This image--with the Heat winning by 20 in the 4th quarter--is one I hope to see a lot of for the rest of the season.
Christmas Day is fast approaching, and I thought it would be a good thing for me to fill out my own personal wish list for my favorite team. I will make my wishes in five categories: The team as a whole, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Coach Erik Spoelstra. If I get my wishes in these five areas, there is no reason I can think of that the Miami Heat will not be World Champions by summer.
The Team as a Whole
My main wish for the entire team is health. I haven't written or talked much about it, but I believe a significant portion of the problems our guys have been having is due to time missed due to injury by Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. U-D is going to help out with much-needed toughness on the interior, rebounding, and leadership upon his return. Softness up front has been a major problem for this team, and while Haslem may not have the size, he is tough as nails and is an excellent rebounder. Mike Miller's return will help things move a whole lot smoother on offense. They guy is a lights out shooter, he can handle the ball, and he's not afraid to hit the boards himself. I'll mention Erick Dampier here as well because if he can remain healthy and get himself into playing shape, he will be an asset to this team-even if he plays only 15 minutes or so a game. Fortunately, the injury bug has not hit this team any harder. Just think: If injuries to Miller and Haslem have had the effect they have, what if James, Bosh, or Wade have to miss significant time due to injury?
LeBron needs to take down his rabbit ears. The only people's opinions with which he should concern himself are (in this order) Coach Spoelstra's, Dwyane Wade's, Chris Bosh's, and the rest of his teammates'. Any other pundits, prognosticators, presidents, players, and even the rest of us don't matter. He should seek to earn the respect of his teammates by simply playing his tail off and keeping his mouth closed. The rest will take care of itself. He is on this team to make plays-for himself and others. Some nights, he may lead the team in scoring. Other nights he will need to be the leading assist man. Others still he may need to be the leading rebounder. Whatever it takes.
Chris needs to toughen up. He showed toughness last season to a degree I had never seen from him. Rebounding-like defense-is about 70% effort and desire. Sure there is technique involved, but without the necessary effort, he will continue to be a power forward that rebounds like a small forward. For this team to reach its full potential, Bosh is going to need to pull a Pau Gasol. Remember when he was first traded to the Lakers? He was an instant upgrade over what they had and they made it to the Finals that first year, but it was not until Gasol committed to playing on the block and even getting 20 rebounds if needed that he made his team true Champions. If Bosh can develop that type of attitude, the possibilities for this team are endless. Whatever it takes.
Dwyane is going to have to become the vocal leader of this team. As always, he leads quite well by example with the way he handles his business on the court. Some guys learn well from an example set in front of them. Others need more encouragement to accept their roles and responsibilities. Wade will need to get in guys' faces when needed. He's got to be the big bro. D-Wade can applaud his guys and celebrate all he wants when they perform at a high level and when they're at least doing the right things, but when they are being less than responsible or getting out of line, he has to be the enforcer. He doesn't have to be high scorer, but he does need to set the bar high for attitude, effort, and desire. Whatever it takes.
My first and foremost wish for our head coach is that all of the above happens-and soon. While I believe Pat Riley has the utmost confidence that Coach Spo is the man for the job, whenever it looks like this teams has fallen into a lull or rumors of infighting amongst players persist, the national media and much of the fan base will be calling for Spo's head on a platter. The health thing is not something he can control, but he's going to need limited injuries and virtually no injuries to his core in order to be successful. In his dealings with LeBron, Coach Spo cannot afford to back down. Hopefully no one promised him this would be an easy process, so he and No. 6 will have their growing pains, but James must (and I mean must) respect his coach. Any further shenanigans on LeBron's part will need to be met with stiff discipline by both Spo and upper level management in the organization. Maybe Spo could show Chris Bosh evidence that the Lakers went from getting thumped by Boston in the 2008 Finals to virtually dominating the 2009 Finals because Pau Gasol became committed to holding his ground in the post area and to rebounding. Dwyane Wade must become Spo's biggest ally. Wade's firm and visible support of Coach Spo as the heart and soul of the team will go a long way toward the rest of the guys falling in line.
All that said, Spo needs to get a clue on offense. I know his focus is defense-and it should be. I know we score enough points on most nights to win as long as the defense is at least decent-and that's great. But let's be realistic. Even the player who prides himself on doing the dirty work of rebounding and playing defense likes to put the ball in the hole occasionally. That said, the three-headed monster of James, Bosh, and Wade have been 20-point scorers for much of their careers. They have absolutely no hope of all continuing those marks if they're going to stand and watch one another on offense. I called for a coaching change during the offseason and even before that for these very reasons. As good as they are, these guys cannot figure it out for themselves. They need a system based on the principles of spacing, off-ball movement, and willing passing. Whatever it takes.
Don't get me wrong. The pick and roll is awesome and has its place in any good offense, but it only works as a staple if two things are both true: 1) the team running it needs to be playing two-man basketball with the other three players moving to complement the two-man action. 2) the screener must be a finisher as he rolls to the hoop (a la Karl Malone or Carlos Boozer). The Heat has neither. We have three viable offensive options as opposed to two with virtually no off-ball movement, and none of our bigs are looking to roll to the basket and finish consistently inside.
If my wish list can be fulfilled-possibly even just three of the five-I see no reason Miami Heat fans as a whole won't see their overall wish of another Championship banner hanging in American Airlines Arena come to fruition. What do you wish for this team?