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Is Heat Small Ball Doomed?

After the Chicago Bulls’ utter dominance on the boards in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, some pundits have said that Erik Spoelstra should move away from going to his small lineups that usually feature LeBron James at the power forward position. We know that the Heat should focus on rebounding before Game 2, but would a move in the rotation help that sufficiently?

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Bulls showcased some athleticism in Game 1 that the Heat probably were not expecting to see. Everyone knows that Derrick Rose is quick and that Luol Deng is a long, athletic player, but Taj Gibson made some impressive plays. He had a thunderous dunk, taking the ball right over Dwyane Wade’s head for the jam. In the fourth quarter, Gibson grabbed a missed 3-point shot and slammed the ball home in one motion.

Miami’s small lineups match Chicago’s athleticism, so moving away from that rotation may simply create another hole. Spoelstra could activate Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but he is too slow to defend the pick-and-roll. If he gets out of position, Joakim Noah could easily tip-in shots. And although Erick Dampier rebounded the ball well during the regular season, he hasn’t played during this entire postseason. Besides, James is 6-foot-8 and weighs 250 pounds. He is only listed one inch shorter than Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson. Having him at the four shouldn’t put Miami at a deficit at all.

Spoelstra doesn’t have much in his center rotation, so he could continue to use Joel Anthony as the starter and play Jamaal Magloire when the burly center Omer Asik checks in. Udonis Haslem is a great rebounder, but he does not appear to have the same lift he had before he sustained his severe foot injury in late November. Haslem should continue to play and work his way back, but he is not a solution.

The rebounding responsibility falls primarily on the three players who comprise almost two-thirds of the Heat’s payroll. Although Chris Bosh had nine rebounds in Game 1, only two of those came in the second half. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN’s Heat Index documented all of Chicago’s 19 offensive rebounds and identified Bosh as the culprit of five of them. Wade and James should also grab more boards and box out their men. I know those two like to get out in the open court once a shot is fired, but the Heat can’t have Luol Deng rebound his own perimeter miss after James contests the shot. If a Bull attempts a shot in the paint, Anthony will usually contest the shot, putting him out of position to rebound. But Bosh, James and Wade should all be in position to crash the boards.

C.J. Watson also grabbed two offensive boards in the game, so Mario Chalmers needs to box out his man as well. Spoelstra could use a bit more of Mike Miller. The Heat’s fourth-highest paid player has disappointed with his 3-point shooting, but hustles and rebounds.

Some have overreacted to this loss, but it’s not as if the Heat lost by 21 in AmericanAirlines Arena. This team still has another chance to steal home-court advantage Wednesday night. If the Heat simply do a better job of sending more players to the glass and boxing out, they should be fine.