By John Schmeelk
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Media coverage often gets ridiculous during events like the NBA Finals, and somehow the story on Wednesday was Mario Chalmers.
The Heat were losing, apparently, because he wasn’t playing well. Huh? That is completely missing the true narrative of this series: The Miami Heat can’t stop the Spurs from scoring.
The Spurs are shooting 53 percent for the series and averaging nearly 106 points per game. Their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is 116.3! If they averaged that number in the regular season they would have been the best offensive team in the NBA by seven points per 100 possessions. That’s the same amount of points that separates the best offensive team in the league from the 20th. Granted, the Spurs’ hot shooting in Game 3 skews the overall numbers, but even in Games 1 and 2 the Heat struggled.
In Game 1 the Spurs shot 59 percent and scored 110 points with a 115 offensive rating. Even in their Game 2 loss, the Spurs managed an offensive rating that would have put them in the top 10 in the league in the regular season.
The Heat do not seem to have an answer. Their strategy of blitzing the pick-and-roll is getting burnt far more than it is forcing turnovers. Other than LeBron James, no one has proven himself as anything resembling a defensive stopper in this league. Tim Duncan is dominating the low box. The Heat were the 11th-best defensive team in the league this year, but in this series they look a lot more like the Knicks than they do a team that is playing championship-caliber defense.
The Spurs haven’t exactly locked down the Heat, either. They’re shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from the three-point line. Those are good numbers, and if their defense was even decent they might be up a game in this series. Right now this series looks like a recreation of 1980s basketball, with the Lakers and Celtics running up and down the court and scoring at will against one another.
Erik Spoelstra has to make an adjustment and stop trying to trap every pick-and-roll. The Spurs pass the ball far too well, and those traps often turn into open threes or layups near the basket. Perhaps it’s time to see Udonis Haslem or Shane Battier for the first time in this series. They need guys on the floor to play defense first, and worry about scoring later.
Of course, not all the blame goes to the Heat. The Spurs are an amazing offensive team with the way they move the ball without dribbling. They are shooting it well, and when they play at their best there isn’t any defense that can stop them. Even Manu Ginobli, last year’s pariah, is playing well and giving the Spurs an option with the ball when the Heat put James on Tony Parker. The Heat can win, but only if they can hold the Spurs to under 105. Anything above that will make it very hard to win unless they get vintage performances from all three of their stars. That’s asking too much, even of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Something has to change for the Heat on defense on Thursday night, or this series is going to be over. They have to figure out a way to make the Spurs look mortal offensively. It’s on Spoelstra and it’s on his players. Can they figure out how to get a stop?
– I’ll address this more in another column, but if Carmelo Anthony ever decided to go down and join the trio in Miami he would not be forgiven by New York fans. I’ve argued all season that Melo should leave to give himself the best chance to win now. The Heat make a ton of sense for him in that regard. If I were him, I would make a move like that, but he has to understand that there will be consequences. He would be seen as riding James’ coattails to a title rather than winning one on his own.
The mantra of “he can’t be a lead dog on a title team” would still follow him around. Right or wrong, many would call him a coward. But in the end he would be sacrificing glory and money to win. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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