MIAMI – Let’s put it out there. The last two nights, the Miami Heat has played like ass.
“The last two games,” coach Erik Spoelstra allowed, using more intelligent language, “it’s been a struggle for us.”
Miami lost at Oklahoma City, 103-87, on Sunday, and it lost at Indiana, 105-90, on Monday. Two losses in two nights by a total of 31 points.
A big reason for the struggles has been the halfcourt offense, and that reflects poorly on the point guard play. It’s been terrible recently. Both things have been terrible recently – the halfcourt offense and the point guard play.
Consider this: Miami has committed 38 turnovers in its last two games, resulting in 48 points for its opponents. And in fairness, while point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have been struggling, they aren’t solely at fault for the awful halfcourt offense.
Dwyane Wade has seven turnovers in the last two games. LeBron James has 10. The Heat needs Chalmers and Cole – or any ballhandler, for that matter – to settle things down so the halfcourt offense gets a chance to work. But mostly it’s the point guards.
“Turnovers, for sure, that’s our Achilles heel right now,” James said.
Yeah, maybe the Heat have problems with energy, rebounding, and, dare we say, coaching. And the road woes might be a concern. Miami is 15-11 on the road this season and just 3-5 since the All-Star break. But those are ancillary issues.
Here’s the cold, hard truth for Heat fans: the halfcourt offense has almost regressed to the point where it was a year ago. That’s a chilling statement, because a year ago Miami’s halfcourt offense was a rumor. Its absence was a major reason the Heat didn’t win the title.
So along came this year’s revamped halfcourt offense. It was so proficient and accomplished for the first part of the season that it got rave reviews. Spoelstra had gone on a nationwide tour, and among his visits was Oregon football coach Chip Kelly. He advised Spoelstra to use his team’s athleticism to his advantage. One off-shoot was fewer pick-and-roll plays for Wade and James in halfcourt sets. It worked like a charm. It cured what ailed the Heat.
But the problems are back, and they could sink the Heat once again. Playoff basketball comes down to halfcourt offense. That’s what happens.
Miami’s halfcourt offense has been wheezing and gasping since the All-Star break. Coincidentally (or not), point guards Chalmers and Cole also have been wheezing and gasping since that time.
Chalmers was averaging 11.1 points before the All-Star break. He was shooting .512 from the field and .456 from 3-point range – both career bests. Since the All-Star break, ”Rio” is averaging 6.6 points while shooting .326 from the field and .308 from the arc.
Cole clearly has hit the rookie wall. Before the All-Star break, he averaged 8.7 points and shot .423 from the field. Since the All-Star break, he is averaging 3.2 points while shooting .291 from the field.
The problem with Miami’s halfcourt offense might be temporary. Usually the Heat uses their defense to start the transition/halfcourt offense, and they run by teams all night. But on nights where that doesn’t happen – which is sometimes the case against a quality opponent who can make a shot or two – the Heat need a reliable halfcourt game.
And Miami needs someone to guide that halfcourt game, or once again this problem could cost the Heat the title.
This is why signing point guard Derek Fisher (now with Oklahoma City) might have been better for Miami than signing center Ronny Turiaf. I like Fisher because he provides a late-game option for both shooting and ballhandling.
True, he’s a defensive liability, but let’s face it, he won’t be on the court very often late in games. When Fisher is on the court, however, he can run game-winning halfcourt offense. And, like everybody else, I’ve seen Fisher hit big shots with the game on the line. I’ll take the defensive trade-off.
Turiaf has been good in his three games, providing so much energy and such an offensive presence he looks as though he could push Joel Anthony for the starting job. Turiaf was a good signing. But Fisher would have filled a more crucial need.
Look at it this way: For the last few games, the Heat haven’t been able to use their defense to start its transition/fast-break offense. Third in the NBA in offense at 101.1 points per game, Miami has gone six consecutive games without scoring 100.
The Heat need to be able to score out of their halfcourt offense, but it has bogged down and become stagnant.
That beautiful , free-flowing halfcourt game of the early season is temporarily gone. Most likely, the same thing will happen against a quality team in a best-of-seven series.
The Heat have to show they can adapt. They didn’t have that knowhow last year against Dallas. When Wade and James couldn’t score, the Heat had no offensive leadership. And it seems things are headed that way again. At least for now.
It’s not panic time for the Heat (35-13). They still have the third-best record in the NBA and the second-best record in the East. And Miami’s current .729 winning percentage is still better than last year’s final .707 (58-24), suggesting the Heat are playing better basketball.
But let’s look at what’s really going on.
True, Miami has a 14-game home winning streak. That can’t be ignored. But neither can the outcome of these recent games.
As usual, the Heat remain unfazed.
“We just hit a little pothole in the road,” Wade said.
He might be right. But in Florida, potholes can turn into sinkholes in the blink of an eye.
Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. His columns regularly appear every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter.