With a three-game road trip looming (Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia), Heat players returned to work Tuesday as an upbeat group, riding the emotional high of a seven-game winning streak and eager to embark on a 32-game-in-57-days post-All-Star break odyssey that will carry them into the playoffs.
“After the All-Star break, it’s time to really start putting everything together,” Chris Bosh said. “The games are going to start getting more intense, and guys are really, really playing for something.”
Concerns about the Heat’s uneven play on the road have dissipated somewhat after convincing recent wins in New Jersey and, particularly, Oklahoma City.
“We have a heck of a March ahead of us, and this is the time of year everyone playing for something looks forward to,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dwyane Wade cautions: “It’s going to be a tough second half” — including nine sets of back-to-back games. That doesn’t concern LeBron James, who noted Tuesday: “I get stronger on back-to-backs.”
Sizing up where each of the key players stand heading out of the break:
No player in history has ever produced the collective numbers that James is averaging this season: 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and shooting 56.5 percent from the field. And there’s this: James had made 69 percent of his shots over the past seven games — including 51 for 61 in the paint and 14 for 26 on threes.
“He’s the most-versatile player of all time,” Magic Johnson said. “Kudos to him for improving his game.”
Spoelstra contends he’s playing more efficiently than ever. His scoring average (21) is nearly four points below his career average, but he’s shooting a career-high 50.5 percent, best among two guards. And he seemingly has regained his lift after offseason knee surgery.
The offensive numbers are impressive: His 55.5 shooting percentage is well above his first two seasons with the Heat (49.6 and 48.7). And in the final five minutes of close games (margin of five or less), Bosh has made 18 of 21 shots — easily the best in the league. His 7.4 rebounding average would be a career low, but he enters Wednesday with three consecutive double-figure rebounding games for the first time all season.
His shooting percentage has dipped from 44.8 to 41.3, and he can exasperate with his uneven play. But this is encouraging: Given more responsibilities to set up the offense, Chalmers has 29 assists and just six turnovers in his past nine games, and his overall turnover average has dipped from last season (2.2 to 1.4). And has the Heat’s second-best plus/minus ratio (behind James), with Miami outscoring teams by 364 with Chalmers on the court.
Spoelstra said he’s back from a leg injury and will start Wednesday. Despite starting 31 games, he’s averaging just 19 minutes — about 10 below his career average. His rebounding (13.6 per 48 minutes) is down only slightly from recent years, and the Heat’s best plus/minus lineup features Haslem with the Big 3 and Chalmers. But he’s shooting just 32 percent on all attempts beyond two feet.
Beyond his steady defense, what has been particularly helpful has been the renaissance of his three-point game: he’s 39.9 percent shooting, compared with 33.1 the past two seasons. He has been deadly on corner threes (46 percent), and Spoelstra said the Heat’s ball movement is at its best when Battier is getting those shots.
The ride has been bumpy at times, including a recent 4-for-28 slump. His three-point percentage stands at 41.1, down from 45.3 in Boston. But he’s shooting 53 percent in clutch situations.
He’s still working on his conditioning and has collected at least four fouls in four of his 10 games, despite limited minutes. The Heat is minus-eight with Andersen on the floor, but his energy has made a difference at times, and his rebounds per 48 minutes (15.5) is a bit ahead of his 14.1 career average.
The turnovers are down from his rookie season (from 1.6 to 1.1 per game), and he is an improved shooter from 16 to 23 feet (44 percent). Though he is finishing at the rim better than a year ago, he’s shooting just 26 percent (12 for 45) on shots from 3 to 16 feet. But he’s undoubtedly a better player than the one who struggled the second half of last season.
After falling out of the rotation for more than a month, Lewis has begun receiving regular, albeit uneven, minutes as Miami’s 10th man. The upside is he’s shooting 41.8 percent on three-pointers. But Miami has been outscored by 67 with Lewis in the game.
His minutes have been curtailed since Andersen’s addition, but he still figures to play in spots, usually when Andersen is in foul trouble. His defense remains an asset, but his 9.2 rebounds per 48 minutes is fourth-worst among NBA centers.
He hasn’t been used in seven of the past eight games — he missed one of those with the flu — because Spoelstra more often has opted for Lewis’ size over Miller’s diverse skill set. But he could still be a factor in the playoffs, depending on matchups, before likely being amnestied this offseason.