The post-LeBron James hangover has officially lingered now for more than half of the season.
The Heat played its 42nd game Wednesday in Charlotte, and while there have been some incremental improvements recently, the team still has some glaring holes on its roster that were there when the season started.
Injuries and illnesses have contributed to the inconsistencies, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is still searching for answers that just aren’t there on most nights.
Spoelstra used his 16th different starting lineup of the season Wednesday and that piecemeal unit once again had trouble at times running a half-court offense. James was the Heat’s de facto point guard for four seasons, and the Heat hasn’t found a consistent replacement to facilitate offense. Dwyane Wade has been the Heat’s best point guard this season, and that’s not even his position.
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“I’m not concerned,” Spoelstra said of his guards, “we just need to find consistency in our game. There are times when we look great and we’re getting organized and the ball goes where it needs to go and we’re taking care of the basketball. And there are some nights like [Tuesday].”
The Heat had 22 turnovers against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Miami had seven assists in the first half against the Hornets.
Wade called the first half of the season “trying” when asked to describe the first 41 games. The Heat began the season with big plans for forward Josh McRoberts, but he started just four games before partially tearing the meniscus in his right knee.
Since then the Heat has completely revamped its offense and defense around a little-known center named Hassan Whiteside. Just when Whiteside was making a positive impact, he sprained his ankle against the Thunder and didn’t travel to Charlotte. Luol Deng also did not travel due to an illness.
“It seems like every time we get one back, another goes out,” Wade said. “It’s unfortunate. We’re a better team when [Whiteside] is in the ball game.”
Despite the team’s many shortcomings at the start of the second half of the season, Wade was positive on Tuesday night that the Heat would piece together “a better second half of this season than the first half.”
Heat forward Chris Andersen made his first three-pointer of the season Tuesday against the Thunder. Don’t expect that trend to continue, Spoelstra said. Does the Heat’s coach want his 6-10 energetic rebounder and shot-blocker attempting three-pointers?
“No, and he and I will probably never see eye-to-eye on that,” Spoelstra said. “But at the end of possessions, and I have no problem with him working on it, and he actually makes it at a decent level. I’m not going to be lining him up for a catch-and-shoot three, but if you caught end of possession and he has the ability to shoot the ball, I’ll never restrict him.”
Andersen practices his three-point shooting daily, but has only attempted two shots behind the arc this season. His corner three-pointer came after guard Shabazz Napier drew an extra defender on a drive to the basket.
“That was the right play to make [Tuesday],” Spoelstra said. “[Napier] got into the middle of the paint and he was wide open from three. But, still, the most important thing for [Andersen] is to give us that presence in the paint, that vertical spacing, the drop offs and the offensive rebounding.”
▪ Forbes Magazine ranked the best fans in the NBA on Wednesday. Heat fans topped the list.
▪ The NBA will announce starters for the All-Star game on Thursday. Wade is expected to be named a starter for the 10th time. It will be his 11th All-Star team selection in his 12-year career.