or to get into offense before the defense can get settled. I think the Heat will try to quicken the pace of those attacks in Game 2.
JUNE 7, 2013
Q: The frustration with the Heat used to center around Mario Chalmers. The baton has been passed to Chris Bosh. Maybe with Bosh missing the late 3-pointer, the Heat will finally realize his game needs to go back to the paint. -- Eric.
A: But that's never been his game, either. What he is, is an excellent mid-range shooter who occasionally takes his offense into the post. The problem is that this has become spacing on steroids, especially as the Heat try to establish LeBron James in the post. As was the case in the Pacers series, a Bosh who plays too deep on the perimeter on offense tends to be a Bosh who floats through the game. The Heat need more from Bosh, something closer to when he was loading up on rebounds against the Bulls.
Q: Erik Spoelstra had both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both out to start the fourth quarter. Wow. When James is out, you need Wade and Bosh in. -- Martin.
A: It's all part of the feeling-out process for a pair of teams that did not play a meaningful moment during the regular season. There also apparently was a fatigue factor from the turnaround from the seven-game series against the Pacers. I think you'll see fresher legs and a sharper Spoelstra for Sunday's Game 2. Otherwise, you might not see the Heat back at AmericanAirlines Arena this season.
Q: So Mike Miller can't get into a game at all and now he has to play? What's going on? -- Steve.
A: What's going on is Shane Battier can't make a shot, so Spoelstra can only go so long with a player he certainly wants to give more than the 6:11 Shane got in Game 1. But Battier has to hit shots to space the offense.
JUNE 6, 2013
Q: Ira, I enjoyed the end of the Bulls and Pacers series and how no one was shaking hands, even Roy Hibbert going directly into the locker room right after Game 7. Now it's platitudes and hugs with the Spurs. What gives? -- Roy.
A: First, it's almost always different in the Finals, especially with teams that haven't met before in a playoff setting. There's no history with the Spurs, just as there was none with the Thunder in last year's Finals (now the Mavericks in 2011, that was a different story in the wake of the 2006 Finals). Beyond that, these players haven't even played against each other during the regular season, with so many stars held out during the two meetings. Plus there is the respect for Gregg Popovich due to his Olympic experience as an assistant coach on the U.S. teams that featured Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. But give it time; it didn't take long for the Heat and Pacers to develop animus during last season's playoffs.
Q: Should Miami consider playing Joel Anthony over Birdman, given his unique pick-and-roll defensive abilities? -- Carlos.
A: The issue could come down to whether the Heat use any backup center at all, given the fact that they certainly could spot Shane Battier defensively against Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, and possibly could use Mike Miller in such a role, as well. I see this as a series where small ball makes a return for the Heat, possibly to the playing-time detriment of Chris Andersen.
Q: Ira, just curious, how much extra money do players get in the Finals? Do they even get extra money? -- Mike.
A: By their standards, not much at all. The team wins the Finals gets an extra $2,302,232, which is divided among the 15 players, plus any players who had previously had been on the roster and were eligible for a playoff share, leaving each winning player about $150,000. By contrast, LeBron James earns over $200,000 per game during the regular season.
JUNE 5, 2013
Q: Ira, Birdman comes back and we win, because we always win with Birdman. The Heat were so flat in Game 6 and then so sharp in Game 7. Why? Birdman, Birdman. -- Joel.
A: I'm not sure I would equate the Heat's Game 7 success against the Pacers to the return of Chris Andersen, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and even Ray Allen having a greater impact on Monday night. In fact, we could wind up seeing less of the Bird in the Finals, depending on the Spurs' approach. If San Antonio puts Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw on the court at the same time when Tim Duncan is out, there might not be a workable defensive assignment for Andersen. It all will be part of the chess match with Gregg Popovich, just as Erik Spoelstra and Frank Vogel had to match wits in the Eastern Conference finals.
Q: I assume Shane Battier will be back in the lineup with a more favorable matchup against the Spurs. Does that mean Mike Miller is out of the rotation, or has he earned some playing time? -- David.
A: For the reasons I mentioned above, there should be a place for Shane, now able to match up against the likes of Diaw or Bonner. But I wouldn't rule out Mike Miller, not with the energy he provided in his brief minutes against the Pacers on Monday night. He might have had one of the best 0-for-3 playoff performances a Heat player ever has had.
Q: Regardless of the outcome in the Finals, do you see the Heat making any offseason moves, something involving more size to prepare for a stronger Chicago and Indiana next year? Or do they ride out this roster until the wheels fall off? -- G.
A: I'm not sure the wheels ever can fall off a roster that has LeBron, Wade and Bosh. The commitment to size will be a commitment to re-sign Birdman. There also are two summer leagues to get a read on Jarvis Varnado. And Justin Hamilton should be back for summer league, as well, his 2012 draft rights still held by the Heat.
JUNE 4, 2013
Q: You indicated in one of your tweets that the Spurs will be toughest playoff matchup in Big Three era. Why will it be tougher than the OKC Finals last year? OKC beat the Spurs in six last year and obviously Heat beat OKC. I know the Spurs have championship experience, but other than Tony Parker, none of the players that they rely on for major contributions are in their prime. -- Jeffrey.
A: My thought process is this: The Thunder, to a degree, were just glad to be there in last year's Finals, to a degree similar to the Pacers taking the next step in the just-completed Eastern Conference finals against the Heat. By contrast, the Spurs know getting to the Finals is just part of the process, and know that Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are capable of producing championship moments, something the Thunder had no basis for faith with Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. You could make an argument that the 2011 Mavericks were the Heat's most severe playoff challenge, but the continued sense is that the Heat sabotaged themselves in that series.
Q: So is Dwyane Wade healthy? -- Wayne.
A: Healthier. He continued to dodge postgame questions Monday about the severity of his sore right knee. But he somehow was able to put himself in two directions at the same time with his Euro-steps in Game 7 against the Pacers, so that's certainly encouraging. The most important aspect of Monday's performance is that Wade's confidence is back. And with the way he plays, that's huge.
Q: Is Shane Battier finished? -- Steve.
A: Uh, I'm pretty sure he will be on the roster and in uniform during the Finals. The matchups against the Pacers simply stopped working when it came to Battier's undersized approach against David West. Indiana went to school on that. But the matchups against the Spurs are different, and Shane Battier against Boris Diaw would make sense. But if Shane is not hitting shots, that certainly would again leave the door open for Mike Miller.
JUNE 3, 2013
Q: Ira, does Chris Bosh even want to be here? Because when I watch the games, he's not there. What's up with that dude? -- Steve.
A: I believe there are two parts of that equation. Foremost, Chris has a generally passive disposition, more of a skilled player than an aggressive player. The problem is in this series, Erik Spoelstra essentially has parked Chris on the perimeter and therefore made him even more of a passive presence. Yet, that doesn't mean he should be floating on defensive and the defensive boards, as well. But that mindset was instilled at the beginning of this series and it clearly has changed Chris' approach. This, more than ever, is when the Heat need angry-face Bosh. And when this ends, whenever it does, the Heat have to get back and reevaluate Bosh as a center, that perhaps all those minutes at the position simply left him in a diminished state.
Q: As much as I am trying not to dramatize the situation, the game on Monday night will have a significant effect on Dwyane Wade's and the Big Three's future and legacy. I don't know what it's going to take for D-Wade to impact the game, but somehow he just has to show up. That's what champions do. We know he is limited and we are not expecting a 30- or even 20-point game. But he can still be what Spo likes to call "an active participant" in the game. It kind of goes back to Michael Beasley's situation. When he could not score, he was just hurting the team. And the same unfortunate scenario is repeating itself in a less-dramatic fashion with Wade. His defensive rotations and constant complaining about every play have not helped the Heat in any way. When it comes to D-Wade, you cannot give up on him even when things look as bad as they are now. I hope he does show up despite the odds. Maybe but maybe he can still be a vintage D-Wade for couple of quarters and help his team go to the Finals. -- Baron.
A: Your points are well made. As with Bosh, just because the shots aren't dropping or he feels he isn't being put in optimal position, this is no time to float. This is the time to find a way. Yes, Dwyane already has his two championships and a ticket to Springfield punched, but this very much is a legacy moment. He needs to recognize as much.
Q: Until this Eastern Conference finals series, most of us never questioned whether this Heat team was good enough or required more than a tweak or two going toward an NBA dynasty. Of course injuries have claimed many teams this past season. Will the Heat be on that list, or can they just move past a terrific challenger? -- Chet.
A: I tend to use this word to get a rise out of readers and radio listeners, but for this franchise going forward, the moment at hand is practically apocalyptic.
JUNE 2, 2013
Q: The Pacers have outplayed the Heat for most of this series. Can Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade give us anything? -- Chet.
A: That's the question that ultimately will decide the series. The Pacers are young, cocky, arrogant and packing for a weeklong trip that takes them to San Antonio. Considering how much LeBron James has already offered, seemingly the only ones who can stop the Pacers are Wade and Bosh. And it doesn't even have to be both. Chris was distraught in the postgame locker room Saturday night. I truly believe he will play Monday with an energy heretofore unseen in this series. Whether that translates into success or fouls is another issue. Dwyane is a different story. When healthy, the game comes easy to him. Now that his right knee is a disaster, he is growing frustrated that the easy baskets aren't there. This is when LeBron, even though he is not a captain, has to take a leadership role, help carry Dwyane through this moment. A Big Two, with the homecourt advantage, could be enough Monday. But we know it has to be more than just LeBron.
Q: Erik Spoelstra should show some more disappointment and anger. The players often play as the coach's demeanor is. -- Martin.
A: But what's he supposed to do, tell Chris to take a more aggressive approach after he has buried him on the perimeter as part of his game plan? And after all these years, I'm not sure that Dwyane listens to anyone when he is one of these funks. No, what Spoelstra has to do is come up with a game plan that addresses all eventualities, and not be shy about moving away from Wade or Bosh if necessary. Mike Miller showed Saturday he can have his moments.
Q: The 27-game winning streak was a mirage. -- Stuart.
A: Perhaps. Or perhaps the Heat win Monday and then it becomes part of a storied Heat season. To be continued . . .
JUNE 1, 2013
Q: So the NBA didn't kick Chris Andersen out of Game 5 but now suspends him for Game 6? This is why people think the NBA is rigged. -- J.S.
A: This has nothing to do with anything being "rigged." But the NBA four times during this series effectively has said that its referees flat out messed up. Take this latest example, with the league also rescinding Tyler Hansbrough's technical foul. If it was called that way during Thursday's game, it could have meant one additional point for the Pacers while the game was still close. It is similar to the Heat being robbed of extra possessions because flagrant fouls on Ian Mahinmi and David West were assessed after the fact. These changes have made the referees look bad, as if the NBA is admitting that what we're seeing on the court isn't actually what should be happening. Again, get someone in the television truck or in front of a bank of monitors with a variety of angles and get it right the first time, during the game To have so many issues in a single series is beyond it being a difficult series to officiate. The NBA basically is saying it's a series it can't officiate.
Q: Who is a better defender: Birdman or Joel Anthony? -- Matt.
A: I'd say Joel is better on the ball, because Andersen has struggled mightily straight up against Roy Hibbert. But Andersen is more impactful off the ball, even with Joel's agility defending the pick and roll. But the biggest difference is on offense, where Joel flashing to the rim offers little to no guarantee of a catch and finish.
Q: Paging Mr. Bosh, this is your wakeup call. -- T.J.
A: That could come in handy, if Chris' bum right ankle is up to the moment. Or perhaps it's Dwyane Wade's moment. Let's no overstate the absence of Birdman. The arrival of Wade or Bosh would mean far more.
MAY 31, 2013
Q: Ira, why can't the league get it right the first time? If David West had gotten his flagrant in Game 4, instead of two days later, the Heat would have had an extra possession, and maybe this series would already be over. And if Birdman had been ejected for his flagrant on Thursday night, the Heat wouldn't have to sweat whether he's going to be suspended for Saturday. The calls don't have the same impact when the rulings are made later. -- Marty.
A: I totally agree. I think the external indignation is misplaced with too much focus on flopping violations. But when the league has to upgrade or downgrade a flagrant foul, it basically is saying the three referees, even with the use of game-delaying instant replay, couldn't get it right. Essentially, what that says is there is no clear delineation when it comes to flagrant fouls, that the view of the league office can vary from the view of the referees. In that case, put Stu Jackson in front of a monitor in the league office on game nights, especially in the conference finals and NBA Finals, when there is only one game at a time, and let him make what now are after-the-fact judgments instead in real time.
Q: Will Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh be able to get it together? -- Leo.
A: Chris said after Thursday's game that his ankle was still troublesome from his sprain in Game 4, so time might lead to improvement for Game 6. But Dwyane clearly needs more time off for his knee than the playoffs allow. He probably can't be much worse than Game 5, but he likely will not be anything close to himself for the balance of these playoffs. It is what it is.
Q: Why is Mario Chalmers getting to the rim so easily off screens where LeBron isn't? -- Cesar.
A: Because unlike LeBron, Mario doesn't stop to think what is the proper play or the prudent play. He just dips his head and goes for it, for better or worse. LeBron, by contrast, is not only looking at the rim, but also for the right play, which might be a pass or a pull-up jumper. Mario's fearless and foolishness actually work in his favor in those situations.
MAY 30, 2013
Q: Ray Allen has become a disaster both on offense and defense. When is Erik Spoelstra going to adjust? -- Joel.
A: "Disaster" is an overstatement when it comes to Ray's offense, considering even when he is not making shots, he still spaces the floor. (But it would be nice to get the points, as well.) And he did lead the Heat in rebounding in Game 4, which might have been as much an indictment on his teammates as anything. But beyond a few occasional quality minutes against Paul George, the defense is becoming a huge issue, continually sized up as fresh meat by Lance Stephenson. The rub is that if the Heat move away from Ray in the playoffs it could get Ray to move away from his Heat player option for next season. Still, the ring is the thing, and there could be something to be said about again spotting Mike Miller for a few minutes, as Spoelstra tried in the first half in Game 2. Mike brings the type of energy the Heat have been missing at times this postseason.
Q: Is small ball dead in the NBA? The Bulls, Grizzlies, Spurs all play big with elite big men who can rebound. -- Joel.
A: But the Bulls and Grizzlies already are finished, so it comes down to whether the Pacers advance before any definitive conclusion can be reached. And it's not as if the Clippers, with their twin bigs, or even the Lakers with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol got it done. Talent wins, with the proper coaching approach.
Q: Dwyane Wade played Game 4 like it was a January game against Charlotte. -- Alan.
A: It was an odd, somewhat-meandering approach for such a big game.
MAY 29, 2013
Q: Ira, with Dwayne Wade's focus, it's not the first time we've seen him cost us a game: fumbling the ball, committing turnovers, taking irresponsible shots. Why do we see LeBron James with an all-out commitment to winning but we see Wade being called out by TNT commentators for casually playing -- Javier.
A: First, I'd hardly say that Dwyane, alone, cost the Heat Game 4. The adjustment to a supporting role can be a challenge, especially when your body is not cooperating. When there is a sense of urgency, Dwyane seems to lift his game. Then there are games such as Tuesday's, when he seems to approach it with a "champion's" mentality. The result is another upcoming challenge. When the Big Three started, Dwyane and LeBron were stars No. 1 and 1A. Now Dwyane is having to make the adjustment to a supporting role. Still, he can still make it a key role with the type of focus LeBron is offering. Face it, if Lance Stephenson outplays Dwyane, the Heat can be in trouble.
Q: Ray Allen was the Heat's leading rebounder on Tuesday night. Are you kidding me? -- Martin.
A: Yes he was, and no we're not. While Chris Bosh was limited by foul trouble and an ankle that now could emerge as an issue, the Heat can't have a game when Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen each are limited to two rebounds. And for his part, Wade has to come up with more than three.
Q: The Pacers took away LeBron's post play and Andersen's space when cutting to the basket. You knew that was coming. Where were our adjustments? It didn't seem like the Heat were prepared. -- Stuart.
A: That's what playoff series, especially ones between quality teams, are, chess matches. Now it's Erik Spoelstra's turn to go to school on what Frank Vogel did, just as Vogel adjusted in Game 4.
MAY 28, 2013
Q: Sometimes the right decision is to "stay the course." Sometimes good coaching is not to over-coach. Erik Spoelstra decided to "stay the course" by keeping Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup and it paid off. These coaches know what is going on; they see practices. If the Heat execute what the coach's game plan is, they win 95 percent of the time. -- Martin.
A: I don't know about 95 percent, but if the players play as expected, then Erik has done a wonderful job of positioning them for success. When Ray Allen and Shane Battier aren't hitting shots, then it can throw everything off, as it did in the first two games of this series. The thing about the Haslem decision is that there wasn't a decision to be made. With the way Battier is shooting, he is not going to be as effective spacing the floor. And Chris Andersen has shown he only has so many minutes and fouls in him. Of course, like all things Heat, LeBron James being LeBron James remains the greatest factor in determining success. He won before playing for Spoelstra and would continue to win if playing for someone other than Spoelstra.
Q: What are your thoughts on how David West plays? I always thought he was tough and physical, but these last few games, every time he makes a post move, sets a screen, or fights through a screen, his elbows are always flying. -- Adrian.
A: It's called being a crafty veteran, one who also is somewhat slowing down and has to reach into his bag of tricks (sort of as Battier has). With West, it all comes down to how the game is being officiated. If the focus is on his off arm, then he's in trouble. The Pacers, though, are claiming that LeBron is just as crafty with his off arm.
Q: What is Juwan Howard's role now besides wearing a suit and being the biggest cheerleader on the court? -- Tyler, Fort Lauderdale.
MAY 27, 2013
Q: Ira, if LeBron James can do that in the post, why doesn't he do it every game? The Pacers had no answers Sunday. -- Grant.
A: Because for LeBron to get the type of one-man, undersized defense he got against Paul George in Game 3 requires the Heat's floor spacers to space the floor, which Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh did with their early outside success. It also helped to have Ray Allen actually make a shot in Indiana (he had gone without a conversion in the Heat's two regular-season visits) and for Shane Battier to deliver his first 3-pointer of the series. For as well as George did defensively against Carmelo Anthony in the second round against the Knicks, James in the post is a whole other level. Figure on more defensive help for George in Game 4, and figure on LeBron going for more than the three assists he had in Game 3. But when LeBron can get the ball in the post in transition or in the early offense, there simply aren't many opposing small forwards who have a chance.
Q: I thought the sky was falling after the Heat lost Game 2? -- Sam.
A: It was. This is the Heat; they lose so infrequently that every loss borders on calamity. But what they are doing on the road in recent months is borderline history. Heck, they might want to defer homecourt advantage to the Spurs if they make the NBA Finals.
Q: What was Mario Chalmers doing Sunday? -- Sam.
A: I assume you're talking about the erratic nature of what actually turned into a decent effort. He basically was being Mario, some terrific moments followed by some non-terrific moments. But you have to like his spirit, the spirit that had him insisting Erik Spoelstra leaving him in after he was called for his fourth foul. Mario then helped the Heat stave off the Pacers' final charge. He got to the line for seven free throws and had four assists without a turnover. He came through on a night Norris Cole struggled. (Boy, Norris sure misses the Bulls, doesn't he?)
MAY 26, 2013
Q: Why does LeBron James help train Paul George in the summer? I'm very angry about the Heat giving away their strategy. LeBron shouldn't be helping out an opponent. -- Pauline, Lauderhill.
A: Because that's what players do these days, especially when they come up through the AAU system and are familiar with one another well before they become pros. Plus, with the Dream Team element of the Olympics, the game's stars spend months together honing their games, with George working with LeBron last summer as part of Olympic preparations. For years, even before AAU and the Dream Teams, NBA players have been sharing tricks of the trade, something you'd regularly see during All-Star Games. But "strategy"? No, LeBron does not show up to those summer workouts with the Heat playbook. Still, I do agree there was no reason to have the type of chummy moment they had in Game 2. It was one thing for LeBron and Dwyane Wade to pal around during a regular-season game when James still was with the Cavaliers. But the playoffs have to be different.
Q: Frank Vogel sounds like Rex Ryan. We know you're confident. Shut your mouth and coach your team. -- Harrison.
A: Actually, I think once this series started, Frank has largely done just that. I have no issue with a coach setting an agenda for a series. Phil Jackson and Pat Riley did it, and Red Auerbach did it before that. But once the games start, it should be all about the games, and I think Vogel has now moved in that direction. His overt confidence is nothing more than gaining his players' trust and taking them out of the critical spotlight, just as Riley previously did.
Q: If Erik Spoelstra would bench Udonis Haslem, the Heat would cruise through this series. -- Levi.
A: I think it's safe to say we've reached the point where no one is cruising through this series. But Udonis' inability to get the ball to the rim against the taller Pacers is of concern. Yet with Shane Battier's shot not falling and Chris Andersen susceptible to foul trouble the options are limited unless Rashard Lewis suddenly becomes a rebounder. (But, still, that just might be worth a try.)
MAY 25, 2013
Q: Did the Heat run out of steam Friday night or was it just a case of LeBron James trying to do too much? -- Chet.
A: The issue is that LeBron had to do too much, with Dwyane Wade in a diminished state and Chris Bosh for too long in a passive state. Save for a few flashes from Chris Andersen, the Heat bench was awful Friday. With Wade and Bosh playing closer to the top of their games, that wouldn't be as much of an issue. The Heat can live with less from Wade or less from Bosh. But with less from both, the 3-point shots have to be there from others. They weren't on Friday.
Q: When is media going to put blame on Erik Spoelstra? He continues to make zero adjustments. -- Eddy.
A: Whoa. He went to Mike Miller in the second quarter and might have gone back to him if Mike didn't find a way to get hurt shooting that 3-pointer at the end of the first half. And he showed that he was willing to go more often to Birdman, if Chris didn't get into foul trouble. And he went back and forth between Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole trying to find an answer there (hmm, perhaps a third point guard?). Heck, he even tried Joel Anthony. Rashard Lewis? OK, that just might be next, and might be worth a look if Shane can't get it turned around.
Q: We aren't winning in Indiana. The season is done. -- Jeffrey.
A: Just like it was done after that sky-is-falling home loss to the Bulls in the second round? Yes, Indiana is very good, but they're not suddenly the better team in this series. The Heat aren't even trailing in this series, which wasn't the case during the final three rounds on the way to last season's championship. Sunday is big, but getting at least one in Indiana is biggest, considering the Heat came back from down 2-1 against the Pacers in last season's playoffs.
MAY 24, 2013
Q: Ira, if Ray Allen is not making his shots, what purpose does he really serve on the floor other than spacing? It's so frustrating watching him on the defensive end. -- J.P., St. Petersburg.
A: Actually, you answered your own question. Ray's career body of work arguably creates spacing like no other player in the NBA. The perfect example was LeBron James' game-winning drive at the end of overtime of Game 1 against the Pacers, when Indiana didn't dare come out of the corner to offer defensive help for Paul George against LeBron. Against any other player (yes, including Mike Miller or Shane Battier) there likely would have been a bit less hesitancy to step away from such an assignment. Yes, Ray shot 1 of 8 against the Pacers, but he still merits the type of defensive attention as if he was 8 of 8. Now if only he could put together a pair of free throws.
Q: Ira, with Mario Chalmers hurting, and with Ray and Shane so cold from outside and a glaring need for rebounding, couldn't the Heat use 10 to 12 minutes of Mike Miller? -- Jason, West Boynton.
A: Just as Erik Spoelstra has shown with his loyalty to Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup, don't expect much to change during this 46-3 run, unless injuries create such a need. While there might be adjustments with minutes, such as with Chris Andersen, injecting a new face into the tight, nine-man rotation seems unlikely at this stage.
Q: Ira, Birdman played the game of his life. Why did he not get more playing time if he was on fire? -- David, Plantation.
A: One of the advantages of seeing the game in person, and being able to see the entire court, is being able to notice how Chris Andersen often plays himself to the point of fatigue. Chris is best in short bursts. Erik Spoelstra knows that. That's why he plays him that way.
MAY 23, 2013
Q: Ira, there was a national columnist (not a fan) who said that Frank Vogel would outcoach Erik Spoelstra in this series. I wonder what he's saying now, with Vogel keeping Roy Hibbert out on LeBron James' winning drive. Vogel said Hibbert is the best vertical defender, or something like that, and then he doesn't have him in for his team's biggest defensive sequence of the season? We're lucky they have Vogel. -- Sam, Miramar.
A: More than anything, the Heat are lucky they have LeBron, who tends to make Erik Spoelstra look pretty good every now and then. To a degree, the final sequence was bigger than Spoelstra, it was Pat Riley putting together a roster where he could space for the floor for exactly such a sequence, with Chris Bosh, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and Ray Allen lifting the entire Pacers defense to the perimeter. We often talk about coaches making other coaches match up to them. Spoelstra did it on that final sequence. Still, no percentage was going to be higher than LeBron to the rim with 2.2 seconds to play, which is plenty of time. In the same situation, you can bet that Hibbert will be in the game next time, which likely will leave it to an all-or-nothing Bosh jumper from the elbow.
Q: Why no double team on James? -- Martin.
A: Another good question. Face it, with Norris Cole on the floor, Battier shooting the way he has been shooting, a little help might have been nice.
Q: Those Pacers scare me. They're huge, relentless and could very well wear our team out. This is going to be a series. -- Shep, D.C.
A: Yup. And they also have a player in Paul George who is proving up to the moment, not as much for that wild 3-pointer at the end of regulation, but more for the way he stepped up and made those three free throws with 2.2 seconds left in overtime, doing something Ray Allen couldn't do at the end of regulation. But it also could be argued that the Heat have taken David West's best shot.
MAY 22, 2013
Q: Do you think the Heat are too good? I know the ultimate test(s) are still to come in the remainder of the playoffs. The Heat are 45-3 in their last 48 games. Does this make for compelling basketball? -- Stuart.
A: So you're saying the Bulls weren't compelling when they had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? Even then, there were playoff challenges for Chicago, just as there likely will be for the Heat. The NBA long has been about repeat champions. Winning once barely tends to resonate. With the Heat, we're at the stage where they're only starting to make a name for themselves with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That alone creates must-see viewing. If they don't back up last season's title and this season's 66-16 record, there will be plenty of compelling discussion that will follow.
Q: Please settle a bet: Outside of LeBron, who is playing the best for the Heat in these playoffs? -- Shawn, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
A: Bosh among the stars, Norris Cole among the supporting players. It's sort of apples and oranges to compare otherwise, because of the sizes of their roles.
Q: Will the Heat look into this year's draft? What are the possible moves the Heat will make to acquire young talent? -- Francis, Manila.
A: They already are scouting, so I'm sure if a player grows on them, they would make a move. Remember, they own an attractive lottery-protected pick from the 76ers and might be willing to put that into play. They also could trade one of their spare veterans or even buy a second-round pick, which also is allowed.
MAY 21, 2013
Q: Do you think we'll see more Mike Miller against the Pacers? Aside from 3-point shooting, he is a good rebounder and ballhandler. He could be valuable, especially if Dwyane Wade is ineffective or hurting. -- David.
A: While Miller certainly remains Plan B if Wade is unable to play, I have another hunch, which might prove moot if the Heat continue their current roll that has them with 45 victories in their last 48 games. But what about Rashard Lewis? He would supply shooting on one end and length on the other. For all those times when Erik Spoelstra said he could see a possible postseason moment for each member of his roster, that moment could be at hand for Rashard, who is yet another element the Heat did not have for last season's series against Indiana,
Q: Why the contrast between scheduling between the Western Conference and Eastern Conference? Memphis and San Antonio will be through Game 2 before we even get started. That's ridiculous. -- Michael
A: It's because ABC had to have a Sunday game. And rather than have the Grizzlies sit idly in San Antonio, they instead built the break into that schedule after the second game, so each team could spent the intervening time at home. Heat-Pacers will complete its second game before Game 3 of Grizzlies-Spurs in Memphis on Saturday night.
Q: Ira, good column on the Bulls and the Heat. Anytime anyone starts talking up Pat Riley as being some sort of a genius, I always point to his awful judgment on drafting Michael Beasley second overall in 2008 and passing on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. -- Jack.
A: Riley ultimately felt corned into taking Beasley, but he knew from the get-go there was a clear, singular top pick in that draft, in Derrick Rose. Still, you have to give him credit for recovering from that and actually finding a taker to unload Beasley on, in the Timberwolves. The Heat recovered from the type of error that can penalize a team for years.
MAY 20, 2013
Q: OK Ira, should we be worried about Dwyane Wade's ability to play Lance Stephenson? Stephenson just looks so much more athletic than Wade. -- Teresa, Miami.
A: First, don't overstate one game. Yes, Lance looked world class on Saturday night, but the way his teammates and coach gushed tells you how surprised they were, how atypical the performance was. Yes, if Stephenson plays as well as he did in Game 6 against the Knicks and if Wade plays as middling as he did against the Bulls, then a significant advantage would be lost for the Heat. But those are two sizable "ifs." The reality, at least to this point, is that Lance Stephenson on his best day is not the player Dwyane Wade is on his most pedestrian of days.
Q: Wow, the Spurs look complete. I did not expect them to control Memphis so completely. Sure it's only one game and in San Antonio, but the Spurs are formidable at both ends. -- Chet.
A: But the Grizzlies haven't won an opener this postseason, so let's see how it plays out. Now, if the Spurs put together another rout on Tuesday night, then Heat long-range thoughts certainly could turn in that direction, considering Spurs-Grizzlies will have gone two games before the Heat even open the East semifinals.
Q: Sure the Pacers are a better team this year, but I'm tired of hearing how they pushed the Heat last year. Did people forget that Chris Bosh barely played in that series (plus the Heat played with a hobbling Wade)? C'mon people. -- Ryan, Naples.
A: So the Heat basically are injecting Bosh, Chris Andersen and Ray Allen into last year's mix. I agree, that's a considerable net gain. Yes, the Pacers are rough and tough, but they still will have to find a way to score.
MAY 19, 2013Q: The Pacers will be a tough opponent and the Heat need to do better on the boards than they did against the Pacers in the regular season. Can you see a possible Chris Bosh/Chris Anderson tandem at times if rebounding becomes an issue? -- Martin.
A: I think everyone has to get over the rebounding numbers with the Heat, especially when it hardly was an issue in the second round against the Bulls. The Heat have proven they have enough with what they're offering along the front line. Could Bosh and Birdman play together? Sure. But there also will be continued attempts to get David West out of the paint by playing Shane Battier. Heck, there might even be a spot in this series for Rashard Lewis. It will be fascinating, as Heat-Pacers seemingly always is.
Q: I'm not sure why I wanted Indiana over New York, the Pacers have a ton of large talent. -- Chet.
A: Because they have anyone who can get as insanely hot as Carmelo Anthony. Even when the Pacers are playing at their best, it usually still is a grind-out game. Yes, Paul George is terrific, but the Pacers don't have that player who can beat you on his own. The closest they come, at least when it comes to the matchup against the Heat, could be David West. Danny Granger certainly never was that player in this matchup.
Q: I wonder if they are OK in the NBA offices with no Los Angeles, New York, Boston or Chicago remaining! -- Stuart.
A: They're fine for now. But if the Heat don't advance, the question might become whether ABC will tape-delay their NBA Finals coverage until after Jimmy Kimmel or Nightline or both. Indiana-Memphis or Indiana-San Antonio would be an ABC and NBA ratings nightmare, even though there certainly would be compelling subplots.
MAY 18, 2013
Q: Is another long layoff going to result in another lackluster Heat performance in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals? It's easy to say that they learned their lesson in the last round, but not playing is not playing. Although Dwyane Wade benefits, the rest will have to fight off rust. -- Myles, Coconut Creek.
A: It's "easy to say" that they've learned their lesson, but it's difficult to actually plot a course of action so the same problems don't resurface. I think Erik Spoelstra is up to that challenge. One thing he has shown is an ability to adjust and adapt. All of that said, the Heat certainly will face a more imposing challenge in the East finals than the depleted Bulls. But that also will make the Heat aware of the significance of not having to fight to regain homecourt advantage, as they had to against the Bulls.
Q: Who do you think the Heat would rather face in the NBA Finals: Spurs or Grizzlies? The Spurs have looked pretty vulnerable in these playoffs, but Gregg Popovich and their level of experience are intimidating factors. On the other hand, the Grizzlies seem to be the more difficult matchup for the Heat, but you can't help but wonder if their inexperience on the big stage would hold them back. -- Kevin.
A: You make good points, and the Grizzlies, with quality scorers at both center and power forward, seemingly would set up as the more imposing challenge, especially if Chris Bosh gets into foul trouble. But your other point is valid, as well, that the Grizzlies could be in glad-to-be-here mode, as opposed to the Spurs, for whom it's championship or bust. So I think the better championship odds would come against Memphis, if the Heat make it out of the East.
Q: I've been Dwyane Wade's biggest fan. I never panic when it comes to him because he's always proven his doubters wrong. I just want to know: Will he be at least 90 percent by Wednesday? -- Evonte, Plantation.
A: I don't know how you put a percentage on the discomfort and pain created by a bone bruise. But don't understate what he did against the Bulls. As long as he can occupy his defender and not require defensive help on the other end, he should have the Heat at a net gain at his position.
MAY 17, 2013
Q: Ira, I am so sick of all of these Heat "fans" with the "oh no it's (insert Team X here they're scared of this week)"! I'm not saying any of the teams left will be easy, but unless LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Birdman, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, Erik Spoelstra go play on the other team, why should we be scared? -- Mike.
A: All you need to appreciate is this: The Heat are 45-3 in their last 48 games, and to dethrone them, an opponent would have to beat them four out of seven. Yes, the level of opposition will get tougher, but the Heat also have shown an ability to increase their resolve when needed. Ultimately, it all comes down to health. And that's why the Wade knee injury situation is, and should be, such a concern. Because for all the names you listed, without a healthy Wade there would not have been 45-3. But, yes, the sky isn't falling, although there just might be a few cloudy days along the way.
Q: While Wade is limited, he still has the ability to draw multiple defenders and create open opportunities for teammates. However, since he is noticeably less explosive and shooting inconsistently, will teams stop double covering him in order to keep a defender on Cole, Battier or Allen? -- David, Boynton Beach.
A: There rarely have been all-out double teams on Dwyane. Instead, it has been a case of collapsing the defense by getting into the lane. He certainly showed against the Bulls that he still could have such moments. It's not a matter of whether opponents will double, as much as whether Dwyane still can explode into the lane, leaving other defenders no option but to help.
Q: Ira, for the second year in a row Tom Thibodeau burnt out his team, so that they were injured and tired for the playoffs. He is a defensive genius, but why is he considered such a good coach -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.
A: Because he gets every last drop of potential out of his players, if not every last drop of their stamina, as well. Injuries clearly had him taking an approach he otherwise might not have. But the head games with Rip Hamilton cost opportunities to have better-rested players during the playoffs. Thibodeau made it personal at a time he could least afford, even if Rip isn't always the easiest to get along with.
MAY 16, 2013
Q: Indiana looks better than last year. Maybe New York is making them look better. But Heat-Pacers will be really, really tough for Miami to win if Dwyane Wade doesn't produce at his typical level. -- Jeffrey.
A: But the Heat also are better than that season when the teams met. Chris Andersen is a significant addition to the inside game, and there also now is Ray Allen and a vastly improved Norris Cole. As long as Dwyane Wade isn't outplayed by Lance Stephenson, then the Heat should be at least as competitive as last season in the matchup, even with the upgrade with Paul George. Yes, David West is a load at power forward, but Erik Spoelstra has shown an ability to get creative with that matchup, if need be. As it is, Dwyane's performance in Wednesday's closeout victory over the Bulls was encouraging, especially late, when needed.
Q: Is it not possible that there is a combination of things leading to Dwyane's recent play: A little bit injured, a much improved team, and maybe a little waiting for the competition? -- Jason
A: I'd say 99 percent of it is his sore right knee, which, even Wednesday, required an adjustment going into the fourth quarter. Yes, the Heat have more options than last season, but Dwyane remains the clearly defined number-two option, even with Chris Bosh's inspired recent play. And Dwyane usually loves to feast on undermanned competition, especially when it's his hometown Bulls. No, this is about the knee and only about the knee. If Dwyane could do more, he would do more. The issue now is whether he can do enough.
Q: So Sports Illustrated says LeBron is second-highest paid athlete in U.S. This obviously isn't true because Magic Johnson says LeBron isn't in any commercials. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.
A: Exactly. What it shows is the he is smart enough not to be overexposed. It's not that LeBron isn't getting the offers, it's that he can afford to be choosy.
MAY 15, 2013
Q: Hey Ira, after watching Game 4, I think it is time to shut down Dwyane Wade for the rest of the playoffs. He is completely useless out there with that knee. The Heat have enough depth around LeBron James and Chris Bosh to win a championship. Your thoughts? -- Shawn.
A: Really? You really think it has reached that point with Dwyane where he is of no more use than James Jones or Joel Anthony? Yes, he is limited, but a limited Wade still is a threat, still has had his moments in transition in this series, still can get rebounds and assists. He may not have his prime explosion, but it's not as if he has been limping around the court. Only when he bumped knees in Game 4 did we see him physically limited, and even then, he returned to have his moments. Even in this state, he is necessary in the larger championship picture.
Q: Do you think the Heat can beat the Pacers and Grizzlies with Wade like he is? -- Jeffrey.
A: Yes, if LeBron is at the top of his game. If LeBron is at the top of his game, there is more than enough in support, with Chris Bosh, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and even an emerging Norris Cole. Now, if LeBron were to become limited by an injury, that would be a different story.
Q: You were spot on at the start of the series about Nate Robinson being a flash in the pan. -- Brian.
A: Because that's who he has been over his career, moments of brilliance mixed in with moments of chaos. Yet because of that, it is possible he recover his Game 1 form in Game 5. He as capable of dramatic performance swings as any player in the league.
MAY 14, 2013
Q: Ira, everyone is talking about Kevin Durant having to play without Russell Westbrook, but isn't LeBron James playing without Dwyane Wade? -- Jack.
A: There's a big difference between having a limited Dwyane Wade and having no Russell Westbrook. The difference is being up 3-1 instead of down 3-1. But, yes, the burden has increased on LeBron, who still has Chris Bosh at his side, someone decidedly better than the current next-best Thunder player, be that Kevin Martin or Serge Ibaka. As Dwyane said Monday night, he has been dealing with the bone bruise on his right knee for weeks. Yet, he still managed to have some highly productive minutes in both this series against the Bulls and especially in the series against the Bucks. So you take what you can get and you move on. But by Wade and the Heat at least admitting there is an injury, it's a start. Now it becomes about what else needs to be done, instead of what Wade isn't doing. Saying Wade had chosen to accept such a limited role was a farce from the moment the Heat tried to pass that as fact. He's hurt. Now we know. Now everyone can move on.
Q: Is Rip Hamilton going to be factor for Game 5? -- Ryan, Naples.
A: I don't see how he can't be. It's not as if the Bulls are going to bring back Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng or Derrick Rose at this stage. The more we saw of Hamilton in Game 4, the more you have to wonder if Tom Thibodeau somehow made it personal with the veteran guard (or, for that matter, if Hamilton did something to merit banishment to the doghouse). More Rip and less Daequan Cook figures to again be the approach Wednesday. Desperate times seemingly would call for such measures.
Q: Interesting how the tough-guy routine ended for the Bulls. -- Ed.
A: It's not as if it worked. What would work for the Bulls is finding a way to make a shot or two, something the Bulls desperately needed Carlos Boozer to do in Game 4. It never should have come down to Nate Robinson's 0 for 12, because relying on Nate was fool's gold from the start.
MAY 13, 2013
Q: To keep the core together, the Heat will need to minimize role-player salary. Is Norris Cole playing himself out of their market as a bench player at the same time he is proving himself indispensable to the team? Is next season the last the Heat retain his exclusive rights? -- Jonah, Fort Lauderdale
A: Norris is under contract for a reasonable $1.1 million next season, with the Heat holding a $2 million team option for 2014-15 as part of Norris' rookie-scale deal. They also can extend a qualifying offer of $3 million for 2015-16 to retain the right to match outside free-agent offers, which likely would come in well above that figure. So, essentially, the Heat are free and clear (and able to pay on the cheap) when it comes to Norris for the next two seasons. And, let's face it, the way this team is built, you really can't think more than two years out. The greater issue is how Norris' play might impact the Heat's $4 million team option on Mario Chalmers for next season. One option could be the Heat picking up that option and then packaging Chalmers with an unloadable contract (such as Mike Miller or Joel Anthony) to alleviate some of the luxury-tax burden.
Q: I have great esteem for Tom Thibodeau in the way he maximizes his depleted talent, but he also is a complainer and pushing his team to this ridiculous UFC tough-guy scheme and losing credibility. Come on Tom, stay classy. -- Cruz.
A: It remains me of the way Pat Riley got P.J. Brown so fired up that you knew something was going to happen. The next thing you knew, Charlie Ward became a thrill ride. Yes, coaches should motivate, but those buttons should be pushed for basketball purposes. David Stern has spent years trying to remove this element of the game, it certainly has not enhanced this season's playoffs.
Q: Ira, why do you think the Heat have had so much trouble with this undermanned Bulls squad? -- Ron, Pompano Beach.
A: Because a well-coached team is a competitive team. Don't kid yourself, Tom Thibodeau with a healthy (we assume) Derrick Rose next season will be an even more imposing challenge. The Bulls with Rose, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and what they currently have could set up as a potential seven-game challenge for the Heat.
MAY 12, 2013
Q: Do teams like the Chicago Bulls engage in this immature behavior because there are so many expectations of them, given they are playing for a franchise that traditionally had success? They obviously came to this series looking for more of a street fight than a basketball game because they know they're clearly outmatched in basketball. -- Daniel B.
A: In the NBA, you do what you have to do, and it's not as if what's left of the Bulls could beat the Heat on skill alone. Tom Thibodeau is simply doing what Pat Riley would have done in the same situation. What is growing old is the rhetoric, the trying to get into the referees' heads. It's one thing to go down fighting. It's another to go down whining. Thibodeau is approaching that now.
Q: Do you fear this super-aggressive defense is not only an effective system for the Bulls but a blueprint for other teams? I can't remember a defense so throw into chaos the Heat rhythm like this one does. Or should we simply give Thibodeau his due? -- Scott.
A: If everyone could coach and play this type of defense, they would. Tom Thibodeau is a defensive genius. It's what made him one of the most coveted assistant coaches for years before he moved into the Bulls job. He is brilliant . . . until he opens his mouth during postgame press conferences.
Q: I seriously question whether the Heat are somehow contractually obligated to start the game and third quarter with Udonis Haslem. Can you tell me a combination of Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller and Shane Battier could not play those minutes far more effectively? -- Mike, Coral Spring.
A: It ain't broke. (And Erik Spoelstra has shown that at the first sign something is broken, he's more than willing to adjust.)
MAY 11, 2013
Q: Hopefully we won't have LeBron Lite on Monday. -- J.A.
A: The thing is, it's easy to lose sight of that even when he's not at his best, LeBron James still is better than most. Yes, there clearly was a too-passive approach early on during Friday's Game 3. But LeBron also never let the Heat fall too far behind, never let the Bulls gain significant confidence. And then even on an off night (for him) he still offered whatever it took in the fourth quarter to help will the Heat to victory. The reality is that LeBron's best fourth quarter is enough to trump most individual opponent's best game. No one on Friday in Chicago was better than fourth-quarter LeBron.
Q: Dwyane Wade must be hurt worse than the team is letting on, no? -- Jeffrey.
A: One would have to think, based on the passive approach Dwyane has been taking in recent games. Perhaps it's the deterrence of Joakim Noah or the team concepts of the Bulls, but you simply haven't felt championship Wade in this series. Against Indiana or New York, this Wade might not be good enough. Then again, perhaps he consciously is saving his best for last. Or perhaps that right knee is worse than is being let on.
Q: Carlos Boozer and Marquis Teague both came on the court from the bench during the Birdman and Joakim Noah altercation. Will they be suspended? -- Rico.
A: It's always a tough call when an incident occurs in front a team's bench. The rule is they can't leave the bench area during an alternation, which is tough when the incident happens in the bench area and when you're not even sure it should be classified as an altercation. There's probably plenty that the league will review from Friday's game, especially with two days off before Monday's Game 4. Figure on Tom Thibodeau's postgame comments also to be under review.
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