SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With the Celtics posing problems and a formidable Western Conference opponent looming, the question lingers: Even when Chris Bosh returns, can the Heat squeeze enough out of its scrutinized supporting cast to win a title, especially seeing what the Spurs and Thunder bring off their benches?
There were a couple encouraging signs even in Friday’s debacle – Mike Miller’s dead-on shooting, Mario Chalmers’ attack mentality – but also concerns: Shane Battier’s dreadful shooting (0 for 6) and insufficient rebounding from the Heat’s big men. Taking inventory on the Heat’s ensemble around the stars:
### Chalmers: Yes, Rajon Rondo is predictably winning the point guard duel, but Chalmers has been solid and is following marching orders to attack the basket.
He’s averaging 15 points in the series, well above his 9.8 season average. With 16 assists and five turnovers, he’s well above his 1.56 to 1 regular-season ratio, which was third-worst among qualifying point guards. Troubling is his 9-for-17 free throw shooting, well below his 79.2 season average.
“He has matured a lot,” Dwyane Wade said. “And he wants it. He asks us, ‘What do I need to do?’ One thing you can’t replace is a guy’s heart and he has heart.”
As Udonis Haslem said, “Ever since he has been here, he has taken baby steps. Now it’s to the point where coach is trusting him a lot more.” Haslem said the Heat needed him to become “a leader on the floor. He has finally gotten there.”
James Jones said Chalmers’ problem was one never discussed publicly: “When he got here, he gave on-court and off-the-court [activities] the same amount of energy. It’s impossible to play at this level” doing that.
Chalmers understands that now: “I’ve changed a lot. I was going out too much earlier in my career. Now I get a lot of rest.”
Nobody has been in his ear more than Wade – “that’s who I look up to, always ask him for advice” – and Wade persuaded him to study more tape and eat healthier (no fried foods), which Chalmers said has made a difference.
### Miller: Though Miami has been outscored by 17 with him on the floor in this series (worst among rotation players), he is shooting 6 for 12 on threes and 10 for 20 overall, with Friday’s six rebounds also helpful.
Miller admitted he has never before played through this much discomfort, with continued back pain caused by December’s sports hernia. “I don’t know what 32 is supposed to feel like, but I feel old,” Miller said. “Twelve years in the league will do it to you. But I can get through anything for a month. I’ll be fine.”
Teammates admire what he’s enduring – “he might be the toughest guy on the team,” Wade said – but kiddingly call him “Old Man Miller” because of his labored gait.
“My friends in the league ask me, ‘Is he out tonight?’ center Eddy Curry said. “I say, ‘No, he’s never out [in these playoffs].’ And I said, ‘I know he’s probably in worse pain than he’s even letting on.’ Mike’s the ultimate warrior.”
### Battier: There’s widespread admiration for his excellent work defending bigger players this postseason: “He’s one of the best defenders in the game,” Wade said. And the Heat generally plays well with Battier on the floor (plus-28 in the first two games of this series, and surprisingly, just minus 1 in Game 3). Consider that Brandon Bass is shooting 6 for 16 with Battier on the court.
But Battier’s shooting has reached historically bad territory, by Heat postseason standards. He has sunk to 27.1 percent in the playoffs (23 for 85) and 26.9 in this series (7 for 26). No other NBA player that has nearly as many attempts has shot below 31 percent in this postseason.
And in Heat playoff annals, no player who has launched more than 50 shots has been worse; closest was Mike Bibby last year (28.1 on 96 shots).
Battier, whose 38.7 shooting percentage this season was well below his 44.1 career mark, calls himself a “basketball math nerd” and takes solace in the law of averages, which he believes will raise his percentage eventually. The Heat will live with the misses but the poor shooting is damaging in games like Friday’s.
### Haslem/Joel Anthony/Ronny Turiaf: Haslem had a terrific Game 2 (13 points, 11 boards) and is shooting 17 for 28 since that Game 4 win in Indiana.
But here’s the problem: Determined to go with a small lineup nearly all of the time now, coach Erik Spoelstra has simultaneously played two among Haslem, Turiaf and Anthony less than 7:30 in this series, just 47 seconds in Game 3.
And that means when the 6-8 Haslem plays, it’s usually at center, and often against Kevin Garnett – difficult considering Garnett’s three-inch height advantage and wingspan.
According to NBA Stats Cube, Garnett is averaging more than 35 points per 48 minutes and shooting 57 percent with Haslem on the floor. If you eliminate the few minutes Haslem was playing with Turiaf or Anthony defending Garnett, Garnett’s numbers against Haslem remain very similar, including 11 for 19 from the field.
Conversely, Garnett is averaging 18 points per 48 and shooting 4 of 10 with Anthony as the primary defender. But Anthony had no boards in nearly 12 minutes Friday (unacceptable) and didn’t play after halftime.
Against Turiaf, Garnett is averaging 29 points per 48 and shooting 8 for 16. And among Haslem, Anthony and Turiaf, Garnett has been getting to the line most against Haslem.
Haslem, who was a Heat-worst minus-12 in Game 3, said: “I don’t pay much attention” to Garnett’s aggressiveness. “The game is played between the lines – not with the elbows and not with talking. I don’t really think he killed us.”
Spoelstra used a fourth-quarter Game 3 lineup without Haslem, Turiaf or Anthony (that group was plus 12), with Garnett scoring four points against LeBron James during that time. Spoelstra said he might use that group again “in short bursts.”
### Jones/Norris Cole: Minor roles. Cole has two assists, no turnovers and is 0-1 in nine minutes in this series; Jones has made two of six threes in 33 series minutes.
### How concerned should we be about the Heat’s 71.7 playoff free-throw percentage? Somewhat, but consider that Miami shot only 65.5 percent from the line during its 2006 playoff championship run. Rick Barry said James (25 for 38 from the line in this series) doesn’t look at the basket enough on free throws and has a flawed technique.
### With Wednesday’s misses, James is 5 for 15, all time in the playoffs, on shot to tie the game or take the lead in the final 24 seconds of regulation or overtime, compared with 2 of 7 for Wade.
### With Oklahoma City winning Saturday night, we now know the definite NBA Finals schedule. The series will open in San Antonio or Oklahoma City with games on Tuesday, June 12 and Thursday, June 14. If the Heat advances, Miami would host games on June 17, 19 and 21, with the series shifting back out West for games June 24 and 26.
### Now that they have extended Cameron Wake, the Dolphins are mulling which potential 2013 free agents they should sign next. Randy Starks and Anthony Fasano said Miami has not made offers (though Starks will be eventually, from what we hear), and Reggie Bush surprisingly has not been approached.
Jake Long said he is unaware of any contract talks, but Miami will use the franchise tag on him next spring if a deal isn’t reached. Expect offers eventually to Brian Hartline and Sean Smith, entering the last year of their deals…. The Dolphins are concerned about drops from their young receivers in practice.
### Gaby Sanchez is hitting .300 with two homers and six RBI in 13 games at Triple A… Ozzie Guillen told 790 The Ticket that his wife asked him why he keeps using Heath Bell because she is worried he might have a heart attack.
### South Plantation running back Alex Collins - one of UM's top three early commitments - remains orally committed to UM but now also considering Wisconsin and others, and has been quoted as saying harsh NCAA sanctions could have him looking elsewhere. He is rated by rivals.com as the 14th-best running back in the 2013 class, and recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein calls him the best running back in the state. His coach said Collins was open with UM when he committed that he wanted to take other visits.
UM recruiting coordinator Brennan Carroll said he expects UM's 2013 class to have about 20 players. That could change if the NCAA punishment is doled out before next February, and it's a toss-up whether that will happen, based on timetables of past NCAA investigations.
### Even though UM athletic director Shawn Eichorst has declined to publicly discuss his commitment to Jim Morris, a UM official who spoke with Eichorst last month said he has expressed strong commitment privately, acknowledging Morris' strong overall body of work.
But that commitment was expressed BEFORE this weekend's embarrassing regional debacle, which is sure to cause ire among some frustrated Board of Trustee members who already were asking privately why the baseball program isn't winning as much as it once did. Morris still has three years left on his contract, and paying off another coach (Randy Shannon) is hardly appealing to some inside UM.