Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnick: Miami Heat trying to turn good chemistry into more victories

From left: Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Chirs Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
From left: Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Chirs Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

There are lines that a leader crosses, and others he draws.

Chris Bosh is cool with plenty of interaction with Heat teammates, and he expects that camaraderie to be critical when the schedule turns more treacherous.

Still, boundaries matter.

“The young guys are like, ‘Hey, we should do something tomorrow,’” Bosh said a week ago Wednesday in Brooklyn before returning home. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s not that easy buddy. My kids are telling me the same thing.’”

Bosh laughed.

There are worse problems than colleagues appreciating your company.

And there would seem to be better days ahead for this Heat squad, after an occasionally frustrating 16-11 start, if it can continue creating personal and professional connections.

That subject seems like a good place to start this Christmas as the country starts its hoops feast by sampling an odd matchup.

There’s no rivalry here, just mystery about whether the healing New Orleans Pelicans can right themselves and about what exactly this fresh assortment of Heat players can become.

The latter is a mystery not just to the public or pundits, but to the Heat itself, still learning each other as people and players.

Some discoveries have been enlightening; Udonis Haslem was not aware, until seeing Goran Dragic play with a chipped tooth in Atlanta, that “G was such a goon.”

Unlike more carefully plotted linear Heat rosters, this is an accidental assemblage: Luol Deng accepting a short deal after LeBron James left; Dragic seeking rescue from Phoenix; Hassan Whiteside falling from the sky.

But although the fit has felt forced in a basketball sense, the personalities have blended surprisingly smoothly. Only four remain from the “Big Three” era, but Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Andersen and Haslem appear pleased with their diverse new associates.

“Off the court, we all get along very well,” Wade said. “Very, very well.”

Haslem referred to a “great combination of veterans and young guys and middle-aged guys,” a “perfect balance” that preaches “finding joy in other guys’ success.” Just scan the animated and creative bench, with players participating in a growing repertoire of celebration gags, from fake golfing to fake archery to — in honor of Wade’s shot array — reaching into an imaginary bag of tricks.

Amar’e Stoudemire speaks glowingly of the group of “cool, nice guys,” and its absence of agendas.

“You don’t see it too often,” Stoudemire said.

Gerald Green was amazed that after he signed he was asked to join a contingent — organized by Wade and Bosh — for a visit to Joshua Tree National Park in California.

“I think guys really like each other here,” Green said. “That’s kind of, kind of... weird, just from the simple fact that everybody’s come from a new situation. For a group of guys to gel so quick, it’s kind of uncommon. Most of teams that gel the way we’re gelling, they’ve been together for years.”

Green said the locker room is better than six of his previous seven teams, all but Indiana. Whiteside referred to the team as a “family,” with everyone having each other’s back, “through thick and thin.” Dragic called players’ motives “pure.” Deng insisted “the best thing about our group is everyone is really willing to do whatever it takes for us to be at our best. That’s really all you can ask for.”

Then this, from Wade: “You’re not bringing in a lot of guys who individually are looking for self, self, self. At this point on our team, the only guy who is looking to make a self-proclaim is Hassan. To show that he’s dominant and everything in this league. But no one else is really looking for that, so it kind of works from that standpoint.”

Does this chemistry matter? Heat players uniformly say it does.

“You are free to say whatever you need to, to a player, without them feeling some kind of way,” Stoudemire said. “If you don’t like someone, and you tell them, get back or stop the ball, they’re going to think there’s another agenda with you saying that. But if everyone gets along with each other, and they know each other, then they won’t take it the wrong way. Which helps the team.”

Green said the key is being critical “with good reason,” not to help oneself (“that’s selfish”) but because the correction can help the collective.

“Sometimes if you talk, maybe some other guy, he’s not going to like that,” Dragic said. “But at least you show you’re honest, you show that you care.”

Strangely, this Heat group finds it harder to give than receive feedback.

“We got a lot of guys who are quiet by nature,” Wade said. “So we got to keep telling each other, let’s talk more, let’s talk more. How we say things, you know we like each other, so there’s no harm in what we’re saying. So try not to be sensitive about it.”

Instead, try to trust.

Wade referred to the coverage of a Pistons’ pick-and-roll. Everyone knows Reggie Jackson will drive, while Andre Drummond will roll.

“But now trust comes into play,” Wade said. “Hassan [has] got to trust that the low guy is going to take Drummond so he can be on the ball. Then the low guy has got to trust that the top guy is going to X out to that shooter if he throws it over there. So everything has got to work together. Once you build that trust, then that continuity starts coming. Right now, I can see that trust coming, but we’re still a little bit hesitant on it. Once we get to where we don’t think, then we’re good.”

Then a good group of guys can become a great team.

Ethan J. Skolnick: 305-376-3483, @ethanjskolnick

Friday: Pelicans at Heat

When/where: Noon; AmericanAirlines Arena.

TV/radio: ESPN, Sun Sports; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).

Series: Pelicans lead 16-13.

Scouting report: The Pelicans, now led by former Heat coach Alvin Gentry, lost 11 of their first 12 games, but are playing much better as they've gotten healthier. … Former Heat guard Norris Cole (knee) is questionable. For Miami, Josh McRoberts (knee) will be out again, and point guards Goran Dragic (wrist, thumb) and Tyler Johnson (shoulder) are game-time decisions. Miami is 9-2 all-time on Christmas Day.