WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Heat, Dolphins and Canes chatter:
### To appreciate how stingy the Heat's defense has been, consider this: Miami is putting up numbers that -- if they can be sustained -- would be the best in nearly a decade of playoff basketball across the NBA.
Miami is allowing 84.7 points and 40.9 percent shooting – the NBA’s best in postseason in both categories since 2004 (minimum nine games), the good folks at Elias told us. Throw in opponents’ 29.8 percent three-point shooting, and the Heat’s across the board defensive stats are the best since Detroit in 2004.
The caveat, of course, is “Milwaukee wasn’t really a playoff team and Chicago was missing players,” as TNT’s Steve Kerr said by phone. “Their team defense is great because the pieces really fit. They have so much speed and quickness between LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Norris Cole and Chris Bosh. And they have a gear they go to when they need it.”
Ask James the best defensive teams he has seen, and he immediately reels off the 1996 Bulls, those ‘04 Pistons, and the Spurs of 1999 and 2007. But the Heat’s numbers so far are clearly better than the first and last of those teams.
Look at how the Heat’s defense has improved: 96.8 points allowed before the All-Star break, 92.2 after and now 84.7. (Incidentally, Miami allowed 93, on average, against both Indiana and San Antonio.)
Though the starting lineup lacks a natural center/defensive enforcer, keep in mind that Bosh finished 17th in blocks this season and ranks sixth in postseason. And the Heat, so far, is allowing fewer points than three of the five 1997-2001 playoff teams featuring Alonzo Mourning.
“Our past teams with Zo, it was protect the paint and we’ll pound you,” Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re a physical defensive team as well. [But] we try to apply more pressure than those teams – try to make our opponent more uncomfortable.”
The biggest question about this Heat defense will be tested in this series: Miami’s ability, particularly Bosh's, to defend skilled low-post scorers such as Indiana's Roy Hibbert.
“Every time we play a bigger or taller team, they say, "If you can beat up the Heat’s frontcourt, you can beat them,'” James said.
But, as Shane Battier said: “It’s a new NBA. A lot of people are still hung up on size. Size doesn’t matter as much. We’re undersized most nights, but we have the speed advantage most nights.”
Said Udonis Haslem: “Dwyane, LeBron, Chris, Chris Andersen can block shots, so we definitely guard the basket – just in a different way from the Zo and Shaq teams.”
### A warning from Bulls guard Richard Hamilton: “I think Indiana, San Antonio or Memphis could give Miami trouble. If they play smash mouth basketball, that can give them some trouble.”
### Carlos Boozer said the Bulls are “100 percent” the team best equipped to beat Miami and it would have been “a very different series” if they had been healthy….
Asked about LeBron’s improved free throw shooting, Chicago’s Nate Robinson cracked derisively: “The man must be perfect.”
And what about the Heat’s chances of defending its title, Nate? “I don’t care what they do,” Robinson said. “I don’t give a bleep.” OK then.
### The Heat might dislike the Pacers more than the Bulls, because of coach Frank Vogel’s perceived cockiness, Lance Stephenson’s choke sign to LeBron last May, Tyler Hansbrough’s over-the-top fouls and injured Danny Granger’s baiting tactics against Wade and James in last year's playoffs, which irritated both.
### One Eastern Conference scout who has watched both teams a lot said he expects “Hibbert’s defensive prowess – his post defense – will be neutralized because Bosh is a jump shooter. Hibbert cannot guard pick and rolls. He can’t get out there. He couldn’t on [Atlanta’s] Al Horford. That will give him a lot of problems. If you start David West on Bosh, West isn’t that much better getting out there on Bosh’s jump shots. He isn’t mobile. And Indiana’s bench is weak.”
But the reason this won’t be a sweep, the scout said, is Wade’s health, Paul George’s excellence and the fact “the Pacers are very balanced, have outstanding length. Good defensive team. They’re better than what the Bulls had available against Miami. And Lance Stephenson can really make a difference. He can pass. Very good defender. And he has reduced his idiot quotient this year.”
DOLPHINS, CANES CHATTER
### Beside Mike Wallace’s mere presence, a few other encouraging signs from the Dolphins’ first OTA practice of the off-season Tuesday: Ryan Tannehill was patient and accurate in the pocket, and completed two of three deep balls; Lamar Miller showed his usual burst; tight end Dustin Keller consistently got open; and receiver Brandon Gibson displayed good quickness on a sideline dump-off.
“Tannehill puts the ball right on the money and is a good decision maker,” Keller said.
And Keller likes that the Dolphins give Tannehill total freedom to “change a lot of things up and do anything. That’s what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are allowed to do. It’s cool they’ve given him that much leeway.”
### Keller, who signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal, said he declined a multiyear offer from Miami because after missing eight games last season, “my worth wasn’t where I think it was at. So I took a gamble on myself and said I’m better than everyone thinks I am. This is where I want to be longterm. But I want to prove to them I’m better than last year.”
### Joe Philbin expects an open competition for the punt return job. Brian Hartline, Brent Grimes and Brandon Gibson all took turns Tuesday; according to NFL.com, none have returned a punt in an NFL game. But Hartline said he has the longest punt return in Ohio State history.
Philbin wouldn't rule out having kickoff returner Marcus Thigpen – who last year shared punt return duties with departed Davone Bess (now with Cleveland) – handle both jobs.
Thigpen’s 12.2 average on 26 punt returns was fourth in the AFC last season. But Bess fielded 22 punts, mostly with a short field, and called for fair catches on 18 of them.
### See the last post for a lot more Dolphins notes from Tuesday's first OTA session.
### Hialeah coach Marc Berman said UM offensive coordinator James Coley came to campus to assure quarterback/2014 UM oral commitment Alain Edouard “that they want him.” But Edouard – whose 25-plus offers include Wisconsin and Nebraska – “will re-assess where he is at the end of spring,” Berman said. “If UM has other quarterbacks in mind and doesn't make him feel at home, he’ll take up other opportunities. If UM is offering more than a couple quarterbacks, [what] does that say for him?”
Besides an oral commitment from California’s Brad Kaaya, UM has offers out to multiple other Class of 2014 quarterbacks, including Louisiana’s Donovan Isom and Alabama’s Malik Rosier.
UM is competing with schools from non-major conferences for both; Isom's offers are from South Alabama, Louisiana Tech and Tulane; Rosier's include Arkansas State, Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi, among others that are comparable. Both like the Hurricanes, and UM believes both have gone under the radar. Remember, Al Golden encourages his assistants to make independent assessments of players, rather than relying on recruiting services to drive their decisions.
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