How are things shaping up for the champs?
October, 16, 2013
By Michael Wallace
MIAMI -- The defending champion Miami Heat have reached the midway point of their preseason preparation, heading into the Oct. 29 opener against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls.
Although coach Erik Spoelstra and star LeBron James have said players, overall, reported earlier this month in top condition, both also agree that the Heat are far from a finished product that is prepared at this moment to pursue a third consecutive title.
With the remaining days and preseason games, Miami must still shore up a bench rotation, determine whether Michael Beasley and Roger Mason Jr. have done enough to make the 15-man roster, and improve the team's defensive chemistry.
Here's our take on where each player stands.
It took a few weeks for James to shake off the cobwebs and get his legs back in basketball shape after a summer of matrimony and honeymoon traveling that ended a few days before camp opened. But James is beginning to show the form we've grown accustomed to from the four-time league MVP. He's used recent preseason games to work on a different aspect of his game. We saw the explosion with a few freakish dunks against Washington and the unstoppable scoring against Charlotte.
Haslem could just as easily come off the bench when the season starts, but Spoelstra has been playing the veteran forward with the first team in a majority of the scrimmages and preseason games he's been available to play. Haslem hasn't shown any signs of being slowed by offseason knee surgery. He's quietly gone about doing his rugged work, highlighted by those 11 rebounds in 15 minutes recently against the Bobcats.
If the way he's attacked the preseason with a grudge is any indication of how things might pan out down the line, this could be the most productive campaign Bosh has had in a Miami uniform. Yes, he's technically the third option. But with James gradually rounding into peak shape and Dwyane Wade picking his spots for when to rest his knees or play, Bosh is using these moments to be far more aggressive than he's been in the past. He's not waiting on the offense to come to him. He's dictating.
Credit Wade for taking such a proactive approach when it comes to knowing when to push through a preseason game or a practice, and when to rest and allow his body to recover. There is absolutely nothing Wade can prove to anyone in the preseason. If taking a game or two off now somehow buys him a game or two late in the regular season or in the playoffs, it's a wise tradeoff. But don't shove Wade, who turns 32 in January, into the Popovich Protection Program just yet.
A recent illness and a nagging hip pointer have slowed Chalmers in recent days, so there really hasn't been much by which to gauge his level of readiness for the season. His shot has been off in the games he's played so far, but Chalmers has shown better timing and vision in doses with his playmaking ability. With Norris Cole's improvement and the steady play of Mason as a combo guard, expect the competition to Heat up -- and for Chalmers to respond in typical confident fashion.
The team's ultimate Swiss Army knife is already in regular season form, having connected on a stunning 76.9 percent of his shots from the field through his first few preseason games. It's the same Shane -- the assignment may change, but the impact never does.
If it appears Cole is playing at a different, more controlled pace this season, well, he is. He's becoming more of a playmaker and pure point guard and less of the attack-the-rim-at-all-costs type of player who struggles at times to manage the second unit.
I remember asking Allen this time a year ago about his shooting struggles during the preseason. He looked at me and said, flatly, “Do they even keep preseason shooting stats?” He went on to recover and hit arguably the biggest shot in Heat history in the Finals. So he gets a pass these days.
The "Birdman" had been grounded the first couple of weeks of the preseason by a bruise on his foot. But he's slowly getting back into the swing, with Spoelstra spotting him minutes in the past few games. Unlike last year, he has the luxury of a full preseason and camp to grind his way.
If such a thing as "The Mike Miller Role" exists, Lewis has a prime opportunity to contend for those sporadic minutes off the bench. Teammates have raved about Lewis' conditioning, and he's talked about finally being healthy after two seasons of recovering from knee issues.
It's easy to understand why Jones often feels like the forgotten man. The veteran 3-point specialist embarks on yet another season in which it will be extremely difficult to land minutes in a perimeter rotation that features Wade, Allen, Battier and possibly even Roger Mason Jr. to name a few. But Jones will do what he always does: stay ready and let it fly when his number is called.
On talent alone, Beasley would be a lock to make this rotation as likely the Heat's sixth man. But the Heat are still trying to figure out just what they're getting themselves into with Beasley in this second stint. There has been plenty of promise so far. But consistency is the key.
The former No. 1 pick took a significant step forward this week when he participated in his first 5-on-5 NBA practice in four years. Then came a bit of a reality check when Oden was unable to go to the next sessions because of knee swelling. Consider it the ebb and flow of Oden's comeback.
Roger Mason Jr.
Spoelstra said what's impressed him most about Mason is his willingness to come to Miami on a nonguaranteed deal as a vet and prove he deserves to make this roster, despite only a couple of potential spots available. So far, Mason's versatility and steady play should keep him around awhile.
Don't be surprised if the Heat look to trade Anthony. They like him, they've developed him as much as possible. But he's a luxury at this point. And also a tremendous luxury-tax burden who is due more than $3 million in salary this season for a team deep into the punitive threshold.
The partial guarantee on his contract seems to give Varnado an advantage over free agent camp invitee Eric Griffin, who does just as much defensively and is a better player offensively. The Heat will have a decision to make with this 15th roster spot, with some cuts expected in a few days.