Please scroll down on this post for the Sunday buzz column. First, a Sunday afternoon update previewing the Heat-Nets second round series:
Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov authorized spending an NBA-record $180 million this season in combined salaries and luxury taxes, with an eye toward unseating the Heat.
The Nets now get their chance to topple the two-time defending champions, with Game 1 of the best-of-seven series set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. (Game 2 is 7 p.m. Thursday in Miami; Game 3 is 8 p.m. Saturday in Brooklyn; and Game 4 at 8 p.m. Monday in Brooklyn. The teams will play every other day until the series concludes, with start times not yet set for a potential Games 5, 6 and 7.)
Having advanced to play the Heat by ousting Toronto in seven games, Brooklyn enters this Eastern Conference semifinal emboldened by its 4-0 record against the Heat in the regular season, but also knowing, as Nets forward Paul Pierce said Sunday, that the Heat “is a different team in the playoffs.”
Nobody on either side reads too much into the Nets’ season sweep, which included three wins by one point and another in double overtime.
Remember that the Heat went 1-3 in the regular season against Boston and 0-3 against Chicago in 2010-11, then eliminated both in five-game playoff series. In 2011-12, Miami again went 1-3 against Boston during the regular season, then ousted the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals.
“Regular season doesn’t indicate anything,” LeBron James said, speaking in general after Sunday morning’s practice. “You have more time to prepare” in postseason.
Said Nets swingman Joe Johnson: “We know we can beat them, but it’s going to be a lot different than the regular season.”
The Nets create potential matchup problems with a starting frontcourt featuring Kevin Garnett at center, Pierce moving from small forward to power forward and Johnson from shooting guard to small forward. One option for Erik Spoelstra would be starting Rashard Lewis or Shane Battier, instead of Udonis Haslem, to match up defensively with Pierce or Johnson, though it’s unclear if Spoelstra will do that.
“Chris Bosh will have to matchup with Garnett,” Dwyane Wade said. “The challenge is our rotations, of who coach will feel [comfortable] in playing. LeBron can obviously play [power forward]. So we can match down or we can continue to play our style, whatever coach wants to do.”
Johnson said last month that “I think we have a good chance” to beat the Heat in the playoffs because “small-ball works in our favor with them when they have LeBron James or Shane Battier at [power forward]. It’s a great fit.”
Pierce said last month: “We match up pretty good with them. Size wise, they’re not an overly big team. If you can match them in quickness and intensity, especially on their home court, you give yourself a chance. The way we shoot the ball, we can pretty much play with anybody when we’re on.”
He said Sunday that Heat-Nets “is not a rivalry yet. We’re still trying to earn respect as a franchise.”
Several themes emerged in the four regular-season games. Among them:
### The Nets have been better in close games. Brooklyn outscored Miami 23-12 in the last two minutes of those four games, when the margin was three points or fewer.
“They executed better down the stretch,” Wade said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on. They beat us at our own game.”
### Pierce averaged 13.5 points overall this season but 21.3 against the Heat --- his highest against any team --- on 55.3 percent shooting. Johnson also was outstanding against Miami, averaging 19.5 points on 51.7 percent shooting.
### The Nets out-rebounded the Heat, 201-158, in the four games. Brooklyn center Brook Lopez played in only one of those games before a season-ending foot injury. Garnett played in only two of the games but averaged 8.5 rebounds, compared with Bosh’s 6.8.
### The Heat averaged 15 turnovers in the four games, with James committing 17.
### The Heat had just seven fast-break points in two of the games and nine in the other two.
### Miami averaged 102.2 points and shot 50.1 percent overall this season but averaged just 94.3 and shot 46.5 percent against Brooklyn.
“I don’t think we played our best basketball against them,” Heat guard Ray Allen said. “Defensively, we weren’t good. Hats off to them because they beat us four times. We don’t particularly like how we played in those games.”
### James, who is still getting treatment on his bruised thigh, said he should be “close to 100 percent” by Tuesday. When was the last time he felt close to 100 percent? “On my honeymoon.” That was back in September.
### Mario Chalmers and Justin Hamilton did not participate in the contact portions of practice because of soreness, but Chalmers said afterward that he’s fine.
### Wade said the extended break since closing out Charlotte on Monday will end up being “probably a little too much rest.”
Wade, incidentally, is sporting a beard: “I don’t want to even say it’s a playoff beard. It’s just what I’m doing right now. When you’re a man, you don’t have many options.”
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The numbers tell us one thing about Chris Bosh, that his raw statistical contributions have never been lower since he joined the Heat.
His coach, and areas that cannot be quantified in box scores, tell us something else: That Bosh is as valuable to the Heat as ever because the evolution of his three-point game has helped Miami spread the floor and also because his defense generally has been very good.
Evaluating Bosh’s play has become more intellectually challenging because, as Erik Spoelstra says, the numbers often don’t reflect his value.
“Those are things that I’ve sacrificed,” Bosh said of statistics. “I don’t let [fan criticism] bother me. I can get 20 and 10 with an L, and people would still be on my back. You can’t please everybody. I don’t live to make other people happy, except my family. I just want to please my teammates and coaches and win championships.
"If people don’t understand winning and numbers are what they want to chase, they should play fantasy.”
This much cannot be disputed:
### Bosh’s scoring and rebounding averages have never been lower here. He averaged 18.7 points and 8.3 boards his first season with the Heat, then dropped to 18.0 and 7.9, to 16.6 and 6.8 in 2012-13, and to 16.2 (lowest since his rookie season) and a career-low 6.6 boards this season.
### That drop coincides with the shift of his game more to the perimeter, with his three-point attempts rising from 25 to 35 to 74 to 218 (this season) in his four seasons here. He made 33.9 percent of his threes this season and is a league-best 9 for 13 this postseason.
### More perspective on how his game has changed: According to basketballreference.com, only 38.7 percent of Bosh’s shots this season were taken within 10 feet of the basket --- a dramatic drop from 57.2 percent in his first season in Miami and unlike the stereotypical big man. Bosh said he’s comfortable with that ratio.
During the first round of the playoffs against Charlotte, that number of shots within 10 feet plunged to 34.8 percent of all his attempts, even though he made several strong moves to the basket in Game 4. But the change in approach is not hurting his field goal percentage; his 51.6 percent accuracy this season was his second-highest with the Heat.
“Chris will figure out when to be aggressive, when to facilitate, when to space the floor,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a tough balance. But I trust him as much as I trust anybody to be able to strike that balance.”
The question is how much playing on the perimeter has hurt his rebounding numbers. Bosh says it has.
“When you’re spread, you’re not under the basket and that does affect offensive rebounding numbers,” said Bosh, who’s averaging 5.3 boards this postseason. “I would rather get back on defense and make a team have to play against our set defense. They didn’t talk about me when I was averaging 10 rebounds, so don’t mess with me when I’m averaging five or six.”
What none of those numbers quantify is Bosh’s defense, which he said has been the best of his career. “He’s been incredibly consistent,” Spoelstra said. “The one thing he’s doing even more this year is utilizing his versatility and guarding more positions.”
This is telling: According to synergysports.com, Bosh ranked third among all starting centers this season (narrowly behind Washington’s Marcin Gortat and Houston’s Dwight Howard) in points allowed per possession against the player he’s guarding.
That figure takes into account what happens when the player guarded by Bosh ends a possession with a missed or made shot, a foul, free throws or a turnover.
Bosh allowed .786 points per possession, which was 42nd among all players, and ahead of Roy Hibbert (43rd), Joakim Noah (47th) and Tyson Chandler (131st), among others. Players defended by Bosh shot 40.4 percent, whereas Bosh shot 51.6 percent. The web site rated Bosh good or excellent in every key statistical defensive category except post-up defense (average).
And remember, he was the Heat’s best shooter (54 percent) late in close games – one of the best figures in the league. The ideal mix offensively for Bosh would be how he played in Game 4 against Charlotte, when he did damage inside and outside.
"What I’m trying to work on now is getting to the rim from the perimeter – that’s the next challenge for me because I’ve never had to do that before,” he said. “I’ve been growing into a different player ever since I got here.”
### Several Dolphins have wondered among themselves why Miami has been looking so closely at first- and second-round receivers, and their suspicion is that the Dolphins want to replace Mike Wallace in a year or so. Several players believe some of these coaches aren’t big fans of Wallace, and “Joe Philbin is running that place,” one prominent agent said.
But Wallace will have a big cap hit whether he's here or not in 2015. If Wallace is on the team in 2015, his cap hit would be $12.1 million. If he’s cut, it would be $9.6 million. If he’s traded, it would be $6.6 million.
### Receiver Brandon Gibson is two months ahead of schedule in his recovery from a major knee injury.
### We mentioned on Tuesday that one reason the Dolphins sent their special teams coach to work out receiver Robert Herron in Laramie, Wyoming, last week is because they want to see what he can do as a returner. They're already comfortable with his receiving skills (72 catches, 937 yards, nine TDs last season).
Here's what Herron subsequently wrote in his USA Today diary yesterday: "My workout with the Dolphins went very well. I was catching punts and kicks. This was the first time I actually did that. The other workouts were running routes. I didn't catch punts at all in college. At practice, I did some, but I haven't in a game. I told them I haven't done it since high school. It actually went very well, though. I caught them more fluidly than I thought I would."
Herron, a 5-9 former track star, looms as a mid-round option.
### Good to hear that Mark Duper --- the most prominent former Dolphin diagnosed with signs of a degenerative brain disease that often results from head trauma --- said he’s showing some improvement after 23 sessions in a hyperbaric chamber (oxygen under high pressure). Duper’s memory loss includes driving to the grocery store and having no idea why he went there.
### Prominent South Florida attorney Andy Haggard, a former chairman of FSU’s Board of Trustees and still active in the school’s athletic department, said the reaction inside FSU to Jameis Winston’s arrest for stealing crab legs from Publix was “bewilderment and astonishment. We can’t put together why he would make these decisions.
"FSU communicated to him that he should get psychological counseling and he has been receptive," Haggard said. "He said he was sorry and wants to get back on the right track.”
His baseball suspension ended Sunday upon completion of his 20 hours of community service. Haggard said there is no indication if there will be a football suspension. (It's difficult to envision him being suspended for the much-anticipated opener against Oklahoma State.)
### In the wake of Ryan Williams' injury, the idea of returning to football has crossed the mind of former quarterback David Thompson, who left the UM football team to concentrate on baseball, according to Thompson's father, Ed.
But Ed Thompson said that’s unrealistic because of David’s recovery from venous thoracic syndrome, which left him with a blood clot and necessitated the removal of a rib.
The good news: UM coach Jim Morris said Thompson, who hit .328 in 19 games, might return for postseason baseball.
"We tried to get the hospital to give him the rib as a memento but they wouldn't," Ed Thompson said. Classy move by athletic director Blake James to visit Thompson in the hospital last month.
### Jose Fernandez enters his 20th home start Sunday not only unbeaten at Marlins Park (12-0) but with the lowest ERA, in the past 100 years, for a pitcher in his first 19 home starts (1.00).
“He’s got the best power arm I’ve ever seen from a starter,” Marlins outfielder Reed Johnson said. His fastball velocity ranks fifth in baseball this season; the Marlins’ Nathan Eovaldi is second, according to fangraphs.com….
And consider this: Batters have only six hits off Fernandez’s 219 curveballs this season, according to analytics site Brooksbaseball.com. “He’s got one of the best curveballs the game has seen in a long time,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said last week.
By the way, Fernandez gets between 75 and 100 fan letters a week, but unlike the married Shane Battier, no marriage proposals, he said.