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Justin Phan

In the Spotlight: Miami Heat

Justin Phan
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On paper, it was supposed to be one of the best teams assembled, a team that was expected to seamlessly gel together with an unselfish superstar in LeBron James(notes) at the center of it all. It was a team whose major concerns were with its bench and supporting cast, not with its three superstars. Then Tuesday happened.

What we saw in Miami’s season opener was something we had become accustomed to seeing during LeBron’s seven-year tenure with the Cavaliers. What we saw in Tuesday’s season opener was the 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers, not the 2010 Miami Heat. It was LeBron going into all-isolation mode with his teammates bunched together around him watching him go to work. Dwyane Wade(notes) played the role of Mo Williams(notes), with Chris Bosh(notes) cast as Sideshow Bob.

Did it come as a surprise that the only Heat player to finish with a positive plus/minus was Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) at +17? In the Heat’s reversion to the 2009 Cavaliers, Z was the only piece of the puzzle that was familiar to LeBron as they ran the pick-and-roll seamlessly. His range forced the Celtics to respect his screens and not all converge on LeBron at once, which they often did when Joel Anthony(notes) was on the floor.

The spacing around LeBron was largely nonexistent and at least partially responsible for an offense that produced just 80 points on 90 possessions. That translates to an offensive rating of just 89, far below the Nets’ league-worst mark of 100.6 last year. The Heat were relegated to be a jump-shooting team, a notion that seems ridiculous when they have two of the best slashers in the game at their disposal. But that’s what ended up happening as they shot 50 jumpers to Boston’s 33. They ran 19 isolations sets to Boston’s eight.

That's certainly not a formula for success.

They found a way to right the ship on Wednesday against Philadelphia though, as expected. The 76ers had their fair share of troubles on the offensive end with a young and inexperienced Jrue Holiday(notes) at the helm. In what ended up being a decisive third quarter, Philly finished with two more turnovers (6) than buckets (4). It was the Heat’s defense that ended up being their best offense as they generated nearly a fifth (19.2 percent) of their offense in the transition, compared to just 11.2 percent the night before.

So here we are – two games into an 82-game schedule. Two games that were more so dictated by the opposition than the Heat themselves. Boston’s stellar defense set the tone in the opener while Philly’s less-than-refined offense created a gaping window of opportunity in the second game.

From an individual standpoint, there isn’t much for LeBron owners to be worried about as it appears to be business as usual. He brought the ball up 37 of 73 times against the Celtics and was clearly the focal point on the offensive end in both games. His usage rate, a measure of how many possessions a player uses, has actually gone up slightly from 33.7 percent to 34.6 percent. The turnovers will almost surely normalize as he becomes more comfortable around his teammates and familiar with their play. His current turnover rate (25.0) is more than double his next highest rookie season mark of 11.2.

The rust was apparent when Wade took the court on Wednesday as he seemed lost at times not knowing what to do when the ball was in LeBron’s hands. His shot chart showed that he too often settled for contested jumpers, an issue he remedied in the second game with 12 attempts at the rim. Wade ended up scoring an efficient 30 points in 35 minutes and, most noticeably, committed just two turnovers. The contested long jumpers are still a problem, but this was at least a step in the right direction after his problematic debut.

As for Chris Bosh, there may be some cause for concern. Yes, he had the task of squaring off against Kevin Garnett(notes) in the opener, a matchup that, more than usual, exposed and exploited his basic low-post repertoire. And yes, his shot attempts were mostly high-percentage and he had a couple rattle all the way in and out. But his usage rate has plummeted to a below-average mark (20.0). It is down from 28.7 to percent to just 18.3 percent, easily the lowest of his career. This is a result of LeBron and Wade dominating possession as they are the primary ball handlers - less possessions means less opportunity for numbers and a less substantial fantasy impact.

Udonis Haslem(notes) and James Jones(notes) round out the supporting cast as the only two viable options for those in standard leagues. They are a bit on the unpredictable side - especially Jones, who is a stopgap until Mike Miller(notes) is back - but should fit comfortably in their roles with LBJ, Wade, and Bosh drawing the vast majority of the defense's attention.

It’s a long season and we'll certainly be paying close attention to the Heat, given that there are three top-25 fantasy picks involved. We've seen some bad and some good thus far, a fair indication of what is to come over the team's remaining 80 games.

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