SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Despite the Heat’s recent struggles, despite Charles Barkley long ago awarding the Eastern Conference title to the Pacers, a lot of players around the league have strong trust in Miami. When we polled more than a dozen about the Eastern Conference playoffs and a potential Heat-Pacers Eastern Finals (which might never happen, after seeing how Indiana played Saturday night), all either picked Miami to make the Finals or called Heat-Pacers a toss-up, with none picking Indiana to emerge from the East.
Some of the reaction:
### Memphis’ Tayshaun Prince: “You have to lean toward Miami… Because of their size, people think Indiana is going to beat them, but these Heat players are the top players in the world and they are so smart and battle-tested. They know when they have to raise their game. I know it sounds like I’m saying all these nice things about them, but it’s the truth. When it matters most, they won’t get outrebounded. Instead of six or seven rebounds, LeBron James will get 10 or 12. Dwyane Wade will get seven or eight. Miami is the favorite” regardless of Indiana having homecourt.
### Houston’s Dwight Howard picks the Heat in the East because “LeBron is a mismatch problem for anyone, and that’s all you need. And Miami in the playoffs is scary.”
### Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson, whose team hopes to prevent a Heat-Pacers Eastern Finals, said the Nets have a good chance to knock off Miami, but if they don’t, “I would give the edge to Miami against Indiana. Miami has a switch they can turn on and can play unbelievable basketball when they do.”
### Nets guard Deron Williams concurs: “Until someone knocks Miami off, they're the best team in the league to me. It's easy for them to turn that switch on and go up another level…. You have to be physical with them. Otherwise, they're going to be getting layups all day.”
### Houston’s Chandler Parsons: “David West will be problem down low [if they play], but Indiana doesn’t have LeBron. And Miami takes a lot of things away with their rotations on defense.”
### Houston’s Jeremy Lin: “My gut feeling is the Heat [gets out of the East] because of their experience. But it’s going to be so close with Indiana.”
### Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova: “You have to say Miami because they have the experience. Indiana is still young. You have to move the ball against Miami, make them work.”
### Milwaukee’s ZaZa Pachulia: “Even if Indiana is playing their best, Miami still has to be favored. Besides their stars, the Heat do all the little things you need to win. And they know how to win.”
What struck me was how eager some players are to see a Heat-Pacers series, from Memphis’ Zach Randolph to Milwaukee’s OJ Mayo (“can’t wait”). As Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan said: “With the bad blood, that would be a hell of a thing to watch.”
Of course, that series might not happen, though it would be far too premature to count the Pacers out yet, after just one game against a mediocre Atlanta team.
### Two areas that simply must improve for the Heat to three-peat: 1) Miami’s field-goal percentage against, which ranked second, fifth and sixth in the first three years of the Big Three era, but just 16th this season; and 2) The Heat’s play late in close games.
Last season, in games with a margin of five points or fewer in the final five minutes, Miami outscored teams by 131 in 176 minutes and went 32-8. This season? Just plus-24 in 189 clutch minutes and 24-19 in those games.
Don’t blame Chris Bosh, whose 53.7 percent shooting in the clutch was third best in the league in 2013-14 (minimum 40 shots), behind only Amir Johnson and Spencer Hawes. James shot 48.4 percent in the clutch, dwarfing Kevin Durant (38), Kevin Love (36) and Carmelo Anthony (35).
Miami needs to curtail late-game turnovers and get better clutch shooting from its guards: Dwyane Wade shot 36 percent in the clutch (8 for 22), Mario Chalmers 28 percent (8 for 29), Norris Cole 27 percent (4 for 15). Ray Allen, who made one of the biggest clutch threes in NBA history in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, shot just 5 for 21 on clutch threes this season.
### Cole, who shot just 34 percent since the All-Star break, hopes to recapture his 2013 postseason magic, when he shot 48 percent and 17 for 32 on threes.
He recently summoned his shooting coach, former NBA guard Sedric Toney, to Miami and they have been working on his footwork and technique. Spoelstra suggested he will stick with Cole because “he has shown up in big moments and has some toughness inside of him.”
### Cole and Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee are among athletes who like to watch highlight tapes of themselves, at their best, to put them in a good mental state. McGehee, who did it before the season opener, entered the weekend with the third highest average and most RBI among National League third basemen.
McGehee said playing in Japan helped him become more selective because pitchers threw so many breaking balls. There were embarrassing moments there, though: He inadvertently ran on the field during a moment of silence for victims of the U.S. World War II bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki while everyone else was standing silent, making him look like “the biggest [expletive].”
### For a team that seemingly doesn't need a quarterback, the Dolphins are spending a decent amount of time with them. They recently requested private conversations with Georgia's Aaron Murray and LSU's Zach Mettenberger after their pro days. They spent parts of at least four days up close with UM's Stephen Morris (whom they like); and also recently called Wake Forest's Tanner Price.
### UM didn't use tight end Asante Cleveland much in the passing game last season (three receptions), but he impressed the Dolphins with his receiving skills, as well as his intelligence in the film room, during a visit last Friday. In the coming months, Miami likely will add at least two tight ends who can challenge Michael Egnew for a roster spot.
### Please see the last post for more Dolphins and UM notes from Saturday night. (We've confirmed 14 players who have been summoned by the Dolphins to meet with team officials in Davie, and four --- curiously --- are first- or second-round caliber receivers. See the last post for more details, plus a note on two top local recruits spurning UM.)
### According to one UM football official, Tyriq McCord ended spring ahead of Al-Quadin Muhammad, and Anthony Chickillo ahead of Ufomba Kamalu, in the hotly-contested battle for two starting end jobs. Kamalu, McCord and Muhammad all will play on third down passing situations, with ballyhooed summer arrival Chad Thomas likely joining them in those situations…. UM has big plans for speedy running back Trayone Gray in the next couple years, provided he qualifies academically.
### Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he has $30 million to spend in free agency “and I’m excited about being able to mix it up with the big boys.” He plans to add two experienced defensemen and “a guy who can score easily. Getting Roberto Luongo here is going to help us close the deal on some free agents.”