This has been billed as the deepest, most talented Heat team in its 25-year history, a roster with so many capable and gifted pieces that MVP LeBron James would not need to be routinely overburdened.
Now would be a good time for those pieces to again validate that notion.
Face it: Excluding James and Chris Andersen, nobody on the Heat has been anything special in this 1-1 Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana, which resumes with Game 3 on Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“LeBron may be a little tired – it’s hard carrying four people up and down the court,” TNT’s Charles Barkley cracked after Friday’s 97-93 Pacers win.
James leads the Heat in this series in points (33 per game), rebounds (9.0) and assists (6.5) and is tied for the lead in steals and blocks. Pacers forward David West conceded the Pacers’ focus has been “on those other guys. We knew LeBron was going to do what he does.”
Clearly, more is needed elsewhere, not only from the ensemble around the Big Three, but from two-thirds of the Big Three.
“We all need to raise our games,” Shane Batter said.
Being in this situation “makes you feel alive, which is a good feeling,” Battier added. “We’ve had a pretty good run this year where we haven’t had this feeling. You get punched in the nose literally and figuratively, it makes you feel alive. We’ll see what we’re made of.”
Heat center Chris Bosh put it this way: “Our backs are against the wall. I think that’s what we need.”
What James needs is for Dwyane Wade to start resembling something closer to the vintage version, for Bosh to produce more than the mere 15 rebounds he mustered in five games against Indiana this season, for Battier and Ray Allen to snap out of shooting slumps, and for Miami’s point guards to provide anything close to what George Hill gave Indiana in Game 2.
Without at least some of those variables changing, trouble looms for the Heat against a confident, balanced team playing in a building where it has gone 6-0 and outscored teams by 14 per game in postseason.
“We’re not playing our game,” Bosh said. “Give them credit for playing defense, but it’s all us right now. We’re going to have to do a better job of dictating tempo.”
More clearly is needed from Wade, whose 13.7 playoff average (on 46.8 percent shooting) badly lags behind his regular season average (21.2) and career playoff mark (24.3). And consider this: Wade is averaging fewer points in the past eight games than he has in any eight-game stretch since late in his rookie season.
He wasn’t much of a factor offensively in the fourth quarter of Game 2, missing his only shot and committing a turnover.
And now he returns to the arena where he suffered through perhaps his worst playoff game (the five-point, 2-for-13 clunker in Game 3 of the Heat/Pacers second-round series last May) but also rebounded from that dreadful night to score 30, 28 and 41 in the next three games.
“It hurts to lose a game at home, but we’ve been here before,” Wade said.
Then there’s Bosh. He hit a three-pointer and two big free throws in the fourth quarter Friday but missed his five other shots from the field and grabbed just one rebound. There’s no excuse for Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson outrebounding Bosh, 20-7, in the series.
And Bosh acknowledged that “I’m going to have to do a much better job in Game 3” defending Roy Hibbert, who is averaging 24 points and 9.5 rebounds through two games.
“If Hibbert has a game like [Friday’s 29 points and 10 rebounds], it’s going to be very tough to beat them,” Bosh said.
Also, the Heat’s bench shooters need to regain their touch. Battier is 0 for 7 in this series and 13 for 57 (22.8 percent) in the playoffs. Allen is 3 for 13 in this series, his playoff percentage dipping to 41.4.
“We’ve not gotten the looks that we normally get,” Battier said of this series. But “I believe in the law of averages. It’s amazing when one goes down, what it can do for you. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
Also troubling is that neither has shot well against Indiana this season, with Allen now 6 for 29 (including 2 for 15 on threes) and Battier 5 for 21 (and 3 for 18).
“We have to figure out a way to get our shooters some shots early in the game, where they feel like they’re a part of the offense,” James said.
Meanwhile, Norris Cole, who blossomed in recent weeks, has missed 8 of 10 shots in the series, with more turnovers (six) than assists (five).
Overall offensively, “we’re just looking around too much,” Bosh said. “Our guys have to be aggressive. If you have a shot, shoot it. We had a few open shots we didn’t take [Friday].
“We have in our minds right now, ‘Oh, they’re such a good defensive team.’ No, we’re a good offensive team and a good defensive team. We didn’t make it this far by people hesitating.”
The Heat played poorly in both games in Indiana this season – a 10-point loss on Jan. 8 and a 13-point setback on Feb. 1. But after being drubbed 94-75 at Indiana in Game 3 of last year’s series, the Heat won there 101-93 in Game 4 and closed out the series there 105-93 in Game 6.
But here’s the caveat: Even though Bosh missed most of that series – and Allen and Andersen weren’t on the team – these Pacers “are much better” according to Bosh, than last year’s group that ultimately succumbed to the greatness of James and Wade.
“They have a better belief in who they are,” Battier said. “Paul George is a lot better. Stephenson gives them a dimension that Danny Granger didn’t last year. They’re tough.”
### The NBA on Saturday was reviewing a fourth-quarter play in which Dwyane Wade, rushing back on defense, jumped to avoid Lance Stephenson and ended up elbowing him in the head. The NBA said on Saturday afternoon that it had nothing to report regarding whether there would be any discipline.
The LeBron James/Paul George duel has provided some of the most compelling theater in this highly entertaining Heat-Pacers Eastern Conference Finals.
George has shot 10 for 13 in the series when guarded by James, according to ESPN’s Stats and Information department. James shot 10 for 14 when defended by George in Game 2 but committed two turnovers in the final minute.
“He’s really good – he’s going to be a great one,” James said. “His maturity and game have definitely risen in just one year.”
Among the memorable snapshots of Game 2: George soaring over Chris Andersen for a dunk, James then beating the third-quarter buzzer with a three-pointer, and James then hand-slapping George and saying: “I got you back, young fellow.”
Said George: “That was a moment I’ll always remember. I’ve got the most respect for LeBron. I look up to him. I’m ready for the challenge. He’s ready. It’s going to be fun.”
James is averaging 33 points and shooting 59.1 percent in the series. George, who has been defended by Dwyane Wade at times, is averaging 24.5 points on 50 percent shooting.
The Pacers have outscored the Heat by 17 with George on the floor in this series. The Heat has been outscored by four with James on the court, though that’s obviously not indicative of how well he has played, the late Game 2 turnovers aside.
“I can’t believe how much that kid keeps growing,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of George. “He’s going against the best player in the world in LeBron, guarding him [most of] the night, and carrying an offensive scoring load.”
### After the game, James lamented his two late turnovers – one with 43 seconds left, one with eight seconds to go. “Very disappointing,” he said. “That’s the first thing I always look at on the stat sheet is my turnovers. I am very disappointed in my judgment and my plays down the stretch. But I’ll make up for them.”
### James shrugged off Pacers guard George Hill saying the “one person that’s scarier [than James is] God.”
Responded James: “I’m nowhere near close. I made two mistakes [Friday]. Let my teammates down. They expect me to make plays down the stretch, and I came up short. That burns.”
### Rebounding remains a major concern: The Pacers have outrebounded the Heat by 56 in five games this season, including plus-12 in this series.
One option would be pairing Chris Bosh with Chris Andersen more, but the Heat has been outscored by one with those two on the floor together in 12 minutes in this series. During the regular season, the Heat was outscored by nine points in 60 minutes when they were paired.
Also, the Heat believes Anderson – who has shot 9 for 9 in the series and 31 for 37 in the playoffs - is less effective with far more minutes. He played less than 15 minutes in Game 2, after logging 18 in Game 1.
### The Heat has made just 34 of 51 free throws in the series (66.7 percent), while the Pacers are 50 for 64 (78.1 percent).
### Phil Jackson, asked by TNT’s Rachel Nichols if Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s handling of a star-laden team reminds him of anything Jackson did: “I like his attitude on the floor. I like his discussions with his players. He seems to be a reasonable, calm, cool, collected cat, and I like that about him.”