Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnick: Don’t worry about Cavs, Miami Heat has own issues to fix

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, left, and Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James talk after an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami.
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, left, and Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James talk after an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami. AP

For reeling Heat fans, especially the most active on social media, there was a welcome distraction this week: the seeming chaos in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers’ coaching change was a source of great glee to the crew calling itself #TeamPetty, not because of animus toward David Blatt, but because of the distinction it drew between the team for which LeBron James now plays, and the one that employed him from the summer of 2010 through 2014.

It’s understandable to be proud of the Heat’s stability, with just three coaching changes in 21 years compared to six changes in the 11 years of Dan Gilbert’s Cavaliers stewardship. Just as it’s understandable to appreciate how the Heat, at every level, defused rather than ignited controversy during its own Big Three era — deadbolting steel doors to safeguard sensitive info rather than slipping it to reporters through a peephole.

Still, for Heat supporters, that’s still a mere sideshow.

No, none of what’s happening now in Cleveland happened in Miami, and it’s unlikely any of this would happen in Miami. But what matters is what is actually happening in Miami.

That shouldn’t get lost in the chuckles.

The Heat, and its fans, would love to have Cleveland’s troubles.

For all of the hyperventilation about the Cavaliers’ dysfunction, Tyronn Lue’s crew entered Sunday’s play a full eight games, and seven seeds, ahead of the Heat in the Eastern Conference. And although Miami has been ravaged by injuries of late, its five starters have still missed fewer games combined (20) than the 26 that Kyrie Irving has missed for Cleveland.

Maybe the Cavaliers’ house is disheveled but, as far as this season goes, the Heat’s is closer to condemned. With Monday’s rough road date in Chicago looming, the Heat is now 23-21, which gives Miami a 60-66 record since James left. Although that’s not nearly as woeful as the Cavaliers were while James was playing for the Heat — 97-215 in four seasons — it should be put in the context of what each team attempted to achieve in his absence.

The Cavaliers, however clumsily, were rebuilding.

Riley was reloading.

That’s what he does. That’s what he was more determined than ever to accomplish, after James spurned him, torched his generational team and likely extended his working years. That has been the theme of what he’s told free agents since James left, that he will not let the Heat fall on his watch. But the Heat has been falling.

That’s not to say it can’t rise back to greater relevance, even in the later stages of this season, when it starts getting some bodies back, and there was some optimism on that front at Sunday's practice — Beno Udrih is expected back Monday, and Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng and even Josh McRoberts may join a healing Dwyane Wade on the court by week’s end.

Nor should anyone rule out Riley retooling the Heat into a more serious contender next summer, especially now that he has time to plan, the time that James’ late notice denied him.

Still, there’s no denying how some of his reshuffling has fallen short of his lofty standards.

Josh McRoberts has played only 37 games. Danny Granger is gone from the game. Deng, whom Riley called one of the franchise’s most important signings, hasn’t looked comfortable in an altered role. Goran Dragic, who initially appeared an inspired acquisition, has been a forced fit with franchise cornerstone Wade. Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green, celebrated as minimum-salary steals, have been sparingly-used, and sporadically-accurate, respectively.

Miami is now caught in a series of Catch-22s. Riley needs to trade for a shooter, but has no assets after previous deals made. Erik Spoelstra might tinker with a regular starting lineup that’s been net negative, but no reserve appears a better option. The Heat might be better off if Wade reduced his usage rate, but it’s unclear which of Miami’s collection of passive personalities would take charge if he didn’t. The Whiteside project seems a critical component for Miami's success, but, considering his contract status, it’s quite conceivable the Heat is just developing him for someone else.

Those issues aren’t easily resolved, as the Heat tries to catch Cleveland.

So catch yourself before laughing too hard at Cleveland.

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

Monday: Heat at Bulls

When/where: 8 p.m.; United Center, Chicago.

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710.

Series: Bulls 55-44

Scouting report: First meeting of the season between two teams with a contentious recent history. Chicago, coming off a win against Cleveland, is without Joakim Noah (shoulder) for the next several months. … Beno Udrih (neck) practiced fully Sunday and should start, as Goran Dragic (calf) remains a few days away. Dwyane Wade (shoulders) plans to play, but Hassan Whiteside (oblique) and Luol Deng (eye) are questionable at best.

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