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It was an excellent Knicks win over the Heat on Sunday. While people are focusing on what it means for the Knicks (after a weak home win over Minnesota and a brutal road loss to Cleveland, it means a lot), this game actually told us more about the Heat.
WHO’S TAKING THE LAST SHOT?
The Heat have really been in a bind this season. There was much talk about who would take the last shot, did they need two (three?) basketballs to play, could the egos work together? Pat Riley went out of his way to line up a bunch of three-point shooters to complement their two great slashers, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
But a funny thing happened on the way to winning more than 70 (Jeff Van Gundy’s prediction) games. The Heat can’t figure out who their go-to guy is down the stretch. Here’s the problem: as in the Knick game, if the Heat are down three very late in the game, who do you want to take the last shot? If James or Wade gives it up to a good three-point shooter (Carlos Arroyo, James Jones, Mike Miller, Eddie House) and they miss, the superstar failed to take the big shot. If LeBron or Wade takes the last three, well, they are just not very good three-point shooters. So when they take it (like James did against the Bulls last Thursday when he couldn’t even hit the rim on a pretty good look down three or against the Knicks when he just missed) and they miss, it’s not really that they can’t make the “big” shot; it’s just that they can’t shoot threes.
Here’s the list of the “non-Big 3” Heat players who play with their three-point percentages:
Carlos Arroyo (28-64, 44%), James Jones (96-232, 41%), Mike Miller (27-67 – he’s been injured and has only played in 23 games, 40%), Eddie House (57-145, 39%), Mario Chalmers (67-187, 36%)
Here’s the list of the “Big 3” with their three-point percentages:
LeBron James (72-213, 34%), Dwyane Wade (47-150, 31%), Chris Bosh (6-21, 29%)
You get the point. The reality is that, if you are defending the Heat in a three-point game very late, you may very well want James or Wade to take a contested three with the game on the line – they’re just not that good at shooting them. And if you read that here, you can bet that the whole league knows it.
WHO’S PLAYING THE POINT?
The Heat, unlike the Knicks, don’t have a point guard. Carlos Arroyo has been demoted in favor of Mario Chalmers, who hasn’t been able to make a big impact in a short time. While you can say all you want that LeBron or Wade can, essentially, be the point guy from wherever they are on the floor, it says here that, if the Heat want to win a championship, they need a point guard.
Interestingly, it looks like Mike Bibby might wind up in Miami. Bibby, down in assists the last two seasons in Atlanta (under 4 per game the last two seasons after averaging between 5 and 6.5 the four seasons before), was recently shipped to Washington and is rumored to be working on a buyout. Bibby might actually be the short-term, win-now answer for the Heat. With Atlanta this season, Bibby shot 44% from three (113-256). If (when?) Mike Bibby steps on the court for Miami, he becomes the best three-point shooter they have on their team.
THE HEAT HAVE OTHER ISSUES AS WELL
The sometimes willingness to just stand around and hoist up threes is another problem for the Heat. For example, here’s what the Heat did in their last eight possessions in the third quarter against the Knicks: Chalmers misses a three (4:06 left), Miller hits a three (3:32 left), Chalmers misses a three (3:06), Jones misses a three (2:19), House misses a three off the offensive rebound (2:15), Miller misses a three (1:25), LeBron James walks trying to throw the ball off the backboard to himself (47.6 seconds left), Mike Miller misses a long two (28 seconds left). There you have it: eight possessions, one basket, three points.
Add that to the 16-0 run the Knicks dropped on the Heat before halftime and, the reality is, the Heat were very fortunate to be in a position to win or force overtime down the stretch. And nobody is confusing the Knicks with a top defensive team come playoff time.
WHAT ABOUT THE HEAT DOWN-THE-STRETCH DOWN TWO?
Well, that’s when you want the ball in the hands of two of the best scorers in the NBA: LeBron or Wade. But, even here, against the Knicks, LeBron had an issue. You probably saw the play: Carmelo picks up LeBron. LeBron goes left and goes all the way to the basket. LeBron decides to go up lefty (??), Carmelo plays him tough (maybe a little contact), Stoudemire comes over and makes a great block on a weak lefty layup by LeBron. LeBron looks for the foul (if he can’t get it at home, down one, with Carmelo contact, during the regular season, he certainly hasn’t reached Michael Jordan status), complaining, while the Knicks go down the other way and get two foul shots from Shawne Williams to go up three (which led to LeBron’s missing a three near the buzzer).
But here is the LeBron problem down the stretch: why go to the basket with a weak left-handed layup? We all know that, if you are well coached, you try to go lefty from the left side and righty from the right side. But LeBron took that particular layup (and many of his lefty layups) off the wrong foot. You know the rule: lefty layup, left leg in the air, righty layup, right leg in the air. LeBron’s move lefty is often a last second, I’ll-shoot-lefty-even-if-it’s-off-the-wrong-foot deal. With no power behind his move, it was an excellent – but easier – play by Stoudemire to help preserve the win.
If you can’t make a strong move to the basket very late in the game (or, if you think that you are going to get a call but now you are not sure), either go ferociously righty or pull up for a 10-foot jumper. The weak left isn’t going to cut it – especially come playoff time.
So, it’s a great win for the Knicks. They have a point guard (if only he were a few years younger). They lack a big man (see the Mozgov issue, not that he’s definitely the answer). But they are going the right way, even though they are still behind the Heat (and a bunch of other teams).
It’s not clear, absent a point guard and someone who can make a clutch three, that the same can be said for the Miami Heat.