Miami Heat Index: Tom Haberstroh

Heat's three-peat quest begins now

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
MIAMI -- For one team, it was an exhibition. The other, a championship of sorts.

In the end, the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Miami Heat 100-87 on the home floor of the defending champions. But both teams got what they wanted in the season finale.

For the Heat, walking away from the regular season unscathed was the ultimate objective at the end of the 82-game slog. The chase for the No. 1 seed never materialized into much of a chase. Even with the door still open to get the East’s top seed over the Indiana Pacers earlier in the week, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra elected to rest LeBron James and Chris Bosh for the final two games of the regular season.

One door closes, another opens. After finishing the regular season with a 54-28 record -- the worst final record of Miami’s Big Three era -- Heat’s three-peat quest continues with the seventh-seeded Charlotte Bobcats coming into town for Game 1 on Sunday afternoon.

The Heat probably could have ended on a higher note, but James and Bosh did not play on Wednesday night in the name of rest. Dwyane Wade gave it a go for the third consecutive game after a nine-game layoff dealing with a sore hamstring. And after 23 uneven minutes, Wade came away pleased with not just his Wednesday performance, but the team’s months-long maintenance program.

“I did what I wanted to do,” Wade said. “I’m happy going into the postseason. [My health] is a lot better than going into the playoffs last season.”

Getting Wade some playing time without aggravating an injury? That was atop the Heat’s priority list on Wednesday; the game result did not matter. Next on the priority list was making sure that Greg Oden could return to the floor without any hiccups after missing two and a half weeks with back issues and a stomach bug. After 13 minutes of action, they checked that off the list as well.

The third objective was less serious: allowing Shane Battier to reach a career milestone of 30,000 regular-season minutes. Battier joked with Spoelstra at the morning shootaround that he needed to play a season-high 36 minutes in his final regular season game in order to reach 30,000 for his career.

Spoelstra laughed it off in the morning, but by the evening, he ran out of bodies at the end of the bench. James, Bosh, Rashard Lewis and Chris Andersen all got the night off and Michael Beasley turned his right ankle in the third quarter and had to leave the game.

At that point, Battier checked in with the scorer’s table to see how many minutes he needed until 30,000.

“Only six?” Battier laughed as he turned to walk onto the court. “I’ve come this far, can’t turn back now.”

Battier ended up playing 39 minutes -- three more than he needed -- and finished with a trio of 3-pointers.

“Once I sniffed it, it was like a dog to a T-bone,” Battier said. “I had to go get it.”

After the loss, Battier, who’s expected to retire this summer, marched into the locker room, fully-equipped with jokes.

“I came in the league averaging about 40 minutes a game,” Battier announced to his teammates, “And in my last game I played about 40 minutes.”

Wade finished with 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting, but never really got into the flow against a surprisingly pesky 76ers defense. Actually, the 76ers never trailed after midway through the second quarter and oddly enough ended up taking the season-series 2-1 over the Heat.

The 76ers could have mailed it in and no one would have blamed them with nothing tangible in the standings to gain. But instead, the 76ers gave everything they had after an arduous season that saw them tie an NBA record for most losses in a row (26). It was just one win, but it provided a morsel of redemption.

Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams drained three 3-pointers after struggling from deep for weeks. After drilling one of the threes, first-year head coach Brett Brown smiled ear-to-ear on the sidelines and clapped in encouragement as if he had just watched his own child steer his bike without training wheels for the first time.

The 76ers’ positivity continued. After a slew of Philadelphia plays that forced a frustrated Spoelstra to call a timeout, Brown bear-hugged his giggling guard Tony Wroten out at midcourt. The 19-win team pushed the Heat around all game and forced multiple 24-second shot-clock violations.

This, coming from the team that boasts one of the NBA’s worst defensive efficiencies.

The Heat understand Wednesday’s effort won’t cut it on Sunday.

“We’ll be tested,” Spoelstra said. “Our guys understand that.”

The Heat are fully aware with how well the Bobcats have played lately, finishing the season on a 9-3 run. The Bobcats ended up with the sixth-ranked defense, something nobody saw coming after they ranked dead-last in the NBA last season and added the offensive-minded Al Jefferson to anchor their back line.

“They deserve the respect of how they’ve played the last six weeks,” Spoelstra said. “They’ve been one of the better teams in the league. Jefferson since January has been one of the top players in this league. They’re a worthy, worthy opponent.”

Though the Heat swept the season-series against the Bobcats, Wade shared Spoelstra’s respect for coach Steve Clifford’s club.

“That team competes very hard,” Wade said. “They’re comfortable in their game. They’ve got a great one-two punch with Kemba Walker and Big Al. We have to come with our hard hats on and stay focused throughout.”

The Heat stumbled into the postseason with three losses in a row. James, Wade and Bosh have only played one game together this month and it came in a double-digit loss to Atlanta.

But despite the lack of playing time together, Wade didn’t foresee any issues getting on the same page with James.

“I’m not worried about continuity with him at all,” Wade said after the game. “The biggest thing is that we both know what we need to do. We just have to do it. We’ve been playing together for four years. That’s enough continuity right there.”

AmericanAirlines Arena had been a harrowing place for Brown, who was an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich for the San Antonio Spurs last season, his seventh in that capacity. Interestingly enough, Brown made plans to travel to San Antonio on Thursday after the regular season wrapped up.

The plan? To catch up with a close friend and mentor Popovich.

“Popovich is the single greatest basketball influence I’ve had outside my father,” Brown said. “Popovich’s skill package is off the charts. One, he’s a good person. Second, he’s highly intelligent, and third, he’s a hell of a coach.”

On Thursday, Brown will make a trip to San Antonio to see old friends. Somewhere down the line in the next couple months, the Alamo may be in the Heat’s plans as well. The three-peat quest is officially on.

LeBron James, Chris Bosh to miss finale

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
MIAMI -- The regular season is officially over for the reigning MVP.

With the second seed in the Eastern Conference locked up, Miami Heat forward LeBron James and center Chris Bosh will sit out Wednesday's season finale as they host the Philadelphia 76ers.

Heat guard Dwyane Wade, however, will play in his third consecutive game after being sidelined for his previous nine games as part of the team's season-long maintenance program. Wade has missed a total of 28 games this season. Heat backup center Greg Oden is also expected to be activated after sitting out with back soreness and a stomach virus following his last appearance on March 26 against the Indiana Pacers.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also said that he would rest Heat backup center Chris Andersen and point guard Mario Chalmers on Wednesday.

The NBA announced on Wednesday night that the Heat will open the playoffs against either the Washington Wizards or the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Sunday start would give James and Bosh each a full week of rest before the postseason begins.

Because of the Heat's maintenance schedules, the team's star trio of James, Wade and Bosh have played only one game together since March 27.

The 76ers are trying to wrap up a woeful season on a high note. Beating the Heat on Wednesday would give them their first pair of consecutive victories since early January.

The Heat will likely play the opening round against the seventh-seeded Bobcats on Sunday. The Heat would play the Wizards only if the Wizards lose to the Boston Celtics on the road and the Bobcats beat the Chicago Bulls in Charlotte.
The Heat end the regular season Wednesday night at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. Our panel goes 3-on-3:

1. What has been the most encouraging part of Miami’s season?

Israel Gutierrez: Dwyane Wade's play when he's healthy. And assuming his hamstring is healed and his conditioning gets caught up quickly, he'll be healthy for this playoff run. And considering he was at about 70 percent during last season's title run, that's quite an encouraging prospect.

Tom Haberstroh: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh enter the playoffs healthier than they were this time a year ago. Really, the regular season was just an 82-game preseason for the Heat and little mattered outside of the trainer’s room. The maintenance program for Wade, as taxing as it was for Bosh and James, seemed to work. For now.

Brian Windhorst: The playoffs are starting and all 15 players on the roster are available and reasonably healthy. LeBron and Bosh will go in with at least a week off and Wade certainly hasn't been overworked. They have won a road game in all 12 series they've played in the past three years, so not having home court has a limited disadvantage.

2. What has been the most disappointing part of Miami’s season?

Gutierrez: The inconsistency all around. From the defensive play to the shooting of Ray Allen and Shane Battier to the appearances from Wade. All of it has translated into a level of play that has created more questions than the Heat have faced at this time over the past three seasons.

Haberstroh: The supporting cast. The Michael Beasley experiment has come up empty. Ray Allen has finally shown he’s not immune to age. Greg Oden may be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Norris Cole has not developed. Shane Battier for months looked like a shell of himself. If it weren’t for Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem’s recent revival, this would be a disaster.

Windhorst: This is the least imposing team of the past four seasons. Some of that is because of depth, some is because of in-season injuries, some is because of fatigue and motivation issues. Instead of ramping up for the playoffs like last year (which the Spurs are doing this year), the Heat have gone into the postseason in a relative tailspin.

3. What is the biggest threat to Miami’s quest to three-peat?

Gutierrez: Well, there are any number of things, including health, lack of size now that it appears Greg Oden might not be a factor, or the loss of home court against either the Pacers or any number of Western Conference teams. But if I'm picking one "threat" to the Heat three-peating, it's the same threat that nearly cost them last year's title: the Spurs.

Haberstroh: Their bodies. That has always been the case. They have more than enough talent to go around, but they will only go as far as their aging bodies take them. The only key players under 30 years old are LeBron James (who turns 30 in December) and Mario Chalmers. Do they have another championship run in them?

Windhorst: Over the past two seasons, they have had to win three Game 7s to win their titles. All three were at home. The Heat will enter the postseason with the fifth-best record, and that means if they play any of the four teams ahead of them, they will have to play Game 7 on the road. The Spurs are itching for a chance to take advantage of that this year.

Heat Reaction: Grading Heat-Hawks

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

Heat Reaction: Grading Pacers-Heat

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

Heat Reaction: Grading Nets-Heat

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

The Heat look to avoid a season sweep Tuesday at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, who have won the previous three meetings between the two teams. Our panel goes 3-on-3:

1. Fact or Fiction: Brooklyn is Miami's biggest potential East threat in playoffs.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. Folks, there's still plenty of room left on the Toronto Raptors bandwagon. Hop on. As far as the East goes, the Heat and the Raptors have been in a class by themselves since Rudy Gay got traded in early December. There are two East teams with a point differential over 4.0 and it's the Raptors (plus-4.9) and the Heat (plus-6.6). I'm not convinced Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko will be healthy in a month.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. Despite how horrible they've been these past couple of weeks, I still believe in the Indiana Pacers and what their track record has revealed over the long haul. Silly me. But their combination of stingy defense, coupled with the nightmare matchup that is Roy Hibbert and the Lance Stephenson wildcard, the Pacers are still the team that causes the Heat more concerns over a seven-game series.

Brian Windhorst: Fiction. I still think it's the Pacers, though I admit my case is not strong. The Nets are a team that is built for a playoff setting but I'm not assuming they're getting past the Bulls if that series ends up taking shape.

2. Fact or Fiction: Dwyane Wade should sit out the rest of the regular season.

Haberstroh: Fiction. I'd probably get him a game or two just to get his timing and in-game conditioning calibrated. We're learning rest is critical to success so I would still hold him out for the majority of the games down the stretch, but a month off seems drastic.

Wallace: Fact. I totally don't subscribe to this theory under normal circumstances, considering it's been obvious the past few weeks that Wade's teammates want to get in at least a couple of games with him on the court before the playoffs. But the bottom line is that the Heat could essentially use a likely first-round matchup against either the Bobcats or the Hawks to work off the rust. If taking another week off gets Wade even 10-percent healthier, then it's worth the risk at this point, all things considered.

Windhorst: Fact, if that hamstring isn't right. Do you know how often the phrase "I made a mistake coming back too early from that hamstring" has been uttered in NBA history? Well, it's a lot. The whole season has been aimed to keep Wade from being banged up. That said, it does seem like he's making progress and he could be back before the postseason.

3. Fact or Fiction: LeBron will score at least 34 for a third consecutive game.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Paul Pierce never takes it easy on James. I see the reigning MVP regressing to the mean and racking up points closer to his scoring average. Last time out, James scored just 19 points against his arch rival so I'll split the difference and say he scores 27 on Tuesday.

Wallace: Fact. If Wade isn't available, LeBron won't have any problem picking up the slack. He's scored 34 and 38 points, respectively, in his past two games. If he pours in at least 34 against Brooklyn, it would be the first time this season he's reached that total in three straight contests. LeBron certainly has been more aggressive of late, having launched at least 20 field goal attempts and 10 free throws in three of the past four games. It seems as if he's totally adjusted to the heavier burden and now thrives on it.

Windhorst: Fiction. LeBron's averaged 27 points, roughly his career average, against the Nets this season (though he did have a 36-point game). So I'll play the averages and predict about that total for him. Also, the Nets defense and especially Paul Pierce -- Google Pierceitis -- have been performing well at that end.

Heat Reaction: Grading Knicks-Heat

April, 6, 2014
Apr 6
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

Heat Reaction: Grading Timberwolves-Heat

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

Heat Reaction: Grading Bucks-Heat

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

Heat Reaction: Raptors-Heat Grades

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

Heat Reaction: Grading Heat-Pacers

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

Heat Reaction: Grading Blazers-Heat

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh

Greg Oden to start vs. former team

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
MIAMI -- Just a couple of years removed from having doubts he'd ever play in the NBA again, Greg Oden will play Monday against his former team, the Portland Trail Blazers.

Not only will Oden play, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra indicated after Monday's shootaround that Oden would get his fifth start of the season.

The Blazers, in fifth place in a loaded Western Conference, drafted Oden No. 1 overall in 2007 but injuries limited the promising big man to 82 games before he was waived in 2012.

Click here to read the entire column »

3-on-3: Heat vs. Blazers

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
Greg Oden is expected to start for the Heat on Monday night when Miami plays Portland -- Oden's former team. Our 3-on-3 crew weighs in on the game.

1. What's the source of LeBron James' biggest frustration?

Tom Haberstroh: A little bit of everything. He turned his ankle in a loss to a team that was 12 games under .500 in a game that Dwyane Wade did not play. Those three details -- the ankle turn, the loss and the Wade absence -- provided some fertile ground for vented frustration.

Michael Wallace: There's no politically correct way to put it, but LeBron has been uncomfortable all season with the Dwyane Wade maintenance plan. He has talked about how Wade being in and out of the lineup has disrupted his comfort level and has affected the team's chemistry. Getting Wade healthy for the playoffs is the ultimate priority, but it has been a painfully frustrating process at times for LeBron. He's no longer hiding it. Considering the load he has carried, LeBron could use a night or two off for physical and psychological rest. It's clear his patience has been wearing thin in recent weeks.

Brian Windhorst: Losing. In the past six seasons, this is one of the worst streaks he has been a part of (remember, he won 60-plus games his final two seasons in Cleveland). After that 9-8 start in 2010 -- which everyone on the Heat speaks of as if it were childbirth -- this has been the toughest regular-season stretch in years. So he's not used to this and he's not used to him and his teammates not responding. There are individual details that are bugging him, but overall, it's about the losing.

2. Is Portland or Miami coming off the more disappointing loss?

Haberstroh: Portland. In the great scheme of things, Saturday's Heat loss did little for Miami's playoff positioning, but the Blazers not only got blasted by a sub.-500 team, they also failed to create a more comfy cushion ahead of Golden State, which is a game and a half back for the 5-seed. That hurts.

Wallace: It's Portland, and not just because a 30-point blowout on the road is worse than the 10-point loss Miami suffered in New Orleans. The Blazers are in a true identity crisis right now as they fight for playoff position. It's been a tale of two halves of the season for Portland. A strong case can be made they lost to a Charlotte team headed for the playoffs and Miami's loss was to the lottery-bound Pelicans. The difference is the Heat have a longstanding track record of what they are. We're still trying to figure out exactly what these Blazers are all about.

Windhorst: The Blazers are having a miserable month because their fairy tale season has hit the skids with uneven play, bad defense, and after months of near-perfect health, some derailing injuries. That 30-point loss to the Bobcats to start a five-game road trip was perhaps a low point of the season. The Heat are not in a good place right now, but they didn't get beat by 30.

3. From 1 to 10, what is the level of concern for the Heat right now?

Haberstroh: 5. No major injuries, and they'll still finish with just under 60 wins. Things could look a whole lot worse. The Pacers have been a mess as well, so Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley may lose some sleep, but we haven't nearly reached DEFCON 1/2011 levels.

Wallace: 7. The Heat have treated this season like an 82-game exhibition slate. Between the injury and rest issues with Wade to the uncertainty surrounding Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, this team has been shuffling and reshuffling all season and never really settled into a sustained offensive rhythm. They're not as good as they were the past two title seasons defensively. The supporting cast consists of guys in their mid-30s and they just don't seem to have the same matchup advantages against stiffer competition they once did. The league has closed the gap on Miami. That said, they are not likely to be pushed to the brink until the conference finals at the earliest.

Windhorst: 4. Completely agree with Chris Bosh's assessment Saturday when he described the situation as "not troubling but upsetting." In general, the Heat have their health, and that is what is most important. They have the ability to get themselves together -- everyone knows and believes this. The fact their defense has been lagging is a concern because defense is a habit, and that's the only reason I have a "4" up there. After everything the Heat have been through, seriously, right now this ranks low on the scale.