By Ira Winderman
10:22 AM EDT, May 20, 2013
MAY 20, 2013
Q: OK Ira, should we be worried about Dwyane Wade's ability to play Lance Stephenson? Stephenson just looks so much more athletic than Wade. -- Teresa, Miami.
A: First, don't overstate one game. Yes, Lance looked world class on Saturday night, but the way his teammates and coach gushed tells you how surprised they were, how atypical the performance was. Yes, if Stephenson plays as well as he did in Game 6 against the Knicks and if Wade plays as middling as he did against the Bulls, then a significant advantage would be lost for the Heat. But those are two sizable "ifs." The reality, at least to this point, is that Lance Stephenson on his best day is not the player Dwyane Wade is on his most pedestrian of days.
Q: Wow, the Spurs look complete. I did not expect them to control Memphis so completely. Sure it's only one game and in San Antonio, but the Spurs are formidable at both ends. -- Chet.
A: But the Grizzlies haven't won an opener this postseason, so let's see how it plays out. Now, if the Spurs put together another rout on Tuesday night, then Heat long-range thoughts certainly could turn in that direction, considering Spurs-Grizzlies will have gone two games before the Heat even open the East semifinals.
Q: Sure the Pacers are a better team this year, but I'm tired of hearing how they pushed the Heat last year. Did people forget that Chris Bosh barely played in that series (plus the Heat played with a hobbling Wade)? C'mon people. -- Ryan, Naples.
A: So the Heat basically are injecting Bosh, Chris Andersen and Ray Allen into last year's mix. I agree, that's a considerable net gain. Yes, the Pacers are rough and tough, but they still will have to find a way to score.
MAY 19, 2013Q: The Pacers will be a tough opponent and the Heat need to do better on the boards than they did against the Pacers in the regular season. Can you see a possible Chris Bosh/Chris Anderson tandem at times if rebounding becomes an issue? -- Martin.
A: I think everyone has to get over the rebounding numbers with the Heat, especially when it hardly was an issue in the second round against the Bulls. The Heat have proven they have enough with what they're offering along the front line. Could Bosh and Birdman play together? Sure. But there also will be continued attempts to get David West out of the paint by playing Shane Battier. Heck, there might even be a spot in this series for Rashard Lewis. It will be fascinating, as Heat-Pacers seemingly always is.
Q: I'm not sure why I wanted Indiana over New York, the Pacers have a ton of large talent. -- Chet.
A: Because they have anyone who can get as insanely hot as Carmelo Anthony. Even when the Pacers are playing at their best, it usually still is a grind-out game. Yes, Paul George is terrific, but the Pacers don't have that player who can beat you on his own. The closest they come, at least when it comes to the matchup against the Heat, could be David West. Danny Granger certainly never was that player in this matchup.
Q: I wonder if they are OK in the NBA offices with no Los Angeles, New York, Boston or Chicago remaining! -- Stuart.
A: They're fine for now. But if the Heat don't advance, the question might become whether ABC will tape-delay their NBA Finals coverage until after Jimmy Kimmel or Nightline or both. Indiana-Memphis or Indiana-San Antonio would be an ABC and NBA ratings nightmare, even though there certainly would be compelling subplots.
MAY 18, 2013
Q: Is another long layoff going to result in another lackluster Heat performance in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals? It's easy to say that they learned their lesson in the last round, but not playing is not playing. Although Dwyane Wade benefits, the rest will have to fight off rust. -- Myles, Coconut Creek.
A: It's "easy to say" that they've learned their lesson, but it's difficult to actually plot a course of action so the same problems don't resurface. I think Erik Spoelstra is up to that challenge. One thing he has shown is an ability to adjust and adapt. All of that said, the Heat certainly will face a more imposing challenge in the East finals than the depleted Bulls. But that also will make the Heat aware of the significance of not having to fight to regain homecourt advantage, as they had to against the Bulls.
Q: Who do you think the Heat would rather face in the NBA Finals: Spurs or Grizzlies? The Spurs have looked pretty vulnerable in these playoffs, but Gregg Popovich and their level of experience are intimidating factors. On the other hand, the Grizzlies seem to be the more difficult matchup for the Heat, but you can't help but wonder if their inexperience on the big stage would hold them back. -- Kevin.
A: You make good points, and the Grizzlies, with quality scorers at both center and power forward, seemingly would set up as the more imposing challenge, especially if Chris Bosh gets into foul trouble. But your other point is valid, as well, that the Grizzlies could be in glad-to-be-here mode, as opposed to the Spurs, for whom it's championship or bust. So I think the better championship odds would come against Memphis, if the Heat make it out of the East.
Q: I've been Dwyane Wade's biggest fan. I never panic when it comes to him because he's always proven his doubters wrong. I just want to know: Will he be at least 90 percent by Wednesday? -- Evonte, Plantation.
A: I don't know how you put a percentage on the discomfort and pain created by a bone bruise. But don't understate what he did against the Bulls. As long as he can occupy his defender and not require defensive help on the other end, he should have the Heat at a net gain at his position.
MAY 17, 2013
Q: Ira, I am so sick of all of these Heat "fans" with the "oh no it's (insert Team X here they're scared of this week)"! I'm not saying any of the teams left will be easy, but unless LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Birdman, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, Erik Spoelstra go play on the other team, why should we be scared? -- Mike.
A: All you need to appreciate is this: The Heat are 45-3 in their last 48 games, and to dethrone them, an opponent would have to beat them four out of seven. Yes, the level of opposition will get tougher, but the Heat also have shown an ability to increase their resolve when needed. Ultimately, it all comes down to health. And that's why the Wade knee injury situation is, and should be, such a concern. Because for all the names you listed, without a healthy Wade there would not have been 45-3. But, yes, the sky isn't falling, although there just might be a few cloudy days along the way.
Q: While Wade is limited, he still has the ability to draw multiple defenders and create open opportunities for teammates. However, since he is noticeably less explosive and shooting inconsistently, will teams stop double covering him in order to keep a defender on Cole, Battier or Allen? -- David, Boynton Beach.
A: There rarely have been all-out double teams on Dwyane. Instead, it has been a case of collapsing the defense by getting into the lane. He certainly showed against the Bulls that he still could have such moments. It's not a matter of whether opponents will double, as much as whether Dwyane still can explode into the lane, leaving other defenders no option but to help.
Q: Ira, for the second year in a row Tom Thibodeau burnt out his team, so that they were injured and tired for the playoffs. He is a defensive genius, but why is he considered such a good coach -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.
A: Because he gets every last drop of potential out of his players, if not every last drop of their stamina, as well. Injuries clearly had him taking an approach he otherwise might not have. But the head games with Rip Hamilton cost opportunities to have better-rested players during the playoffs. Thibodeau made it personal at a time he could least afford, even if Rip isn't always the easiest to get along with.
MAY 16, 2013
Q: Indiana looks better than last year. Maybe New York is making them look better. But Heat-Pacers will be really, really tough for Miami to win if Dwyane Wade doesn't produce at his typical level. -- Jeffrey.
A: But the Heat also are better than that season when the teams met. Chris Andersen is a significant addition to the inside game, and there also now is Ray Allen and a vastly improved Norris Cole. As long as Dwyane Wade isn't outplayed by Lance Stephenson, then the Heat should be at least as competitive as last season in the matchup, even with the upgrade with Paul George. Yes, David West is a load at power forward, but Erik Spoelstra has shown an ability to get creative with that matchup, if need be. As it is, Dwyane's performance in Wednesday's closeout victory over the Bulls was encouraging, especially late, when needed.
Q: Is it not possible that there is a combination of things leading to Dwyane's recent play: A little bit injured, a much improved team, and maybe a little waiting for the competition? -- Jason
A: I'd say 99 percent of it is his sore right knee, which, even Wednesday, required an adjustment going into the fourth quarter. Yes, the Heat have more options than last season, but Dwyane remains the clearly defined number-two option, even with Chris Bosh's inspired recent play. And Dwyane usually loves to feast on undermanned competition, especially when it's his hometown Bulls. No, this is about the knee and only about the knee. If Dwyane could do more, he would do more. The issue now is whether he can do enough.
Q: So Sports Illustrated says LeBron is second-highest paid athlete in U.S. This obviously isn't true because Magic Johnson says LeBron isn't in any commercials. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.
A: Exactly. What it shows is the he is smart enough not to be overexposed. It's not that LeBron isn't getting the offers, it's that he can afford to be choosy.
MAY 15, 2013
Q: Hey Ira, after watching Game 4, I think it is time to shut down Dwyane Wade for the rest of the playoffs. He is completely useless out there with that knee. The Heat have enough depth around LeBron James and Chris Bosh to win a championship. Your thoughts? -- Shawn.
A: Really? You really think it has reached that point with Dwyane where he is of no more use than James Jones or Joel Anthony? Yes, he is limited, but a limited Wade still is a threat, still has had his moments in transition in this series, still can get rebounds and assists. He may not have his prime explosion, but it's not as if he has been limping around the court. Only when he bumped knees in Game 4 did we see him physically limited, and even then, he returned to have his moments. Even in this state, he is necessary in the larger championship picture.
Q: Do you think the Heat can beat the Pacers and Grizzlies with Wade like he is? -- Jeffrey.
A: Yes, if LeBron is at the top of his game. If LeBron is at the top of his game, there is more than enough in support, with Chris Bosh, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and even an emerging Norris Cole. Now, if LeBron were to become limited by an injury, that would be a different story.
Q: You were spot on at the start of the series about Nate Robinson being a flash in the pan. -- Brian.
A: Because that's who he has been over his career, moments of brilliance mixed in with moments of chaos. Yet because of that, it is possible he recover his Game 1 form in Game 5. He as capable of dramatic performance swings as any player in the league.
MAY 14, 2013
Q: Ira, everyone is talking about Kevin Durant having to play without Russell Westbrook, but isn't LeBron James playing without Dwyane Wade? -- Jack.
A: There's a big difference between having a limited Dwyane Wade and having no Russell Westbrook. The difference is being up 3-1 instead of down 3-1. But, yes, the burden has increased on LeBron, who still has Chris Bosh at his side, someone decidedly better than the current next-best Thunder player, be that Kevin Martin or Serge Ibaka. As Dwyane said Monday night, he has been dealing with the bone bruise on his right knee for weeks. Yet, he still managed to have some highly productive minutes in both this series against the Bulls and especially in the series against the Bucks. So you take what you can get and you move on. But by Wade and the Heat at least admitting there is an injury, it's a start. Now it becomes about what else needs to be done, instead of what Wade isn't doing. Saying Wade had chosen to accept such a limited role was a farce from the moment the Heat tried to pass that as fact. He's hurt. Now we know. Now everyone can move on.
Q: Is Rip Hamilton going to be factor for Game 5? -- Ryan, Naples.
A: I don't see how he can't be. It's not as if the Bulls are going to bring back Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng or Derrick Rose at this stage. The more we saw of Hamilton in Game 4, the more you have to wonder if Tom Thibodeau somehow made it personal with the veteran guard (or, for that matter, if Hamilton did something to merit banishment to the doghouse). More Rip and less Daequan Cook figures to again be the approach Wednesday. Desperate times seemingly would call for such measures.
Q: Interesting how the tough-guy routine ended for the Bulls. -- Ed.
A: It's not as if it worked. What would work for the Bulls is finding a way to make a shot or two, something the Bulls desperately needed Carlos Boozer to do in Game 4. It never should have come down to Nate Robinson's 0 for 12, because relying on Nate was fool's gold from the start.
MAY 13, 2013
Q: To keep the core together, the Heat will need to minimize role-player salary. Is Norris Cole playing himself out of their market as a bench player at the same time he is proving himself indispensable to the team? Is next season the last the Heat retain his exclusive rights? -- Jonah, Fort Lauderdale
A: Norris is under contract for a reasonable $1.1 million next season, with the Heat holding a $2 million team option for 2014-15 as part of Norris' rookie-scale deal. They also can extend a qualifying offer of $3 million for 2015-16 to retain the right to match outside free-agent offers, which likely would come in well above that figure. So, essentially, the Heat are free and clear (and able to pay on the cheap) when it comes to Norris for the next two seasons. And, let's face it, the way this team is built, you really can't think more than two years out. The greater issue is how Norris' play might impact the Heat's $4 million team option on Mario Chalmers for next season. One option could be the Heat picking up that option and then packaging Chalmers with an unloadable contract (such as Mike Miller or Joel Anthony) to alleviate some of the luxury-tax burden.
Q: I have great esteem for Tom Thibodeau in the way he maximizes his depleted talent, but he also is a complainer and pushing his team to this ridiculous UFC tough-guy scheme and losing credibility. Come on Tom, stay classy. -- Cruz.
A: It remains me of the way Pat Riley got P.J. Brown so fired up that you knew something was going to happen. The next thing you knew, Charlie Ward became a thrill ride. Yes, coaches should motivate, but those buttons should be pushed for basketball purposes. David Stern has spent years trying to remove this element of the game, it certainly has not enhanced this season's playoffs.
Q: Ira, why do you think the Heat have had so much trouble with this undermanned Bulls squad? -- Ron, Pompano Beach.
A: Because a well-coached team is a competitive team. Don't kid yourself, Tom Thibodeau with a healthy (we assume) Derrick Rose next season will be an even more imposing challenge. The Bulls with Rose, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and what they currently have could set up as a potential seven-game challenge for the Heat.
MAY 12, 2013
Q: Do teams like the Chicago Bulls engage in this immature behavior because there are so many expectations of them, given they are playing for a franchise that traditionally had success? They obviously came to this series looking for more of a street fight than a basketball game because they know they're clearly outmatched in basketball. -- Daniel B.
A: In the NBA, you do what you have to do, and it's not as if what's left of the Bulls could beat the Heat on skill alone. Tom Thibodeau is simply doing what Pat Riley would have done in the same situation. What is growing old is the rhetoric, the trying to get into the referees' heads. It's one thing to go down fighting. It's another to go down whining. Thibodeau is approaching that now.
Q: Do you fear this super-aggressive defense is not only an effective system for the Bulls but a blueprint for other teams? I can't remember a defense so throw into chaos the Heat rhythm like this one does. Or should we simply give Thibodeau his due? -- Scott.
A: If everyone could coach and play this type of defense, they would. Tom Thibodeau is a defensive genius. It's what made him one of the most coveted assistant coaches for years before he moved into the Bulls job. He is brilliant . . . until he opens his mouth during postgame press conferences.
Q: I seriously question whether the Heat are somehow contractually obligated to start the game and third quarter with Udonis Haslem. Can you tell me a combination of Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller and Shane Battier could not play those minutes far more effectively? -- Mike, Coral Spring.
A: It ain't broke. (And Erik Spoelstra has shown that at the first sign something is broken, he's more than willing to adjust.)
MAY 11, 2013
Q: Hopefully we won't have LeBron Lite on Monday. -- J.A.
A: The thing is, it's easy to lose sight of that even when he's not at his best, LeBron James still is better than most. Yes, there clearly was a too-passive approach early on during Friday's Game 3. But LeBron also never let the Heat fall too far behind, never let the Bulls gain significant confidence. And then even on an off night (for him) he still offered whatever it took in the fourth quarter to help will the Heat to victory. The reality is that LeBron's best fourth quarter is enough to trump most individual opponent's best game. No one on Friday in Chicago was better than fourth-quarter LeBron.
Q: Dwyane Wade must be hurt worse than the team is letting on, no? -- Jeffrey.
A: One would have to think, based on the passive approach Dwyane has been taking in recent games. Perhaps it's the deterrence of Joakim Noah or the team concepts of the Bulls, but you simply haven't felt championship Wade in this series. Against Indiana or New York, this Wade might not be good enough. Then again, perhaps he consciously is saving his best for last. Or perhaps that right knee is worse than is being let on.
Q: Carlos Boozer and Marquis Teague both came on the court from the bench during the Birdman and Joakim Noah altercation. Will they be suspended? -- Rico.
A: It's always a tough call when an incident occurs in front a team's bench. The rule is they can't leave the bench area during an alternation, which is tough when the incident happens in the bench area and when you're not even sure it should be classified as an altercation. There's probably plenty that the league will review from Friday's game, especially with two days off before Monday's Game 4. Figure on Tom Thibodeau's postgame comments also to be under review.
MAY 10, 2013
Q: Why is it that the Bulls get credit for playing hard, physical defense, but when the Heat meet that intensity on the defensive side, they are considered chippy? And does that brand of ball help the Heat for Game 3, as the refs will probably call the game tightly? -- Jessie, Miami.
A: You know what? Game 2 was neither particularly physical nor chippy, just an isolated series of plays that added up to little more than a bit of foolishness. The Heat always would prefer to play in the open court; that's how they're built. And, frankly, with their depleted roster, the Bulls can't afford to load up on fouls. I'm sure there will be plenty of eyes from the league office on Game 3; David Stern does not want his league returning to thug ball. But I'd also bet that Pat Riley was smiling inside about Wednesday's physical play, and how his supposedly undersized team met the challenge. By the way, on the way out of town, Scott Foster T'd up a bellman, cab driver and flight attendant, issuing a Flagrant 1 to the driver of the rental-car shuttle.
Q: The most important thing LeBron James did Wednesday night was getting Dwyane Wade all those easy buckets on a night when he was cold. Huge. That has to help Wade's confidence moving forward. -- Jason, West Boynton.
A: Keen observation. Dwyane clearly has been in somewhat of a malaise, whether it's his balky right knee or otherwise. While he has been fine with a running start, such as the alley-oop or his driving baseline dunk, the immediate explosion does not seem to be there. And the Heat's offense hardly is at its best when Wade is settling for midrange jumpers.
Q: Does Steve Kerr wear his Chicago jersey when he calls games that Chicago plays in? -- Todd.
A: Actually his Bulls boxer briefs.
MAY 9, 2013
Q: Ira, do you think Pat Riley would ever allow a player to sit on the sidelines like Derrick Rose is with the Bulls? You know that Pat would have him back on the court. -- Steve, Boca Raton.
A: No, I don't. I don't think Pat or any coach or any executive ever would force a player, especially a star, back onto the court in the wake of major, reconstructive knee surgery. If a player has a 12-month injury, it also could be a 10- or 11-month injury, or, for that matter, a 13- or 14-month injury. The difference, I can almost guarantee, is the Heat would have gone ahead and said such a player was out for the playoffs, while still allowing the player to try to work his way back. I just don't understand why Tom Thibodeau or someone isn't saying Derrick is out for the balance of the playoffs. Period. That wouldn't stop Derrick from still working his way back, and return when he is able, be it the end of the playoffs, the offseason or next season. With Pat, it's always been black and white. If you could play, you play; if you couldn't, he would deal with you when he could. These pregame Rose shooting exhibitions serve no logical purpose. There is plenty of time for him to get his shots up, otherwise.
Q: Provided the Heat get to the NBA Finals, do you think the small-ball strategy would still be effective against bigger Western Conference teams like San Antonio or the Grizzlies? Their bigs aren't slow and have mid-range games as well. -- Ken, Australia.
A: The Spurs have long been a concern, the Heat able to avoid them in the NBA Finals the past two seasons. But I've come around on the Grizzlies, and for more than the inside game of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. I didn't think Mike Conley Jr. had this in him. But just as the concern would be Tony Parker collapsing the defense for the Spurs, Conley has the potential to do the same for the Grizzlies against the Heat. So, yes, Memphis is a legitimate challenge, perhaps even more of a challenge than the Spurs.
Q: After the '07 Finals, Tim Duncan approached LeBron James and told him one day this league would be his. The way things are looking, are the stars aligning for LeBron to get his payback? -- Alexander, Miramar.
A: I think it's safe to say there is no doubt the league is now LeBron's, but championships, and not MVPs, are what ultimately will dictate his legacy. The reality is this: LeBron needs to win this season's championship, whether it's against Duncan and the Spurs or any other challenger.
MAY 8, 2013
Q: Not to completely overreact after one loss, but does the "position-less" approach not work as well against the Bulls? The main benefit of "position-less" is to space the floor and create chances at the rim or corner 3-poiners, and the Bulls do a great job of taking those away. If the advantage of having shooters on offense is neutralized, anyway, wouldn't it make sense to put better defense and rebounding on the floor? The Heat did handily beat a Bulls team with Derrick Rose two years ago, using a traditional lineup. And now you have Birdman, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Norris Cole in the rotation instead of Joel Anthony and Mike Bibby. -- Adrian.
A: So after one loss you want to abandon what made the 2012-13 Heat one of the most successful teams in decades? At this point, that only would further embolden the Bulls. And with LeBron James on the floor, you're essentially always playing "position-less" anyway. The problem with playing Chris Andersen and Norris Cole, say, with the Big Three, is that it allows the Bulls to even further compress their defense. No, what Heat shooters need to do is hit shots.
Q: Why don't the Heat start Cole over Mario Chalmers? He is faster, plays much better defense and can shoot just as well. I would think for as many boneheaded plays as Chalmers makes he would be one of the first to get cut for salary next year. -- Tony, Fort Lauderdale.
A: When it comes to Nate Robinson, I think that actually makes plenty of sense. But, again, do you change a lineup just because of the lineup a No. 5 seed is offering? But more Norris on Nate makes sense. And there could be something to be said about the Heat picking up their third-year option on Chalmers and then dealing him, if Norris continues to progress. By dealing Chalmers, the Heat might be able to off-load one of their bad contracts (Mike Miller, Joel Anthony) as well. But getting back to your original question, Mario also is the only true 3-point threat in the starting lineup, and without him the Bulls, again, could even further compact their defense.
Q: If Chris Bosh doesn't bring it for the rest of the series, consider this team toast. -- Joseph, Hollywood.
A: More certainly is needed. But LeBron James and Dwyane Wade each certainly have another level they can reach beyond Game 1.
MAY 7, 2013
Q: After watching Game 1, it showed the Heat will lose this series. They are getting out-rebounded, can't score on them, and can't stop Nate Robinson's pick-and-roll. I mean they lost to a team that doesn't have players to play. Now that Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng will come back this series is pretty much over. What's your take? --Shawn.
A: My take to you and all the others who wrote with similar concerns is to . . . exhale. This is the fourth time in five series that the Heat trailed. It seemed to work out just fine, if not a bit stressful, last season. Yes, plenty of Heat flaws were exposed, dealing with height and handling a quick point guard, but those have been issues all season, and were all overcome. Now we'll see what this team is about, how it handles adversity, something that truly has not been in place since that Feb. 1 loss in Indiana. Now it gets real.
Q: The Heat cannot have Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers on the court in the playoffs at the end of games. They are not good defenders. I know Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley are loyal guys, but Ray Allen is not the right matchup against the Bulls. Get Shane Battier out there or play Norris Cole. Watching Nate Robinson is like watching shades of J.J. Barea from 2011. Here we go again. No one on the Heat can stop him. -- Stuart.
A: I disagree about Ray. His offense, and the way he spaces the floor, offset many of the defensive concerns. But unless Mario Chalmers can show more, he cannot be on the floor in those situations. I agree that Cole could have been an answer, but spacing the floor is essential to the Heat's offensive game, and Norris doesn't necessarily do that. As for Shane Battier, he simply didn't have it Monday.
Q: The Heat went out Monday and laid an egg , wide open shots could not be made. Have they been busy reading their press clippings and not taking the Bulls seriously? -- Ron, Pompano Beach.
A: The Heat had better hope it was just rust. Truth be told, there were plenty of open looks in the first half, shots that could have broken the game open, shots they usually make. But that's the rub with the Bulls, if you let the game turn into a grind, their defense can grind you apart. Hopefully it's a lesson learned.
MAY 6, 2013
Q: This season the Heat have been able to raise their game when they're challenged by one of the league's better teams. I expect they'll play at a higher level against the Bulls than they did against the Bucks or would have against the Nets. With that in mind, is it possibly better that they face a feisty Bulls team rather than a somewhat softer Nets team? -- Andrew.
A: While it might steel them for the challenges ahead, it's also safe to say they will feel the Bulls more than they would have the Nets or did with the Bucks. That said, it's all the more reason to try to keep the series brief, to have the same recuperative opportunity they had after sweeping the Bucks. To your greater point, I can't think of a scenario where the Heat wouldn't have been better off with the Nets. Then again, after seeing the Nets in Game 7, I'm not sure that any team wouldn't have embraced them as a playoff opponent, even the Bucks.
Q: You said that the Heat might feel the Bulls more than the Knicks feel the Pacers. Hmm, sure about that? -- Brent.
A: Yes. While David West can be a load in the post, there is no Indiana player as rugged as Joakim Noah. The Bulls are feisty throughout their lineup, from Noah to Taj Gibson to Kirk Hinrich to the incredible ego machine that is Nate Robinson. Yes, the Pacers looked good Sunday against the Knicks, but the Pacers also looked shaky often enough against the Hawks.
Q: David Stern, just like he gets involved with other matters (voiding the trade of Paul to the Lakers, for example), should strike the first-place MVP vote for Carmelo Anthony. LeBron James received 120 out of 121 first-place votes. The one for Anthony is ridiculous. Come on Commissioner Stern, step up and take a stand. LeBron deserves a unanimous first place vote. -- Stuart.
A: While unanimous might have been nice, it's not as if it comes with a bonus. Just like no one remembers down the road if you swept a playoff series or merely won, the fact that the hardware is his is all that should matter. Look, if the vote was for Steve Novak or Lance Stephenson, then I think inspection might have been justified. Carmelo led the NBA in scoring, which hardly makes an MVP vote for him outrageous. The indignation is a bit much.
MAY 5, 2013
Q: Hey Ira, we know its Bulls vs. Heat in the second round. The Bulls strike fear in me after seeing them against the Nets. This series may go six or even seven games. My question is: Are the Heat afraid of them, especially with Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and possibly Derrick Rose coming back to the fold? Thanks. --Shawn
A: Afraid? Never. Respectful? You bet. To a degree, what the Bulls accomplished in their series against the Nets was built on the tenacity tenets that the Heat created their "culture" around. While it's safe to say the Heat would have preferred the glad-to-be-here Nets in the second round, there also was an appreciation of what the shorthanded Bulls accomplished. As for your question: The Bulls haven't been whole all season, so there is little reason to believe that will suddenly change. To your greater point, the Bulls will make it tough on the Heat, will wear on the Heat, no matter if it goes five, six or seven.
Q: You can take the Nets out of New Jersey, but you can't take the New Jersey out of the Nets. Da Bums! Brooklyn can't win a Game 7. Great coaching job by Tom Thibodeau. Wow. Wow. Wow. -- Stuart.
A: In the end, the Nets turned into the Meadowlands Nets. That was nothing short of disgraceful Saturday. It's one thing to lose. It's another to be afraid to step up and take shots. Yes, the Bulls' defensive tenacity had plenty to do with that, but Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez appeared overwhelmed by the moment.
Q: Are you still convinced about the Knicks making the East finals after their near-collapse against the Celtics? -- Wayne.
A: I still think they have too many weapons for the Pacers in the second round, as well as enough answers to keep Indiana's stars in check. So, yes, I expect them to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
MAY 4, 2013
Q: Ira, after three years against Boston in the playoffs, it won't happen again for the Heat. Is the Heat-Celtics rivalry over? -- Matty, Coral Springs.
A: I was going to say there's just something about these Celtics, how they just won't die. But the reality is that even if Rajon Rondo makes it all the way back to his former self, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett simply aren't that same players. The question with Pierce is that if the Celtics invoke their buyout by their June 30 deadline, might he and Ray Allen find a way to make nice and reunite in . . .? Sure it's a longshot, but Pierce is guaranteed $5 million from the Celtics for next season even with his buyout.
Q: If we already know LeBron James is going to be named MVP, what's left for Sunday? -- George.
A: With LeBron, especially after his 2012-13 regular season, there's always room for superlatives. Still to be seen is whether his selection is unanimous, and, for that matter, who else finished in the top five of the balloting.
Q: Considering where the Lakers ended up this season, you have to admit the Heat's first season with the Big Three was impressive. Usually teams have to lose once or twice in the conference playoffs before even getting to the Finals. The Heat ran into a veteran-hungry team and came within two games of winning the NBA Finals. -- Stuart.
A: But the Heat also did not go through anything injury-wise like what the Lakers endured this season with Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. The reality is the Lakers might have done some damage had they remained ambulatory.
MAY 3, 2013
Q: I always liked Patrick Beverley's game. I never understood why he got cut the first year of the Big Three. Do you think the Heat should have picked him back up instead of re-signing Jarvis Varnado? -- Paul, Miami.
A: First of all, we have to remember where the Heat were in 2010 coming out of camp, in a win-now mode, where it was all veterans on deck, thus the decision to retain Eddie House and Carlos Arroyo (who later was replaced by Mike Bibby). It simply was not the best time for a developmental project. More recently, I think Patrick had moved on when it came to the Heat. When I spoke to him during the Rockets' visit to AmericanAirlines Arena, I got the impression that he remained uncertain of why the Heat put so much into his contract guarantee and then allowed him to depart. All of that said, as I've said for years, a dogged, defensive-minded third point guard could have come in handy (sorry Pat, I'm never giving that one up). To a degree, I give the Heat credit for recognizing Patrick's promise. On the other hand, it's not as if there wasn't roster space since that draft-night acquisition to try to make it work. But that's also hindsight, considering it's not as if the Rockets had overwhelming competition when it came to bringing him back from Europe this season. Beverley got away, got back into the NBA, is having his playoff moment, and the Heat won a championship in the interim. That seemingly should make all involved happy.
Q: Kenyon Martin leading the Knicks to wear black suits to the Celtics' supposed funeral may answer why he is not in Miami. -- Daniel.
A: Could be. The constant from the Heat coaching staff and management is "chemistry, chemistry, chemistry," and the chemistry is this locker room has been awesome. But let's not also overstate one fashion faux pas, when it came to Wednesday's dark moment for the Knicks. Kenyon Martin has been terrific on the court this season for New York. Would he have fit into the Heat's rotation? I'm not sure the staff would have ceded Udonis Haslem's minutes to him. I also don't think the Heat are the type of team that would have tried to sign him just to block the Knicks.
Q: Where's your playoff mustache like Shane Battier's? -- Grant.
A: Mine grows in like Mike Miller's, which is to say not very well at all.
MAY 2, 2013
Q: Ira, when Jason Collins announced that he was gay, it got me thinking about the major impact he could have on a team like, say, the Heat. Collins has long been known as being a great teammate and heavy positive influence in the locker room. And at 34, he's got a few more years left in the tank, and may be a bargain at a minimum salary. Not to mention that I can't think of a place that would be more welcoming to Collins than the city of Miami. It would be a win-win for both parties. Any thoughts? -- Bobby, Lincoln, Neb.
A: If a decision is made, it will purely be a basketball decision. Foremost, bigger, lumbering centers such as Collins largely have fallen out of favor, with quickness and shooting range the current preference. Beyond that, if the Heat retain Chris Andersen and continue to try to develop Jarvis Varnado, there likely wouldn't be a place. Such a decision could come down to whether the Heat could unload the contract of Joel Anthony. I also think Jason would weigh playing time much more than the composition of the community. The most important aspect of this whole breakthrough is that the decision have to be basketball first, just as they previously were for Jason and his employers.
Q: The Heat are going to two summer leagues with who? They have no draft picks this year, right? -- Steve.
A: Correct. Their first-round pick goes to the Cavaliers from the 2010 LeBron James sign and trade (the choice since moved to the Lakers and then the Suns), with their second-round pick going to the Grizzlies from the Dexter Pittman salary dump. But with the Heat so hard up against the luxury tax, it will be imperative to develop low-priced talent, with summer league the place to do that.
Q: Shane Larkin, first-round pick or not? -- O.K.
A: He is teetering between first round and second in most mock drafts. It could come down to what he measures in at at the Chicago combine. Anything shorter than his listed 5-11 and it could be an issue.
MAY 1, 2013
Q: The Heat don't get a few days off, they get NFL-long bye weeks. -- Nathan.
A: Which leads to the question of how much is too much. To a degree, the league essentially gave a break to the Bulls (but not the Nets), by not opening the second round against the Heat on Saturday night, as initially thought. That would have given Chicago a quick turnaround from Thursday's Game 6. Now the turnaround will be quick for Chicago only if their series against the Nets goes seven games, with that Game 7 scheduled for Saturday. As for the Heat, I think this roster is beyond concerns about time off.
Q: Do Heat automatically play the Bulls-Nets winner, or is it lowest seed available and you just aren't giving the Hawks a chance? -- Jakes.
A: Unlike the NFL and NHL, the NBA does not re-seed. Part of the reason is because of the staggered starts of series, to make sure there are always weekend games available for ABC and national television. But the Knicks would get a heck of a break if Atlanta does advance. To a degree, the NBA playoffs are like the NCAA Tournament, with a locked-in bracket, even if April-May-June Madness doesn't sound quit as snappy.
Q: Hey Ira, clearly Dwyane Wade's knee is of major concern. How do you think the Heat should manage this injury going forward? I would assume the goal would be to get him as healthy as possible, or was that just what they were trying to do at the end of the regular season? -- Adrian, Pembroke, Pines.
A: The injury happened so close to the end of the season that there wasn't time to get it fully right. Ten days off should work wonders. If not, then we could be looking at maintenance throughout the postseason.
APRIL 30, 2013
Q: Hey Ira, I am really worried about Dwyane Wade's injury. Even though he will have a week off to rest his knee, it might come back again and we need him against the Bulls. Without him, the Heat will lose to the Bulls, considering how well the Bulls have played so far in these playoffs, and they have the blueprint to beat the Heat. What's your take? Thanks. -- Shawn
A: Dwyane could have played Sunday, he just wasn't needed. Nine days off should cure most bruises. This is not a case, like last season's playoffs, of needing to have the knee drained or follow-up surgery. Dwyane sat Sunday because his teammates put him in a position where he could. And while the Bulls can be imposing, the Heat have most of their rotation players playing at the top of their game, save, perhaps, for Shane Battier's shooting struggles and Mario Chalmers' inconsistency.
Q: You said a couple of times here that Ray Allen's best is yet to come, that it would come in the playoffs. You were so right. -- Habib, Calgary.
A: It's who Ray Allen is, a big-moment player. Erik Spoelstra did a terrific job of measuring Ray's minutes during the regular season so he could be ready for moments like this. With the way Ray played against the Bucks, I think the why-not-Mike-Miller-instead chorus has been muted.
Q: The Heat might have won another championship in 2005 if they had more depth. Pat Riley and Micky Arison have learned. -- Stuart.
A: And yet it will be interesting to see how Arison handles spending on a support system going forward. While he is a fan of success, he also has a reputation to uphold as a successful and prudent businessman.
APRIL 29, 2013
Q: It is only appropriate that the Heat were the first team to advance to the second round of the 2013 NBA playoffs. The Heat took care of business. That is a sign of maturity. -- Stuart.
A: The fact that they were joined hours later by the Spurs, as the only teams at this point to advance, says plenty about teams that have far greater designs than merely a first-round series. Yes, the Heat had a few uneven moments against the Bucks, but there never was doubt at the end of any of the four games. Right now, Heat-Spurs is looking like where this all is headed. Figure both coaches actually will play their regulars if that happens.
Q: Ira, I live near Chicago (unfortunately) and have to deal with nothing but obnoxious Bulls fans year-round. My worst sports nightmare would be Chicago upsetting Miami in the second round. What do you think is the possibility of this actually happening? -- Jake.
A: I would never, ever assume anything against a team coached by Tom Thibodeau, who not only gets his players to run through walls, but commands respect to the point where his players then would stay to clean up the mess. And then there is the whole Derrick Rose thing. Even if Rose is limited, he and Nate Robinson would at least give an offensively challenged team a pair of potential streak scorers.
Q: Once again, Udonis Haslem quietly does his job. -- Steve.
A: When he's hitting that midrange jumper, it opens up so much in the offense. And he was very aggressive in the paint against a Bucks roster with plenty of length. Keeping him in the starting lineup proved prudent by Erik Spoelstra.
APRIL 28, 2013
Q: What has the Heat-vs.-Bucks series proved? That the NBA can figure out how to collect revenue for four extra playoff games? Does the NBA ever worry about putting out a product that isn't compelling? You have to admit these games have been hard to watch from an excitement standpoint. -- Steve.
A: As has been the case for much of the Eastern Conference playoffs, save for Saturday's Nets-Bulls epic, a triple-overtime thriller, albeit with its share of uneven moments. The West long has been known for its more creative play, and that certainly has been the case in the wonderful, visually appealing Nuggets-Warriors series. But the slog in the East, I agree, has been almost painful to endure. And that might not change, with the physical style the Bulls and Pacers are expected to deliver to the second round.
Q: I guess Jason Terry will be having drinks with Brandon Jennings soon. They can talk about their predictions. -- Stuart.
A: To Terry's credit, he at least has a championship ring to back up some of the boasts. But anyone who thought he could serve as a replacement for Ray Allen in Boston had a rude awakening this season. When your highlight moment of a season is getting posterized by LeBron James, well, it hasn't been much of a season. As for Jennings, I give him credit for his gumption. At least his Milwaukee-in-six prediction got someone to notice the Bucks. Now whether Jennings' play in the Heat series costs him on the free-agent market this summer is another story.
Q: Ira, will Dwyane Wade be worth a max deal in 2014? Wade's knees are shortening his career by the day and the Heat have to look at the future. With LeBron and Chris Bosh as free agents in 2014, do you believe they want to play three or four more years with a player who may not be able to play over 25 minutes in the future? -- John, Ocala.
A: Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg have been very creative with contracts and I believe that will be the case with Dwyane when he comes to the end of his current deal (with an increased possibility now that he does not opt out in 2014 or 2015, but rather allows the contract to expire in 2016, knowing he may not get the annual salaries he already has in place).
APRIL 27, 2013
Q: Ira, this is the worst playoff season ever, at least eight of the top 30 NBA players are out with injuries. -- Omied, Los Angeles.
A: Well, in some cases, like with Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Danny Granger or even Kobe Bryant, it has nothing to do with the playoffs. And while there have been plenty of freak injuries along the way, from Russell Westbrook to David Lee, it doesn't seem out of the realm to question whether the NBA season is too grueling, just as NFL players have fought a longer season in their sport. Sure an ACL or Achilles can go at any time, but the pressure to play in so many games well may be exacerbating injuries. Joakim Noah, in his diminished state, certainly is an example of that. As the 2011-12 lockout schedule showed, there simply don't have to be 82 games. Now if only the players would agree to a commensurate salary rollback.
Q: With Russell Westbrook out, who do you think will face the Heat in the Finals? -- Carl, Kapaa, Hawaii.
A: Well, "if" the Heat again make the Finals, you'd have to figure San Antonio now holds the upper hand in the West. But I wouldn't count out the Clippers, who have a depth of talent, if not necessarily a playoff-level halfcourt offense.
Q: Why not rest Dwyane Wade for Game 4 in Milwaukee? This will give him over a week to recover. Mike Miller showed he can more than take over the position when necessary. There is no reason for Wade to play injured now. It's better for him to be at full strength against the Bulls and Knicks. -- Bob, Miami.
A: I agree, if the knee is as bad as it appears. And I also agree about Mike, who practically deserves the opportunity. Beside, as long as Ray Allen is available as a closer, the Heat should be fine.
APRIL 26, 2013
Q: How concerned should we be that Dwyane Wade claims he's "not even close" to feeling 100 percent physically? Does he think he's going to get stronger as the playoffs progress? Or is this going to be a similar scenario to last year's playoffs? -- Jake
A: It's an odd situation. He couldn't have looked any more explosive than he did in Tuesday's home victory, then he came out and had a career-worst postseason shooting effort in Milwaukee on Thursday night. For a while, I thought they were playing possum about the knee, but there clearly is an issue. While holding him out Sunday might be extreme, getting a victory Sunday would be significant because it would guarantee at least five days off before the next round begins. When Dwyane has been fresh, he has been very good. But clearly he will have to be nursed through upcoming games.
Q: Samuel Dalembert said that Heat would be one of his options this summer. With Birdman likely to be offered a new contract, do you think the Heat still want him? Maybe he can take Udonis Haslem's role -- Tom, Maryland.
A: At best, Dalembert would be a fallback option if Chris Andersen signs for more elsewhere or perhaps if Joel Anthony's contract could be offloaded. But for as much as Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra talk about the Heat's culture, I'm not sure that Dalembert fits that culture. I'm not sure he has the passion for the game that the Heat insist upon. If there is Heat interest, it would come later in free agency, if at all, and at the minimum, at the most. He hardly was impressive Thursday. I don't know what Drew Gooden has done, but you would think with some of the Bucks' struggles that they would be able to find minutes for him, perhaps instead of Dalembert.
Q: Where have the white seat covers gone for the "White Hot" home games? -- Jim, Fort Lauderdale.
A: LeBron needed them for his impending wedding.
Q: I would love to see more of Chris Bosh going to the hoop. -- Chet.
A: But that's not the strategy this series. The strategy is to draw Larry Sanders to the perimeter, and possibly Ersan Ilyasova, as well, to create those driving lanes that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been taking advantage of. When you think about all the penetration LeBron and Dwyane have produced, do you really want to reduce that just to create opportunities for Bosh? To a degree, this is another case of the "sacrifice" that Erik Spoelstra talks about, of Chris getting out of the way for the greater good.
Q: Ira, your "if it ain't broke" mentality is all well and good, but what if it's cracked? I mean. it clearly looks like Udonis Haslem's fast-twitch muscles went slow-twitch in a matter of months. Haslem needs to see playing time sparingly these days. -- Jowall, Hialeah.
A: But that's exactly what is happening, with Udonis playing minimal minutes. And, fact is, at 2-0 in this series, it ain't broke. It still is highly possible Erik Spoelstra makes a lineup switch with Udonis -- when, or if, needed. For now, it's all good just the way it is.
Q: I know all these LeBron questions about 2014 are annoying because it all depends on the final outcome of this and next season, where he goes. However, with the hiring of Mike Brown, do you see that as working in favor of the Cavs in 2014 or against them in trying to acquire LeBron? -- Jeremy, Hollywood.
A: Neither. LeBron didn't leave the Cavaliers to play for Erik Spoelstra. He left to play alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (and, truth be told, Mike Miller). If the Cavaliers can add another A-list draft choice alongside Kyrie Irving and then sign a top-tier free agent either this offseason or in 2014, only then will LeBron seriously deliberate Cleveland. He's not leaving to play for Brown with Cleveland's roster as currently constituted.
APRIL 24, 2013
Q: Who do you think the Heat would prefer playing in the second round? I think history has proven time and time again that it takes offensively-skilled players to win in the playoffs and Brooklyn has a few of them on its roster, while Chicago, although a very gritty team, has absolutely none without Derrick Rose. Let's face it, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are certainly not All-Stars because of their abilities on the offensive end. -- Kevin
A: There's still something about the Bulls that causes concern. Perhaps it's Tom Thibodeau's ability to squeeze every last ounce out of his available roster, as he did in Monday's victory in Brooklyn. Perhaps it's Rose lingering there in the background, amid reports about how he's "killing it" in practice. If the Nets advance to the second round, they'd probably hold a parade in Brooklyn. If the Bulls advance, they'd want even more, possibly with Rose back in the lineup. For now, the best option is to have them beat each other up in a lengthy series, while the Heat focus on making quick work of the Bucks in Milwaukee.
Q: The Heat remind me of Muhammad Ali, make you think you have a chance, but then you are all punched out and Ali knocks you out in the late rounds. -- Martin.
A: Which might work against Joe Bugner and the Bucks, but it is a dangerous game for the Heat to try to play in later rounds, when opponents such as the Knicks or Pacers will be better suited to match them blow for bow.
Q: I am not complaining. The Heat are up 2-0 against Milwaukee. But can't we see more of Mike Miller? When his shot is falling, fans fill the arena with the same energy we see from Birdman and Norris Cole. Miller can easily run off five or six threes in a row. In last year's NBA Finals, he basically destroyed any chance of OKC winning Game 5. Miller also rebounds and has an uncanny ability to make plays by being in the right place on the court. He is a fan favorite and healthy now. In practice, Miller doesn't miss. It seems unfathomable that such a pure shooter (nothing but net) doesn't get to play more often. I heard one fan say play him instead of Udonis Haslem. Why can't Spoelstra move to a ten-man rotation? -- Stuart.
A: Because it ain't broke, that's why. And getting Ray Allen and Shane Battier confidence in these early games could pay greater dividends than perhaps even Mike can provide later. And even Mike appreciates that.
APRIL 23, 2013
Q: Will the Heat have to yell at Mario Chalmers more if we are going to repeat? It seemed to work wonders last year. -- Sal, Coral Springs.
A: Mario certainly was all over the place in Game 1 against the Bucks, especially with his defense. But I'm not sure there are many guards in the league who can consistently keep Brandon Jennings in front of them. What is needed from Mario is a modicum of consistency. While the Heat can get past the Bucks with the combination of Mario/Wario, something more reliable will be required once the level of competition rises this postseason.
Q: If Birdman wants to, can the Heat offer him the veteran-minimum for next season, like what they offered to Rashard Lewis this season? -- M.J., Rome.
A: Sure, but Chris Andersen, as an impending unrestricted free agent also has the right to shop his services starting July 1.
Q: Novelty uniforms are fun in the regular season, but only the main three uniforms should be worn in the playoffs. -- I.B.H.
A: I agree, with the Heat switching so often between their road reds and blacks that it's difficult to tell which is the primary road uniform (technically the black uniforms). But the Heat have already sold plenty of those, so now the kids can get you to drain the wallet one more time. (Actually, since the "White Hot" uniforms are rather basic, just get a white T-shirt, a black Sharpie, cut off the sleeves and make your own "White Hot" jersey. I'm sure no one will be able to tell the difference.)
APRIL 22, 2013
Q: I already knew Erik Spoelstra wouldn't change the starting lineup. Well, that's on him if they don't repeat as champions. -- Queen.
A: First, the possibility of Spoelstra changing lineups and going with Shane Battier instead of Udonis Haslem was never anything more than media speculation (myself included). But even then, it was pointed out (here and elsewhere) when you win 37 of your final 39 regular-season games, there's also plenty of merit in the status quo. That doesn’t mean there might not be further adjustment, particularly now if Larry Sanders, going forward, is going to be guarding Udonis instead of Chris Bosh. Still, Udonis only played 17 minutes Sunday, so there still were plenty of times that Milwaukee's big men had to pick their poison. Erik will change only if the Bucks force him into that position, which doesn't appear likely based on how Game 1 went.
Q: So let's get this straight, Mike Miller averages roughly 13 points a game for three weeks and earns no playing time? -- Bo.
A: Um, perhaps I might have missed something. But the Heat did win Sunday's opener 110-87. So Spoelstra made a mistake with his rotation how? In fact, save for Shane Battier being off with his shot, just about everyone who played in the primary rotation had their moments. This is who the Heat are, a team of quality depth. Perhaps the consternation should be for the Bucks not playing Samuel Dalembert or not even having Drew Gooden active.
Q: Chris Andersen has become the Heat's Dennis Rodman. We've got to get him on a two-year deal this summer. He's a major piece. -- D.J.
A: And as long as he's willing to play for $3 million a season (the most the Heat can offer), it shouldn't be an issue. Birdman sure looks like he's having a good enough time.
APRIL 21, 2013
Q: What situation would LeBron be in if he didn't win the championship last season? He seems to have led a charmed existence since. -- Winston, Auckland.
A: On one hand, the 2012 title allowed LeBron to exhale this season, and he seemingly became both a different player and different person. Yet I like the approach he has taken on the eve of these playoffs, looking at it as if he is trying to win his first title all over again. LeBron's hunger was undeniable during last year's playoffs. A similar approach in these opening games effectively would put the league on notice.
Q: Sometimes I wish they hired The Rock to do some trash talking on behalf of the Heat. -- Eddie.
A: And yet the Heat are the ones saying there is no need for trash talk, just respect for the opposition and the process. In fact, for all the talk that has come out of Milwaukee, has there been a single Heat player who has attached a prediction or number to this series against the Bucks? There is no need for the Heat or anyone else to smell what The Rock is cooking. They already have the championship scent.
Q: Stan Van Gundy, Phil Jackson (if he wants to coach again) or any quality coach should probably wait another year before getting back into coaching because the real estate could change in 2014. -- Stuart.
A: Or teams could try to put those types of coaches in place ahead of time in order to immediately try to attract the attention of impending 2014 free agents. But I'm not sure we'll ever see Phil Jackson on the sidelines again. We could, however, again see a pair of Van Gundys.
APRIL 20, 2013
Q: I see nothing wrong his Brandon Jennings' comments. Why compete if you don't think you can win? That's why the games are played. -- Jenkins.
A: Totally agree. But there also is something to be said about letting your play do the talking. It would be one thing if Jennings didn't previously say he was hoping to play the Heat in the opening round, with the Bucks then essentially falling apart, surviving only because there wasn't a ninth, playoff-worthy team in the East. The difference between confidence and cockiness is a fine line. Cockiness is when you haven't done anything yet to back up the talk. Brandon still seems to fall into that category.
Q: Do you find it strange that the Miami Heat will not be on ABC during the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs? -- Stuart.
A: Well, the only chance would have been for Game 1, and with only two ABC slots on opening weekend, an argument could be made that the chance of a blowout was too risky. Still, it used to be that Lakers vs. anyone was network worthy back in the Shaq-Kobe days. The fact that Heat-Bucks in Game 2 is on NBA TV says that the NBA networks' current approach is anyone but the Bucks.
Q: Hi Ira, do you expect to see Monta Ellis' self comparison to Dwyane Wade resurface within the next few days? -- Omied, Los Angeles.
A: Sure, like when Dwyane has a lot of points in the series opener and Monta doesn't. The Heat have shown an ability to keep a designated player down, as they did with Jeremy Lin last season. The question is whether Jennings become the greater priority this series. Monta clearly was the regular-season focus.
APRIL 19, 2013
Q: The loss to Chicago three weeks ago was probably the best thing to happen to this Heat team. It allowed the stars (as well as the bench) to get much-needed rest and get healthy for playoffs. -- Martin.
A: And it allowed Erik Spoelstra and the players who received the unexpected extra time to have the confidence that if called upon they could produce. Look, even if they broke the all-time winning streak, there still would have been plenty of time for rest. But what Dwyane Wade showed with Wednesday's performance was that the time off did not take away his edge. So instead of having confidence in five or six players, the Heat go into the playoffs knowing Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis and James Jones are willing to fire away at short notice, that Norris Cole can thrive in big minutes if needed, and that even Juwan Howard has something left. Shy of Jarvis Varnado, just about everyone on the roster has created increased confidence these past three weeks.
Q: Did the Knicks sign Quentin Richardson to play LeBron James in practice, assuming the Knicks and Heat get to the Eastern Conference finals? -- Stuart.
A: I don't believe he was signed to emulate LeBron; I think he was signed to try to help stop the likes of LeBron and Paul Pierce, with the Knicks somewhat lacking a perimeter stopper. Whether there is anything left from Q-Rich is another story. Now Earl Barron being signed by the Knicks, that has to send shudders through the rest of the playoff field.
Q: Why does Miami's first-round series take 14 days and the Knicks' series have 16 days? Is that fair? -- Hugo, Hialeah.
A: If either team uses the maximum amount of days we'll have a bigger story than length of series. I'm sure the Heat are looking at their first-round schedule as something closer to an eight-day calendar.
APRIL 18, 2013
Q: Are the Heat and are we overlooking the Nets? They have been playing well the last quarter of the season. -- Ryan.
A: While it is a bit early to be looking ahead to the second round, I agree that overlooking the Nets would be a mistake, since Deron Williams did not play nearly as well in the three regular-season losses to the Heat as he has recently. Brook Lopez also appears to have found his footing and could present inside challenges. It's just that the Nets' wings, especially Gerald Wallace, have been so uninspiring that it is difficult to view them as a prime challenge. But the Heat have not seen the Nets since Jan. 29, so is certainly has been a while. All of that said, it remains more likely that the Bulls, who seemingly play playoff-style basketball, emerge from that opening-round series that feeds into the Heat's series.
Q: The Lakers have proven that talent doesn't equal wins. With all that the Heat have accomplished over the last three seasons, why isn't Erik Spoelstra Coach of the Year? -- Vin, Cummings, Ga.
A: He very well might be. That announcement will be made during the course of the postseason, likely before LeBron James is named Most Valuable Player. Sixty-six wins is an impressive resume no matter the roster. And even when his stars sat late in the season, Spoelstra still found a way to push his team to victory. But I'm also sure Erik would take another championship ring over a first coaching award.
Q: Are there any rules in place that would prevent the Heat from using the amnesty on Mike Miller in the offseason, then resigning him to the minimum? -- Mike, Miami.
A: Yes. That can't be done. Once you amnesty a player, you cannot bring him back until the expiration of his contract that you'd still be paying off. So if Mike is amnestied, he would be gone for good. Stay tuned.
APRIL 17, 2013
Q: Does it give the Heat a stronger starting five by starting the Birdman? -- Shawn, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
A: "Stronger"? Perhaps. But with so much of the Heat's offense predicated on keeping the lane open for LeBron James post-ups or penetration, as well as drives by Dwyane Wade, it makes little sense to have Chris Andersen and Chris Bosh on the court for extended stretches. Besides, Andersen has been highly effective in the second unit with Norris Cole, Ray Allen and Shane Battier. That's not to say there might not be times when the Heat will have to go big, with Birdman certainly an attractive option against Roy Hibbert down the road. If there is a change in the starting lineup, it likely would be a move to last season's NBA Finals lineup with Battier at power forward in place of Udonis Haslem.
Q: I bet if the Heat made an offer to Keyon Dooling (who helped put away the game Monday for the Grizzlies with a 3-pointer) he would have signed here instead of Memphis. However, he wouldn't have gotten the playing time he will get with Memphis. -- Martin.
A: Look, don't get me started on the whole third-point-guard thing. It just makes little sense to me to be carrying both Jarvis Varnado and Juwan Howard, with no insurance protection for an injury to Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole. But they're the defending champion and prohibitive favorite to repeat, so who are we to argue?
Q: At the end of the season could Pat Riley amnesty Joel Anthony and re-sign Birdman? -- Vin, Cummings, Ga.
A: An amnesty move with Joel or any other player would have no impact on salary space coming available. With or without an amnesty move, the Heat would be limited to either a minimal salary for Andersen or the single-use $3 million taxpayer's mid-level exception.
APRIL 16, 2013
Q: Hope we can keep Bird, he meshes so well. -- John.
A: Chris Andersen has been a solid fit, but the Heat are extremely limited in their offseason maneuverability, essentially limited to a $3 million taxpayer mid-level exception and then nothing beyond minimum salaries (Andersen would be eligible for the minimum plus 20 percent). So, first, the question becomes whether the Heat want to use that chip and forgo other options, and then whether the Heat would want to exercise the mid-level at all because of their tax situation. Considering the amnesty money Andersen is collecting from Denver, perhaps he would be willing to accept less. But it also could come down to whether Ray Allen picks up his option year (I think he will). Otherwise, the Heat might have to address a perimeter option in free agency, especially if Mike Miller is cast aside during the July amnesty period. The future of Joel Anthony could factor in as well, if the Heat can find a trade partner for him, or perhaps make him their amnesty cut.
Q: Would the Heat consider Captain Jack in the offseason? -- R.V.G.
A: My initial reaction was, "Stephen Jackson, are you crazy?" But with the Heat so limited in their free-agency and tax flexibility, I think they would give thought to every and any possibility at the veteran's minimum. Still, if Jackson's primary issue in San Antonio was playing time, then that flies in the face of the Heat's "sacrifice" mentality, something the front office likely would not want to saddle Erik Spoelstra with. If a player isn't good enough for Gregg Popovich to keep than he probably isn't worth the bother for Pat Riley.
Q: Riley will give Dexter Pittman Heat tickets for the playoffs. -- Rob.
A: It's kind of sad, but not surprising, how far the former Heat draft project has fallen, released Sunday by the Grizzlies. In essence, the trading-deadline deal in February was more about Memphis getting the accompanying second-round pick (and cash) from the Heat, and the Heat getting a trade exception and the open roster spot to add Juwan Howard. I'm not sure Dexter finds his way back into the league.
APRIL 15, 2013
Q: We all love Udonis Haslem, but hasn't Rashard Lewis impressed with defense, shot blocks, 3-pointer, rebounding and assists, making a case for Haslem's minutes? -- Jack Sanibel.
A: Has Rashard played well? Yes. But let's not overstate this time of season, when it comes to who the opposition has in the lineup, how the stakes are reduced, with the Heat's seeding locked in for weeks. But, yes, he has played well. Thing is, Haslem's per-minute rebounding has been good enough for him to retain his position. But (and this is a big "but") if Erik Spoelstra moves Shane Battier into his playoff starting lineup, then I could see Udonis' minutes possibly going elsewhere, perhaps to Rashard. So it could come down to whether Udonis starts, since he is playing token starter's minutes anyway.
Q: Nowadays a Buck doesn't go very far. -- Steven.
A: Oh, I get it. Yes, Milwaukee should not pose much of a threat in the first round. But I also do not see a sweep, not with the ability of Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings to get hot and hit a busload of 3-pointers, perhaps both doing it in the same game.
Q; If LeBron James ever had a serious injury like Kobr Bryant's (God forbid), would ESPN televise the surgery? -- Abanoub.
A: Of course, they would call it "The Incision."
APRIL 14, 2013
Q: Let's go Hawks, make that No. 1 seed a whole lot sweeter! -- Daniel.
A: All of which is a reason that I think the Heat go hard for the win against the Bulls on Sunday, to at least try to knock Chicago into the other side of the East bracket. Of course, it's not as if Atlanta can be relied upon to take care of their end of the bargain (if the Hawks, indeed, truly even want to get to No. 5). The Heat will never come out and say it, but I'm sure they'd much rather deal with the Nets or Hawks in the second round than the Bulls.
Q: Rose, Rondo, Granger and Stoudemire. Think the road for the Heatles is a little bit easier? -- Billy.
A: And that's just the East, with Kobe out for the Lakers and the Spurs stumbling with their own injury concerns. Yet the reality is the Celtics initially played better without Rajon Rondo, the Pacers appear to be a better team without Danny Granger (at least when it comes to casting Paul George as a leading man), the Knicks haven't been nearly as efficient with Amare Stoudemire in the lineup, and the Bulls remained competitive without Derrick Rose. There still are plenty of hazards in the East if the Heat don't watch their step.
Q: Does Kobe show that you have to be careful with how old your mainline players are? -- Jabari.
A: No, because Kobe's injury was misstep, one that could happen at any age. Now, should a team be concerned about growing old? Sure. But the age issues with the Heat are not the Big Three, but rather some in the supporting cast. The key is to inject younger talent into the mix, as well, if possible.
APRIL 13, 2013
Q: I don't believe the Heat will amnesty Mike Miller. He has proven to be too valuable, not only as a player, but as a "Riley chip" for future possible bargaining for another player. Miller now has some trade value. If he is amnestied, the Heat get nothing back. Yes, next year Miller has a $6.2 million contract, but for comparison, Joel Anthony and James Jones will have a combined $5.2 million. Also, Riley has shown great loyalty to players that produce; it's part of the Riley Culture. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both want to play with Miller. Also, the Heat are playing for championships and that allows for more spending than if the Heat were buried in the standings. Micky Arison and Pat Riley have both said the Heat will spend if it is for a championship, and Miller has contributed. No, I don't see Riley giving Miller away for nothing in return, even if it saves a few bucks. Arison is not Donald T. Sterling. -- Roland, Portland.
A: I hope you are right. I would love to see Mike stay, for his locker-room presence and his playing possibilities. But for all he has done recently, the reality is that 80 percent of the time the tax meter is rolling on Mike's contract without any payoff on the court. Another reality is that everything Mike has done, and been asked to do, likely could be accomplished by a minimum-salary veteran, sort of as Rashard Lewis has done this season. Yes, Mike and LeBron are close, but LeBron also appreciates the luxury-tax implications on the overall roster. Then again, there will be time before the July amnesty window for the Heat to possibly work a Miller trade for lower-cost alternative.
Q: Hey Ira, barring a major injury to LeBron, I don't see any real obstacles to another championship. Certainly, a team from the West may give us some scary moments, but that's the drama of the game. My question is: Why not bring everyone back? -- Cheryl, Fort Lauderdale.
A: The Mike Miller bandwagon clearly has arrived (Friday's 0 for 6 notwithstanding). Look, while it certainly is all about championships, the reality is that everyone else beyond the Big Three is not only expendable, but replaceable. But if Micky Arison is willing to pay the maximum luxury tax required to keep it together, well, that certainly is his prerogative.
Q: As much as I hate the Knicks, I wanted them to beat Bulls on Thursday night. A second-round matchup against Chicago will be very, very tough. -- Jeffrey.
A: I agree. The Bulls are as gritty as any playoff team in the East. They will fight you for every inch, even as they're also having nights like Friday in Toronto.
APRIL 12, 2013
Q: It's obvious that Boston did not value the skills of Ray Allen enough. -- Jabari.
A: I think that's an overstatement, since they were willing to pay more than the Heat offered in order to bring Ray back. But you also have to look at it from where the Celtics stand, and that regardless of Ray's free-agency decision, they were going to keep Avery Bradley in their starting lineup. It clearly is easier for a player to move into a bench role elsewhere than where he had been an enduring starter. Plus, the Celtics saw the need to get more efficient with their perimeter defense, so Kevin Garnett didn't have to work as relentlessly as the last line of defense. All of that said, I still think the best of Ray will come in the playoffs, at the biggest moments. The Celtics moved on. That happens. The payoff for the Heat has been substantial. Now the question becomes whether Ray stays for his option year.
Q: So are you ready to spend a couple of boring days in Milwaukee in the first round? -- S.F.
A: Brats and beer, what not to like? Milwaukee in April (I hope) is a heck of a lot different than visiting in December or February. I don't think I'll have to use the indoor walkways this time on the way to the Bradley Center. But unless Monta Ellis picks up his play from his poor regular-season performances against the Heat, it might not be the best of viewing during the first round.
Q: Are there any amnesty targets this summer that would welcome a veteran's minimum from the Heat? -- Sherif.
A: The Heat might have maxed out that option, considering the payoffs they've been able to get from Rashard Lewis and especially Chris Andersen. In fact, this coming summer might mean the amnesty loss of Mike Miller. Metta World Peace could be a possibility, depending on how he deals with his contract, but I'm not sure Pat Riley would want to go there. Only 15 teams still have the right to amnesty a player, and only about 35 or so players remain eligible for the clause.
APRIL 11, 2013
Q: Ira, the league-wide maintenance program is now in effect for playoff teams. When will the league just shorten the season? Also, it would be intriguing if they created a one-game playoff for the eighth seed in each conference, similar to Major League Baseball. -- Matt, Seattle.
A: First, no matter how short the season, there still would be a point where teams would clinch and therefore lose their motivation to risk injury. As it is, many teams do not put maximum value on maximizing playoff seeding. I have always been intrigued by the idea of a knockout tournament for the final spot in each conference, even if it means having teams play at neutral sites for scheduling maintenance. For example, the No. 8 seed hosts the No. 11 seed on its home court, with the Nos. 9 and 10 seeds also playing at that site. Those two games would be played the Thursday on the day after the regular season ends, with the winners meeting that Friday, all in one-game, single-elimination, with the winner advancing to face the No. 1 seed on Sunday. Yes, the No. 1 seed would be limited in scouting time, but it also would get a fatigued opponent. Suddenly, teams, even at the bottom of the standings, would be scrambling to get into the tournament-of-losers (although we probably should come up with a better name).
Q: Pat Riley's pitch that brought LeBron James here was about "family." Haven't the Heat lived up to that by sheltering him the first year and letting him play in a no-drama environment since? Where else could he find an owner, general manager and coach like the Heat have? -- Jack, Sanibel.
A: Probably nowhere. And no one is saying he is leaving when he can opt out in 2014. But he obviously took an unexpected turn with his 2010 free-agency decision, so reason might not be the ultimate deciding point. Plus, there always is a possibility of handpicking his general manager and coach in another venue, perhaps working with his friend John Calipari.
Q: It’s amazing how the New York media assumes the Knicks are at a minimum going to the Eastern Conference finals just because they won 12 games in a row. I would not be surprised if Boston beats them. If they do get by Boston, I think the Pacers will beat them. -- Jeffrey.
A: The Knicks should get to the Eastern Conference finals. Yes, matchups are a factor, but there's a clear hierarchy in the East, with New York a clear No. 2 to the Heat, much as the Spurs and Thunder stand alone at the top of the West.
APRIL 10, 2013
Q: Hey Ira, Pat Riley said his next step is to turn his attention to keeping the Big Three together and bring in players to help make this an 8- to 10-year run. With the new CBA, would it be possible for Pat to re-sign the Big Three and still bring in hungry, talented vets to keep this team a consistent contender? Also, if any of the Big Three were to take another discounted contract, who would you envision it being? -- David, Fort Lauderdale.
A: I found Riley's comments fascinating and think they were aimed in two directions. Remember, there is absolutely nothing to stop Micky Arison from keeping the Big Three together, even with maximum free-agency raises, and also adding a $3 million taxpayer mid-level free agent every offseason, as long as he is willing to pay the tax bill. On the other hand, it also could have been seen as a veiled message to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that it will take sacrifice for them to make this work under the onerous luxury tax, that it might require them to actually take far less than they could make, perhaps even are making. Yes, Riley's vision could work: If Micky Arison chooses to make it work. Or if the Big Three elect to make it work. Until then, Riley's comments are words of hope without tangible foundation.
Q: If, as expected, Norris Cole outplays Mario Chalmers in the playoffs, will he get a chance to start next year? -- Papi, Miami.
A: And why would that be expected? If anything Big Game Mario has proven to be up to such playoff moments, as evidenced by his play in last season's NBA Finals as well the NCAA Tournament while at Kansas. If anything, I would suspect that Norris' role would diminish in the playoffs, as it did last year, with his propensity for out-of-control play at times.
Q: I think Erik Spoelstra should take a couple of nights off, also, like his players, during these last few days of the season. -- Mark.
A: Cam Cameron would.
APRIL 9, 2013
Q: Why would the Heat want the number-one overall playoff seed when in the NBA Finals the lower seed has three home games in a row? I'd rather have that. -- Scott, Los Angeles.
A: First of all, it's not as if you get to choose (although that would be an intriguing concept, wouldn't it?). The reality is that the Heat are at a point of no return, with two more wins sealing that deal. All of that said, it is interesting that the Heat have been involved in three NBA Finals, all played on the 2-3-2 basis, with the road team winning each (Heat in 2006, Mavericks in 2011 and then Heat again in 2012). But I still like the point made by Chris Bosh, that there is no better place to be in any Game 7 than at home.
Q: If the Heat are thinking about starting Shane Battier in the playoffs, then why not go to it now? -- Jon.
A: Because they're just thinking about it, with no guarantee it's how they're going to open the playoffs. More than anything, I think Erik Spoelstra likes the idea of having that in his back pocket, sort of an open-in-case-of-emergency option. As the 27-game winning streak showed, the second unit of Battier, Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen has been effective when utilized alongside a starter, at least when it comes to buying time.
Q: Do you think Alonzo Mourning or Tim Hardaway will get elected into the Hall of Fame? -- Jon.
A: I think Zo will, because his humanitarian work likely will factor in. He becomes eligible for induction in 2013. The fact that Golden State running partner Mitch Richmond hasn't made it, either, creates doubts with Tim. Both came up short in this most recent election.
APRIL 8, 2013
Q: It seems like there are conflicting reports out there regarding Dwyane Wade. Bottom line: Do you think Heat fans should be worried about his "injury" going into the playoffs or is it likely something another few games off can take care of? -- Kevin.
A: I think any time you're talking about a knee, especially a Dwyane Wade knee, you have to be concerned. He continues to downplay the issue, including when he spoke Sunday at the team's charity event. And Erik Spoelstra certainly is playing it safe, going without practice on both Sunday and Monday. When it was a sprained ankle for Wade, it seemed like routine maintenance. But knees never are routine. Still, Wade played well enough after initially sustaining the injury that I wouldn't be overly concerned. For now.
Q: Do you still think the Knicks don't represent a threat to the Heat? They are hungry, feel disrespected and have some additional experience. -- Stuart.
A: Threat? Sure, you can't discount what they have done. But I still believe the Heat will have a better chance to figure out a Carmelo Anthony-centric offense than the Knicks will be able to deal with the Heat's diversity of creative scoring options.
Q: It took Pat Riley too long to get a player like Birdman. It's so much easier with him. -- Nelson.
A: Better late than never. But I will be curious to see where the trust is with Chris Andersen come the playoffs, especially if he continues to size up those jumpers.
APRIL 7, 2013
Q: I saw the Hawks lineup against the Spurs. Is Atlanta trying to get to the opposite side of the bracket from the Heat? It's looking like Chicago will end up fourth or fifth, and while Miami should not fear any matchup, I still think the Bulls are one of the tougher opponents in the East, especially if Derrick Rose makes a miraculous comeback. -- Adrian.
A: Even without Rose, you'll certainly feel a series against Chicago even if you get past them. There does seem to be a bit of chicanery at play. And the one thing you know about Tom Thibodeau is he plays every game to win. It's the only way he knows. I'm somewhat resigned to the Heat facing the winner of Chicago-Brooklyn in the second round. And I agree, Chicago will be a tough out, no matter who is playing.
Q: I don't see why people question Udonis Haslem starting. His rebounding per-minute numbers are great, and he still plays good defense. Sure his scoring is down, but with the Big 3 and Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Shane Battier, we don't need five offensive players on the floor. -- Josh, Boca Raton.
A: And yet I'm still not sure that a playoff change isn't in the offing, with Battier perhaps replacing Udonis among the starting five, based on the matchup. Erik Spoelstra has been steadfast in insisting his playoff decisions have yet to be made.
Q: I still have nightmares about Clarence Weatherspoon's miss in the playoffs. Do you think a third Heat championship will finally ease my pain? -- David, Plantation.
A: Possibly, but I don’t know if it also can get you past Michael Beasley over (fill in the blank) in the first round in 2008.
APRIL 6, 2013
Q: Has LeBron James sitting out so many games hurt his MVP chances, especially the way Carmelo Anthony is playing? Remember, we are a fickle, what-have-you-done-for-me lately society. LeBron has been sitting while Carmelo has been lighting it up. -- Martin.
A: I would hope my fellow media electorate would allow that five Player of the Month selections probably trump a couple of spectacular scoring weeks. But, yes, the ballots are in our hands (electronically) right now, so some could be swayed. If anything, it might push Carmelo into a solid top-three standing, perhaps even ahead of Kevin Durant. But MVP for Carmelo over LeBron? Absurd, and the standings say as much.
Q: A few years ago the Indianapolis Colts behind Peyton Manning had a great season and turned off the switch before the end of the season to rest the starters for the playoffs. The Colts, heavy favorites, were upset in the first round of the playoffs. The team was flat. Do you see a risk for the Heat in resting all these guys, especially LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, with them coming back flat and the team losing momentum come the playoffs? -- Stuart.
A: No, because it's not as if they're going to sit out the balance of the season. There still are almost two weeks left in the season, plenty of time to get back in rhythm. I highly doubt Erik Spoelstra holds them out for a full week before the playoffs. Time off is good. Too much time off isn't. I think Erik can appreciate the difference.
Q: Why are we not seeing more of Joel Anthony? -- Tony.
A: Because Birdman has given them more in that role, including a 27-game winning streak. It's hard to argue with what Chris Andersen has done, although a few fewer jump shots might be a start. Still, Joel Anthony offered a reminder of how much of a disruption he can create in his brief stint Friday in Charlotte.
APRIL 5, 2013
Q: The Heat could have signed Kenyon Martin instead of Juwan Howard. Yes, the Heat did sign Chris Andersen for the same role, but you can never have too much depth. If the Heat did, indeed, have to go that deep, wouldn't you prefer K-Mart over Juwan Howard? -- Martin.
A: Look, the Howard signing continues to befuddle, but the Heat clearly valued chemistry over any other factor. Signing Martin wouldn't as much have impacted Chris Andersen as possibly Udonis Haslem's minutes. The issue here is why there isn't a third point guard for moments like this, when Mario Chalmers has been nicked up and there is nowhere to turn but Norris Cole, whose seven turnovers against the Knicks showed that the extra minutes might be taking a toll.
Q: Did Pat Riley and Danny Ainge have a nice Easter dinner together? -- Yarrow, Oakland Park.
A: No, but they egged each others' houses.
Q: Is it just me who thinks that although the Heat lost the game vs. the Knicks it was still a moral victory for the Fighting Clowns, err, the Expendables? -- Harry.
A: Without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they fought the good fight. If Shane Battier doesn't throw that pass to nobody in the fourth quarter, they might even have won the game.
APRIL 4, 2013
Q: Do you think the Heat will retire Shaquille O'Neal's number at some point in the future? He was a significant part of the Heat's first championship team in 2006. If Dwyane Wade didn't get hurt in the 2005 playoffs (against Detroit), the Heat might have had one a year earlier. Shaq should have been MVP in the 2004-005 season. He brought Miami basketball back. And even though Shaq left on bad terms, he raised the bar of what is considered acceptable winning basketball for the Heat franchise. Shaq made Heat basketball a destination event. -- Stuart.
A: And only spent two and a half seasons with the Heat, putting out full effort for just two. That just doesn't seem like a lengthy enough period to make him the third Heat player to have his number retired. I think waiting first for such a tribute to Wade and perhaps even a few other Heat players might make more sense. But the one thing we know is that Pat Riley enjoys nothing more than making moments with celebrities, as he did with the raising of the Michael Jordan and Dan Marino jerseys. And I'm sure if Shaq's number is retired, Riley would want to be a part of the organization when/if it happens.
Q: I'd much rather give Norris Cole's minutes to Mike Miller. -- Omar.
A: While I'm not sure Norris' minutes during the playoffs will be as high as during the regular season, I'm not sure that would open the door for Miller, with the Heat already loaded in their nine-man primary rotation at the wing with LeBron James, Wade and Shane Battier. Norris' playoff minutes likely will come down to how Mario Chalmers is playing and foul trouble. Now the hope is that Tuesday's seven-turnover performance by Cole was an anomaly.
Q: I think the Heat in their 82-game schedule will win more games than the Marlins in their 162. -- Martin.
A: If the Heat get to 63 wins, I might agree. I think the Marlins will do anything possible to avoid the dreaded 100-loss season.
APRIL 3, 2013
Q: All this chatter about some Heat fans not wanting Boston in the first round is shameful. I know Boston raises the level of its play when it faces Miami, but if Miami can't beat a Rajon Rondo-less team and one that every year continues to get older with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, it would be shameful. If I was the Heat, I would love to have a team like Boston, who will give the Heat a decent challenge, but nothing to be praying to avoid in the first round. -- Julio.
A: Actually, I'm going to disagree. There is nothing wrong with the path of least resistance, which Milwaukee likely would be. Garnett and Pierce will never be more rested than during the first round, especially with both being given time off lately. This Heat team does not need to be "tested." What it needs is to be fresh and healthy for potential challenges such as the Bulls in the second round and the Knicks or Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.
Q: How did the Heat get LeBron James to sit out two games in a row? -- Stuart.
A: By reminding him that he will have to play two months in a row come the playoffs.
Q: Don't you think resting LeBron and Dwyane Wade and others the rest of the seasons is a bit extreme? They were playing so well. I would hope they would play a few more games together, like Chicago or Boston, to get them ready for playoffs. -- Jeffrey.
A: They will. Erik Spoelstra has it all mapped out. You can bet on that. This team will not allow itself to grow stale. But they've pushed hard for five months, they deserve time to recharge, as well.
APRIL 2, 2013
Q: Knowing that Chris Andersen will be a free agent after this season, is there a chance that Pat Riley could entice him to return to the Heat with Mike Miller's amnesty salary? -- Julian, Pembroke Pines.
A: It doesn't work that way. Amnestying Miller only would help the Heat from a luxury-tax standpoint. It would not impact the salary cap, with the Heat still to be operating well above that threshold. The Heat's only options with Birdman in the offseason would be a 20-percent raise over the minimum salary or their single-use taxpayer mid-level exception.
Q: When will Erik Spoelstra move Udonis Haslem to the end of the rotation and replace him with Rashard Lewis? Haslem isn't giving much anymore. -- Habib.
A: Disagree. Udonis has solid rebound-per-minute numbers, an area the Heat can use all the help they can get. But he certainly doesn't spread the floor like Lewis, with Erik Spoelstra moving toward a floor-spreading approach in last season's playoffs. Still, when the Heat needed a late stop on Sunday in San Antonio, Erik Spoelstra inserted Haslem, who switched off Tiago Splitter and helped force Tim Duncan into a key late miss. There very much is a place for Udonis in this rotation.
Q: Last season we witnessed two Pacers-vs.-Heat playoff games get out of control. Last Wednesday's fiasco in Chicago provided more of the same, followed by verbal jabs from Danny Ainge and Pat Riley. All of this could have been avoided with better officiating. At the first sight of an unnecessary hard foul (see Tyler Hansbrough, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich), the refs need to call a flagrant and get the game under control. The league is so quick to fine players and coaches for silly stuff, yet they can't get their own refs to have better control of games. -- Stuart.
A: Points well made. While I've never been a fan of the double-foul or double technical, sometimes it takes an early message being sent to keep things in order. The beauty of a double technical is it puts the players on notice with no change on the scoreboard or a player's ability to aggressive defense (with no personal foul being assessed), with tempers generally muted thereafter. I'm not sure that the Bulls game necessarily got out of control, but taking the temperature of a game should be a key element of officiating on the NBA level.
APRIL 1, 2013
Q: Pat Riley used to say the great thing about the NBA season is there is always another game to play to get to right after a disappointing loss. Wednesday night in Chicago is a distant memory. -- Stuart.
A: And the response has been terrific. First there was the mauling of the Hornets in New Orleans on Friday night, to make it clear that there would be no post-streak funk. Then, Sunday in San Antonio, the Heat found the perfect balance between rest and tenacity. Don't kid yourself, getting to play as the singular star goes a long way with Chris Bosh, and his winning 3-pointer has to inspire confidence going forward. Then there was Rashard Lewis with four blocked shots, tying the most by any Heat player this season, and then four 3-pointers by Mike Miller. It was as if they were letting Erik Spoelstra know they're there if needed. And even Norris Cole getting his first start of the season has to inspire his confidence, in case he is called upon in the playoffs.
Q: Was Sunday the best Miami Heat win all season? -- George.
A: I'd say the most unexpected. I'd still say that going into Oklahoma City the game before the All-Star break and throttling the Thunder meant more, because that came with the players the Heat will be relying on to win another championship. But Sunday was pretty neat in its own right.
Q: Why are the players on every other team strangely obsessed with the Miami Heat? -- Baker.
A: Because they're the current gold standard, and their play in March left no doubt about where championship aspirations go through. So if Raymond Felton is going to spout off about his confidence in the Knicks, it's not going to be about how he thinks his team can beat the Pacers, Bulls or Nets. They talk; the Heat win. It seems to work for everybody involved.