With one regular season game and victory for the Miami Heat in the books, it's already looking like Mario Chalmers is getting the respect from bench players which he lacked from previous season's starters.
Curiously, when the starters got breathers in the first quarter against the Charlotte Hornets, the Heat didn't seem to miss a beat. Mario Chalmers' championship experience and seven seasons with Erik Spoelstra brought continuity to the game as the fresh legs took the floor. While Gerald Green and Justise Winslow got the headlines, Chalmers delivered stability to the group since he knows Spoelstra's game plan by heart.
People marvel at the cohesiveness of the reserves, but that stems from the leadership status the reserves give Chalmers. Winslow, Green, Amar'e Stoudemire and Josh Richardson are all new to the Heat system, while Josh McRoberts, Tyler Johnson and James Ennis are just in their second season in Miami. Against Charlotte, Winslow and Green had marvelous games, but it was Chalmers who quietly guided them on how the coach wanted the game to be played.
Chalmers assisted both of Winslow's baskets and Chalmers got the steal to set up Winslow's highlight dunk. Without Chalmers heads-up play on the floor, the dunk would not have happened:
Spoelstra quickly realized the officials were not going to give Hassan Whiteside a break, so he put in Udonis Haslem, who as a veteran, gets much more respect from officiating crews in the NBA. Oftentimes coaches juggle the lineups depending on who the game's officials are and how they are calling the game.
Realistically Whiteside is a brick wall when a normal-sized player runs into him. Hassan won't feel the hit, while the other guy will be on the floor. No foul was committed, but it appears like one was. Referees will protect the little guys, even if they are the instigators. If Whiteside learns enough body control to deftly sidestep direct contact, his attackers will go flying by grabbing at air when they lunge at him. He knows he is strong, but that is being used against him.
The Heat had the luxury of resting Johnson, Stoudemire, Ennis, Chris Andersen and Richardson on Opening Night. Spoelstra has so many role players that he could have put Johnson in for a three-guard lineup, Stoudemire and Andersen for big front line, or Ennis for rebounding and hustle if the situation demanded it. He can custom tailor a team depending on who they are playing, or if someone is simply having an off-night.
The 3-point shooting that is such a concern, was amazingly good. I think that came from the coaching Spoelstra gave them in practices. Once the feet are placed correctly and the shooter gets set properly, the shots go in. If anything Spoelstra is meticulous, and he had the Heat ready to shoot 3-pointers with accuracy once the games count for real. With enough work, the Heat can fix their long-shots problems internally.
Spoelstra used an Oreo philosophy where he played a fresh Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to start the game, and had them rested enough to close out the game against exhausted starters or second-stringers. Meanwhile the creamy middle part shut down the Hornets and ran them ragged for the second and third quarters. Last season the Heat couldn't finish out games, but last night they made the game interesting but had enough energy in the last minute to not let it slip away.
As a reminder, they began 2014 quickly at 3-0 and 5-2. This year though the indications are the team's success will be more sustainable, because the team will not have to play to the point of exhaustion.
Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Spoelstra will have five fresh bodies ready for action, who are all capable to contribute with meaningful efforts. If the improved 3-pointers and free-throw shooting is any indication, Spoelstra has put in a lot of reps to improve the Heat's shooting mechanics to further strengthen their case for a deep post-season run.