Wednesday's 111-98 victory over the Utah Jazz was the most meaningful victory of the season for the Miami Heat -- beating a quality team on the road. However, the way in which they won demonstrated that Miami is still not playing at a championship level.
That's because, despite various high screens and handoffs, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still wound up taking turns in iso setups in which each routinely massaged the ball for several counts before making a move.
Wade was the beneficiary of 12 one-on-one attacks during which he totaled 17 points.
LBJ tallied 18 markers in his 16 iso situations.
But since both Wade and James can run themselves into plentiful scoring opportunities, the Heat focused on stuffing the ball into Bosh. Unfortunately, Bosh's 17 man-to-man encounters resulted in his scoring a mere eight points. His latest performance underlines the fact that while Wade and LeBron are legitimate franchise players, the marshmallow-soft Bosh is still a superstar wannabe.
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The sum total of these 45 isos was 43 points -- good, but certainly not great, efficiency.
Because of this take-a-turn game plan, there was only limited coordination between Wade and James, most of which came when the Heat were off and running. To whit:
Two of James' assist passes (of his nine for the night) were delivered to Wade on fast breaks, and one dime was cashed by Wade on a baseline drive. In addition, Wade received two more potential assist-passes from LeBron but missed a running dunk and misfired on an uncontested 19-footer. The only time that James set a screen for Wade, he was tooted for an offensive foul.
Similarly, half of Wade's four assists led to buckets by James -- a lob and dunk on the run, and a kickout that LBJ turned into a 3-pointer.
That's a total of only 11 resulting from direct communications between these two -- the point being that on the vast majority of Miami's half-court sets, Wade, James, and Bosh alternately looked for their own shots. This is not championship basketball simply because smarter and more precise teams than the Jazz will be able to load up their defenses with maximum efficiency once they understand exactly where Miami's offensive plays will ultimately position the ball.
At the other end of the game, Bosh played no discernible defense, while Wade showed quick hands and excellent anticipation (hence his two steals).
But once again James demonstrated that his reputation as a defensive stopper is way overblown. For most of the game, his assignment was Andrei Kirilenko, who isn't exactly a dynamic point-maker. Nevertheless, three backdoor cuts by Kirilenko produced two layups and a dunk when LBJ repeatedly turned his head to follow the bouncing ball. Also, Kirilenko flat-out beat James on a baseline drive to register another layup. Plus, when a switch had LeBron guarding Deron Williams, a nifty crossover dribble caused the self-styled king to stumble. Indeed, only LBJ's remarkable athleticism saved him the embarrassment of being faked to the floor. And in an early offense sequence, Williams came at the flat-footed James and wound up with a successful layup-plus-one.
All together, Wade, James and Bosh accounted for 68 percent (75-of-111) of Miami's points. Even so, the biggest, most decisive surprise that led to the win was Zydrunas Ilguaskas shooting 7-of-10 and tallying 16 points -- mostly resulting from high/screen-and-pops that freed Big Z for open mid-range jumpers.
Other significant factors in Miami's cruise to the final buzzer were too many careless unforced turnovers by the Jazz that led to a barrage of breakaway hoops as well as Utah's alarming ineptness in the battle of the boards -- Miami captured 42 rebounds to Utah's 28. In addition, the Heat retrieved 15 of their own misses as compared to Utah's 10 offensive rebounds. And, even though the Jazz shot 50.7 percent overall, they were only 1-of-14 from beyond the bonus arc.
But Miami's defense also deserves a tip of the proverbial hat. They focused on containing Williams by doubling him whenever he approached the paint. As a result, Williams didn't score his initial field goal until 7:03 of the third quarter.
In sum, the Heat have several reasons to celebrate the outcome of the game. They hustled on every play, attacked every one of Utah's shots, and played quick-handed defense in the paint.
But, in the end, Miami's overwhelming edge in individualistic talent made the difference. Accordingly, the Heat will need more teamwork to survive the Eastern Conference playoffs.
It remains to be seen if the Big-Two-Plus-One are ready, willing and able to share the ball and fully trust each other.