The Spurs have been hurting lately. Oh, they are still winning games, but they've been hard-pressed to do so given the injuries to five of their top seven players. Only a couple of teams in the league have used more starting lineups this year than the Spurs, and that's the Bucks and the Lakers. not exactly the kind of company that a championship contender wants to be identified with.
But everyone's back and healthy now, Tiago Splitter's separated shoulder is mended. Manu Ginobili's hamstring seems to be holding up. Kawhi Leonard's and Danny Green's hands are healed. Tony Parker's variety of maladies have all been tended to, and so it looks like we might have a regular-season meeting between San Antonio and Miami without anyone being held out for health issues -- or coaching caprice.
It's good to be consistent. It's better to be good, but if you can be consistent too, so much the better.
Talking to one of my writers the other day, he mentioned that in each of the past four seasons, through 53 games the Heat had 39 wins and 14 losses. That exact same record four years in a row. That's a winning percentage of 73.5%, which works out to a 60 win season. The Spurs have just clinched their 17th straight winning season, and they have are currently in the league's longest streak of 50-win seasons, but these four years have been pretty special for Miami, to say the least.
There have been a lot of changes in Miami's roster since Lebron James ... talents ... South Beach, etc. But that kind of consistent excellence is impressive, which only makes sense because you guys have a pretty impressive core. And they definitely have the media's attention to show for it, so I'm going to avoid to Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh for the time being.
Watching the team day in and day out, big three aside, what do you see as the most impressive and consistent features of the team?
Erik Spoelstra may not send practically all of his starters home instead of playing a game early into a regular season like Pop did in Miami not so long ago, but there is definitely an eye towards getting ready at this precise time of the regular season to get to optimal health and team chemistry heading into the postseason, which is what elite teams like the Heat and Spurs are smart to do.
This is also why Wade has looked so fresh and athletic lately. Instead of getting run down with heavy minutes in his return to NBA-form during his rehab, unlike Kobe or Rose did might I add, Wade is peaking at the right time. You might have heard about what LeBron has been up to lately. Bosh has put together a string of efficient and excellent basketball on both ends of the floor to compliment his All-Star teammates. I'm sure any Spurs fan can agree that their team can always play well on any night but when Parker, Manu and Duncan are clicking together then they become virtually unstoppable.
Beyond the Big 3, I've personally been so impressed with Greg Oden's determination and work ethic to return to shape and get back on the floor. And he's been quietly but confidently putting together some intriguing performances in limited minutes. Yes, most of his field goals are dunks but besides Birdman, the Heat have not had many big men who can catch and finish like Oden can and that adds yet another wrinkle to their offense. He's been feisty going for boards and has altered shots and been a legitimate presence in the paint. Can he help against the Pacers and in the Finals should the Heat get that far? He just might and for someone playing for the veteran's minimum in his comeback, that's a great score for the Heat front office.
Same goes for Michael Beasley, he came cheap and has been a nice offensive spark off the bench in some games. I've also been impressed with Norris Cole's progression in the NBA and he has shown he can rise to the occasion in the playoffs just like Mario Chalmers. Add that with Shane Battier and Ray Allen who are sure to provide some timely performances for the Heat in the playoffs and the team looks to be in good shape.
As for consistency, the Heat's record in the month of February in the Big 3 era is 31-5 and a perfect 15-0 at home.
So yeah, that's pretty good I'd say and just fits right into your theme of consistency and how it makes it that much more helpful to be able to rise above the other elite teams.
Another wrinkle that Greg Oden brings to the offense? Defense and rebounding are what I thought that signing was all about. Any points you get out of him are strictly gravy, aren't they? If he's contributing points for you guys with the reserves, then it's just not going to be fair. For his sake, I hope he's able to stay healthy. But for the sake of the rest of the league ... no, I hope he stays healthy. He's experienced enough disappointment with his body for several careers.
And getting Oden and Michael Beasley was score for the front office, eh? I respect Pat Riley as much as anyone and he deserves all of the accolades he's received for the work he's done on the roster, but I've got to think adding Beasley and Oden this summer had to have been about the easiest things he's ever done. About as risky as the most popular guy in high school who drives a Ferrari to school asking the gorgeous blonde head-cheerleader to go to prom with him. (Pssst. Dude, chill out. She's going to say yes, ok?)
Something tells me that I would have been able to be the front man for the Heat in their courting of those two this past off-season. I think the pitch would have gone something like, "Wanna play with Lebron James? Wanna maybe help us get a third straight ring? You do? Cool."
That said, I think both of those guys make great additions to your team. Beasley seems to be able to keep his head on straight in an environment already led by the established, strong personalities of Erik Spoelstra and James. And Oden can be a game changer with the second unit, and a solid contributor with the starters as long as his minutes are limited.
Yeah, you guys have added your pieces, and the Spurs have too. Marco Belinelli has been a revelation with his outside shooting and overall floor game. Also, the man has some unreal touch around the basket, shooting over .700 from the restricted area. And the addition of Patty Mills means that for the first time in a decade, the Spurs have a legit backup point guard.
What's that? ... you thought Mills was on the team last year? Oh, no. That was an entirely different guy. You know how every year people make fun of the stories that come out of training camp with headlines like "Player X worked out like crazy in the offseason and is in the best shape of his life"? But in the second preseason game you do a doubletake and it looks like nothing's changed? Well, over the past summer, you'll never believe it, but Patty Mills worked out like crazy and is in the best shape of his life. So much so that people weren't recognizing him in training camp. He's had a really good season, and will be a fresh face for Miami fans seeing as he only logged garbage time minutes in last year's Finals.
Speaking of the Finals, we recently posted a story about how, convential wisdom to the contrary, a Thunder/Heat Finals would be boring, and essentially a replay of 2012 because of how well Miami matches up against Oklahoma City. Tell me who you think the Heat's toughest matchup is: Indiana, OKC or San Antonio? And why?
To be continued...
For Part II of our exchange, visit Pounding The Rock.