Wow. That. Was. Embarrassing.
Last night, Dwight Howard and the Magic brought their collective talents to South Beach and brought Lebron and the Heat to their knees. After an explosive first half in which Lebron and D-Wade combined to outscore the entire Magic team by a count of 47-43 and the Heat took a 22 point lead, the Heat experienced a meltdown of epic proportions…yet again.
For the third time in three games, the Heat blew a double-digit lead and lost a close game to a potential playoff foe, and while losing games against the Knicks and Bulls was a tough pill to swallow, blowing a 24 point lead in the second half to an in-state rival is even tougher. After dominating for a long stretch of the game on both ends of the floor, the South Beach Triumvirate just seemed to disappear. They got lazy at the defensive end, not rotating quickly enough to get out on the Magic’s shooters leading to a 40-9 run. Even worse, if that’s at all possible, at times their offensive sets resembled junior high school basketball; with poor spacing and haphazard one on one forays.
The Heat are still clearly a top three or four team in the NBA right now, but in many ways the bloom is off the rose from their stretch of dominant basketball that followed their shaky 9-8 start. Last night’s loss, as well as the two that preceded it, was a perfect illustration of what ails this team (HINT: it’s exactly what everybody was screaming would be their problem when this team was put together):
They don’t know where the ball should be with the game on the line.
This team can run you out of the gym. They can get to the rim at will. They can give you fits with their swarming D. But they can’t close out close games.
I wonder if Pat the Rat, as he’s affectionately known here in NYC (seriously, what kind of spineless dude faxes his resignation? That’s almost as bad as the “Bellichick Napkin Hand-Off“), would have had Chris Bosh chucking a contested three to tie the game in the final seconds. I suspect not. I suspect that Erik Spoelstra, the young coach who I’ve felt was a lame duck all along, has gone from the “hot-seat” to the “THRONE OF FIRE” over these last few days.
The one thing that all three of the Heat’s most recent losses have in common, other than the fact that they blew big leads late, is that Dwayne Wade, one of the leagues deadliest “closers”, didn’t touch the ball on the game-deciding possession. How is it possible that a team this deep into a season, has not figured out how to use their deadliest weapon when they need it the most? I’ll tell you how…it appears that the Heat are all differing to Lebron’s ego, even if he’s not asking them to. Lebron is obviously an unselfish distributor and playmaker, that goes without saying, but he also has a MASSIVE ego and has portrayed himself as a guy who wants the ball with the game on the line. The problem is, he lacks the confidence, shooting ability, and killer instinct necessary to be a true “closer”. Unlike the Kobe Bryant’s and Michael Jordan’s of the world, Lebron doesn’t seem to have a knack for hitting the big shot and delivering the dagger. In crunchtime, he becomes “LeBrick” (reluctant shout out to Skip Bayless for that one).
It’s blatantly obvious from looking at his body language before, during, and after these clutch situations that the self-styled “King” is lacking that royal confidence he normally exudes in these situations. He looks tentative and indecisive, never seeming to get the shot he really wants. It’s clear that the Heat need a new end-of-game plan but it seems that Coach Spo is afraid to tell Lebron that the ball shouldn’t be in his hands in the final seconds, it should be in the hands of his estimable “side kick” (if I was delivering this piece of writing as a speech then my fingers would be exhausted from all of the air-quotes).
Now, there is solid logic behind the idea that the acquisition of Mike Bibby will make a big difference in the playoffs. He’s a seasoned veteran PG who knows how to distribute and can shoot the 3. If he can orchestrate in those final seconds of a close game, then maybe “The Triumvirate” will end up getting better looks with the game on the line. I feel that Bibby’s defensive deficiencies outweigh his offensive impact and really hurt them against teams with quicker PGs (Magic, Celtics, Bulls), but that’s a whole other post so I’ll leave that alone for now.
For the moment, it seems to me like Miami is destined to fall short of it’s stated championship goal. I haven’t seen anything to lead me to believe that they can beat the NBA’s best in a seven game playoff series. Mark my words, if coach Spoelstra is still manning that bench on the day the Heat get bounced from the tournament, it’ll be his last day on the job. Expect to see a new coach. or an OLD one, pacing the Heat sidelines next season, trying to figure out how to close out games.
-by Max Joice