It’s been joked for as long as LeBron James refers to his Miami Heat team as the Heatles that Mario Chalmers must be the group’s version of Ringo Starr. This is a comparison Chalmers should be pleased with – the ambidextrous Starr remains one of rock’s more imaginative drummers, and just because he doesn’t have an “All Things Must Pass,” “Imagine,” or “Ram” to his credit it doesn’t mean his talents aren’t profound – but two and a half years after the Heat acquired LeBron and Chris Bosh to pair with Dwyane Wade, it’s one he’s probably not keen on.
And it doesn’t hurt that he’s hardly getting (wait for it) such little help from his friends, including apparent Chalmers pal and New York Knick point guard Raymond Felton. Felton (currently riding high as the architect of the NBA's longest win streak) didn’t exactly put Chalmers on blast last week in discussing his merits in relation to the Heat’s Big Three, but he didn’t do his chum any favors with quotes like these:
“I’m not saying that’s a weak point [for the Heat] because [Mario] Chalmers has been great for Miami. He’s won a championship there and he’s a solid point guard,. But I think that’s one of the weaknesses of their team. Not saying that Chalmers is a bad player, because he’s not. He’s great. He’s won a championship. A lot of point guards in this league can’t say that. He has that. But if you look at LeBron, Bosh and D-Wade and then you look at Chalmers, you’re like, ‘OK, this is maybe where their weakness is at.’”
Miami plays the Knicks on Tuesday night, and while the Heat topped New York by six points early last month, they’ve also fallen twice to the Knicks by a combined total of 40 points in the two previous games. There are teams that could give the Heat a stiff challenge in the Eastern bracket this spring – the Bulls own a 7-3 regular season record against Miami since LeBron came into town, and the Indiana Pacers match up quite well against Erik Spoelstra’s crew – but it’s New York that’s thrashed the team in memorable and lasting ways in 2012-13.
Chalmers, to his credit, was thoughtful and possibly bemused by Felton’s candid streak. Here’s Mario’s back and forth with The Palm Beach Post’s great Ethan Skolnick:
I asked if he had seen Felton’s comments. He nodded. Did he think it was odd to read something like that?:
“I don’t think I’ve got everybody’s respect. I’m still working on that. But everybody’s entitled to how they feel.”
So, after a championship — and a second straight strong NBA Finals — what is it going to take?
“Who knows? Who knows? I mean, people are going to say whatever. The only thing that matters to me is I’ve got my teammates’ respect, my coaches’ respect, and I know what I can do.”
How did he find out about what Felton said?
“I was actually on Twitter, and somebody tweeted it to me. That was the first time I’ve seen it.”
Does he know Felton?
“I know him pretty well.”
“I”m a little shocked about that comment.”
And what about so many opponents talking about the Heat?
“We didn’t start it but we’re gonna finish it.”
It’s true that Raymond Felton is in a lot of ways a superior player to Mario Chalmers. And it’s also true that during some moments of fright when the Heat square up against top-level point guards – think Derrick Rose in the 2011 Eastern finals – LeBron James is asked to put the hammer down defensively at the position. Chalmers should not be deterred by any of this, though. He’s a stout defender and smart risk-taker defensively, and he’s shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc in a Heat offense that mostly keeps the ball out of his hands. He probably wouldn’t be putting up the sort of stats Felton is (14.2 points per game, 5.5 assists) were he asked to drive the offense as Raymond does in New York, but he probably wouldn’t be that far off.
And though we respect the Knicks and their ability to give Miami a scare, if you’re a Knicks fan and your mouth is watering in anticipation of that “Raymond Felton over Mario Chalmers”-advantage, then you are setting the table for the most Pyrrhic of victories.
This is all part of the Miami Heat’s apology tour, though. We rightfully criticized The Decision to no end, and wondered if the Heat’s supporting cast had enough to support the three All-Stars at the top of the rotation. Erik Spoelstra’s merits – again, rightfully – were criticized as the Heat worked with a stagnant and predictable offense in 2010-11, and now it appears Coach Spo has taken to out-coaching the great Gregg Popovich in a Heat win over the Spurs on Sunday. From Tom Haberstroh at ESPN:
When Popovich called a full timeout with 32 seconds left with the Spurs ahead by one point and with possession, it gave Spoelstra an opportunity to lay out his game plan for the rest of the game. Spoelstra, who once helped build Pat Riley and former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy an advanced stats database, has seen the numbers: taking timeouts in late-game situations hurts a team's ability to score. Spoelstra had two timeouts to burn, but he told the team to save them.
"We talked about it during the (Spurs') timeout," Spoelstra said. "If we forced a miss, we'd go for it."
"I loved it," Battier said. "I was just telling Haslem this: End of game situation, you're down and needing a bucket, do not let the defense set. You go and attack. Calling timeout would allow the Spurs to sub and get their defensive squad in. And we had a much better chance of scoring. All coaches want to show that they know their stuff and can win games with drawing up a play at the end of games. But it takes a lot for coaches to take their imprint off the situation like that."
(The best coaching, at times, is no coaching. Fantastic. By no means is Coach Pop the yin to Spoelstra’s yang in this situation, but it would be fantastic for other NBA coaches to have such an open mind and fluid philosophy as the game shifts and grows.)
This isn’t to say we should criticize Felton for giving the rare on-record discussion of an NBA team’s weakness, by name. It isn’t typical for players to talk as brazenly – “yeah, we’re looking at trying to force Nazr Mohammed to take more shots, because … c’mon, he’s Nazr Mohammed” – but this doesn’t mean Felton is incorrect in his offhand scouting. NBA analysts like me are allowed to speak with these sorts of specifics, though, because we’re huge jerks and we don’t have to answer to our actions on the court.
Felton? He might get hit with a few “SCOREBOARD” taunts late on Tuesday night. That’s what happens when you put yourself out there, and holy cow has Raymond Felton put himself out there.