With title contenders San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder fully in control of their destiny out West, the heavily-favored Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics face an uncertain future and have their hands full with younger, hungry teams in the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia Sixers, respectively. Just days ago, it was considered a good thing by Heat fans that the Celtics-Sixers series could be extended in order for Chris Bosh to get more rest and make a comeback for the next series. Now, Heat nation is simply praying that their own team's series is extended or else this once-promising season won't have anyone coming back for the next series.
After a couple of days of rest to physically recharge their batteries, perhaps most important for the team is to mentally and emotionally recharge and hopefully purge themselves from the nightmare that was Game 3. But once the ball is tipped off what can the Heat actually do to stop the momentum and win on the road to take back home court advantage and tie the series up?
Get back to basics...from earlier in the season
Let's just say Erik Spoelstra inserting Dexter Pittman into the starting lineup in order to deal with the Pacers' taller frontline didn't exactly work out. So it's time to forget about trying to figure out how to combat the other team's strengths and instead force the opponent to react to one of remaining strengths the Heat have left. The team defense has been effective for the most part this series, it's the offense that's a complete mess. Not long ago, the Heat were one of the quickest teams in the league by relentlessly pushing the ball up-court and constantly forcing the opponent's defense to play on their heels.
Watching clips of the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers recently, it was remarkable just how quickly they would push the ball up-court no matter if the opposing team scored a basket or not. In one instance after a Larry Bird basket, the Lakers inbounded the ball to Magic Johnson running at full speed while the Boston Celtics scrambled to set their defense up. Within seconds, Byron Scott had a wide open mid-range jump shot that he buried before the Celtics could even react. Sure there are plenty of dunks and spectacular lay-ups in Lakers highlight reels from the 80s that we see all the time on ESPN, but this was just a basic play that netted two points all the same. And it was a game played in the Finals.
Why can't LeBron James and Dwyane Wade lead this same type of charge? Without Bosh, the Heat's big men aren't exactly offensively gifted and the team's shooters can't score from long range. Forcing turnovers and having a fast break opportunity is easier said than done, but the Heat should push the pace and hit the gas pedal whenever there's a chance with or without a forced turnover, made basket or missed basket. The Heat's Big 2 could get their baskets as we all know how good they are by the rim but most important facilitate easy points for the supporting role players. Mario Chalmers displayed some impressive penetrating moves against the Pacers in Game 3 so he's got it in him as well.
Are there disadvantages to playing this way in the postseason? Sure, common thinking dictates playoff basketball is played at a slower, half-court pace. But time is running out and it's simply not working with this current Heat team and with a strangely ineffective Wade that can't make a basket outside of the paint stretching back from the first round. Desperate times call for desperate measures and besides, this isn't exactly trying something new. It was working early in the season and it could throw off the Pacers' game plan.
Forget the three-pointers, keep attacking the rim
Along the same lines as playing the game at a higher pace, the Heat need to abandon hope for now that their shooters will suddenly become proficient from distance. The Heat have done a good job at getting into the bonus at times in this series, they simply haven't been able to take advantage thanks to uneven free throw shooting and a preference to continue shooting three-pointers over and over again after the ball handler makes the initial penetration move and kicks the ball out to a wide open shooter. The Pacers are leaving these shooters wide open for a reason. Instead of camping out there waiting for the ball, players such as Shane Battier, Chalmers and Mike Miller should trail the penetrator and expect the pass closer to the basket after the Pacers big men have committed to the ball handler and left their feet to defend the rim. Besides, it's a lot easier to get back on track with free-throw shooting than it is with three-pointers.
Stop complaining about foul calls, get back on defense
At the risk of getting an earful from Dwyane Wade, this one is mostly for #3. Not all calls are going to go your way, deal with it. Besides, you can always discuss it with the refs during a stop in the action. Your team needs you to get back on track with your game, not waste time arguing a call that's already been made. With a team starving for points, the Heat can't afford any more 4-point swings.
Game 4 between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers starts at 3:30 PM ET on ABC.