Last night’s Magic – Heat game in Orlando was very different from their earlier match-up in Miami . Then , Miami had embarrassed the Magic ; yesterday , Orlando led much of the way before the Heat briefly made it close in the fourth quarter. The injury -depleted Heat were missing a couple of key players ( Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem ) due to injury and so one should not read too much into this early season loss. However , there is no doubt that this latest loss and their current 8-7 record will ratchet up the pressure on all concerned –the coach Erik Spoelstra , the players ( particularly LeBron James) and even the gray eminence , GM Pat Riley. The summer ballyhoo surrounding the signing of James and Bosh and all the talk of six or seven championships in a row has raised the expectations of Miami fans to an unrealistic level . Michael Jordan himself would not be able to live up to such projections, let alone LeBron and Co !!
To get back to last night’s game , Orlando played well though they are capable of even more. Reserve F Brandon Bass and SG J.J. Reddick , starting in place of the injured Vince Carter, had breakout games , Jameer Nelson was marvelous in running the offense and hitting some key baskets and Dwight Howard was his usual dominating self close -in.The Magic as a team had good ball movement and played tough defense on the Heat shooters .As well as Nelson played , his stupidity in being called for two technical fouls was inexcusable and the second , in particular could have changed the complexion of the game .At the time , Miami were reeling and Nelson was on the line to shoot three free throws. Instead of quietly stepping up to make his freebies , he jawed with one of the Miami players and was tossed . Luckily for Orlando, Marcin Gortat whom Miami chose to shoot the free throws calmly sank all three free throws and gave Orlando a cushion. Otherwise , the game might have ended differently.
For Miami , Wade was clearly sub par and both LeBron and Bosh had good games statistically. However , Bosh did not have much of an inside presence and James made some dumb plays , the most notable being when he fouled an Orlando shooter behind the 3-point arc with 0.9 seconds to go in the half.That resulted in three free throws all of which were converted and contributed to Miami’s eight point half time deficit.
Watching Miami come back in the second half pointed up both the advantages and the disadvantages of having LeBron on your team. When the going is tough , LeBron is accustomed to demanding the ball and trying to take over the game. Unfortunately for Miami , when this happens , the other players become mere spectators, the ball movement stops and when LeBron is stopped there is no second option. D. Wade also needs the ball to be effective so it doesn’t do much for team chemistry when either of them tries to do it all by himself. Consequently , the Heat do fine against the lesser teams but run into serious problems against the élite teams like Orlando and Boston who have a dominant center and / or a star point guard who can exploit Miami’s softness in the middle as happened yesterday against the Magic. Eventually , James and DWade will figure how to share the ball , Mike Miller will provide the outside shooting and Miami will win more consistently . It is difficult however to see them finishing with more than 55 – 58 victories and a fourth place finish in the Eastern Conference .
Phil Jackson’s comments about the difficult spot that Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra finds himself in and the possibility of Pat Riley taking over in mid season were mischievous to say the least. This is another example of the head games that Phil likes to play with the opposition and doesn’t really come as a surprise. Last year , before the playoff series with the Thunder , he noted that the refs were treating Kevin Durant like a superstar and giving him more than his fair share of calls . This is more of the same . On the one hand , it is unheard of for a coach to speculate about a rival coach’s job security. On the other hand , Jackson wasn’t saying anything new ; speculation about Spoelstra and how long Riley would be able to stay away from coaching has been rife since the pre-season.With every Heat loss , the pressure mounts on Riley to take over.
Stan Van Gundy ‘s response defending Riley was a bit of a surprise. I always thought that Riley was the prime mover in forcing out Stan but lately I’ve come across reports that suggest that several players , notably Shaq , were disenchanted with SVG and were pushing for his ouster. The scuttlebutt is that Shaq was furious with SVG for calling constantly DWade’s number even though the latter was injured during the 2005 playoff series loss to the Pistons and that Shaq wanted him out. When the Heat stopped playing for SVG in 2006 and stumbled out of the gate to a 11-10 record , that was allegedly the reason for the coaching change and not Riley’s eagerness to win another title as coach. It is difficult to know what the truth is but it is true that Shaq was disenchanted with SVG .
As some astute NBA commentators have observed , the situation now is different from 2006. Now , the Heat are no longer the favorites to take it all and have some serious flaws which will not be possible to fix this season. Riley too is five years older and, at 65, may not want to subject himself to the rigors of a championship run , particularly since winning is by no means a slam dunk. Better perhaps to wait until the end of the season to ease out the well -liked Spoelstra ( assuming the Heat fall short) and bring in a big name coach such as Nate McMillan who will be able to rein in LBJ . Doc Rivers is another possibility but I don’t know if he want to walk away from his gig with the Celtics to go to an iffier situation in Miami. No matter who coaches the Heat , it is not going to be a picnic as LBJ is a coach-killer and three superstars is one too many.