MIAMI -- With the Miami Heat playing the most games of any team at this point of the season, an odd stretch of just two games played over the course of eleven days was welcome news to a team that had just finished a grueling five-game road trip that forced the team to play in every time zone possible and mounting injuries to their most important players. With a renewed focus on resting up and resetting their game-plan with more time in practice, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has also apparently been tinkering with his guard rotations.
Lost in the lineup shuffle Saturday night before their matchup against the Toronto Raptors that saw MIke Miller move into the starting lineup for the first time to replace the injured Dwyane Wade was an unexpected move by the coaching staff to swap their point guards and give Mario Chalmers the starting job over Carlos Arroyo.
"It's something I've been thinking about for the last couple of weeks," explained Spoelstra after the victory over the Raptors. "It's a tough decision but it's not an indictment on Carlos. It's just something that I think will be beneficial to the team right now and I met with both players. It could change again. Mario has been giving us solid and steady minutes. He's been getting better at the things I want him to do."
Though both of them are called upon to bring the ball upcourt and organize the offense, they're not being counted on to finish plays as most point guards in other teams must do. With Arroyo and Chalmers both averaging exactly 2.2 assists this season and the Heat ranking near the bottom of the league in team assists, the Heat's offense is predicated on the slashing and probing of their perimeter superstars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
Against the Raptors however, the Heat's offense ran a more traditional system of finding the open man by swinging the ball around for the best look at the basket; mixed in with LeBron's playmaking vision, this time near the paint instead of out in the perimeter. The result was 27 assists for the team, several more than the season average, and a season-high nine assists for Chalmers. Arroyo only played 13 minutes but did collect 4 assists in his short stint. With shooters James Jones, Eddie House and Miller making the defense pay by stretching the floor with their abilities, the Heat's offense has the ability to be a handful for any team to cover.
"I think it helps us a lot," said House about the offensive game-plan. "That way other guys are getting involved with the game and have other opportunities to score to where teams can't just load up and take the paint away from LeBron or D (Wade) or double-team Chris on the block. They've got to account for everybody so I think that's real big."
With Bosh and Wade normally resting together in a typical Heat game, the team may choose to use this type of offense down the line when James is the primary scoring option on the floor. Heat guard Eddie House, almost forgotten at the end of the bench during the Heat's winning stretch in December where he played only 29 total minutes, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries among all the changes in the offense.
"That's our job," House said about staying ready to play. "It's out of our control if coach puts you in or not or how many minutes he puts you in. What's in your control is what you do with the minutes when you get your name called and you're out there. So the focus is just try to do your best every night. So you got to stay with it and stay professional about it and just do your job."
In the meantime, Chalmers continues to insist that there is no rivalry between the two for the starting job, which isn't anything new for them after all. At this point of the season last year, the point guard situation was such that Rafer Alston was brought in to start while Chalmers and Arroyo were relegated to the bench. Soon Alston was out of the team and Arroyo was able to hold the starting position for the rest of the season. This season the position has been exclusively theirs for the taking.
"We both know that we're running the team," explained Chalmers about his working situation with Arroyo. "We work together and it really don't matter who starts as long we win. That's all we care about.
"We all got the same goal. We're all going to fight for it."