Game Time: Heat 99, Sixers 95
The Heat keep on cooking.
Their victory over Philadelphia marks their ninth in a row, the longest current streak in the league. A month ago, Miami was in the ninth slot and going belly-up, but now it's battling Milwaukee for the fifth seed.
A win is a win. Yet for about 44 minutes, the Sixers played as though they had something important at stake, while the Heat played like their season was already dead.
During that long and aggravating subpar stretch, Miami was lethargic, while Philadelphia was energetic. Miami rarely reversed the ball and frequently settled for quick jumpers, while Philadelphia took full advantage of the home team's weak interior defense.
Even Dwyane Wade had trouble getting his game into gear. He didn't tally his initial point until 6:51 of the second quarter. Meanwhile, he missed three layups, a bunch of free throws, was twice faked out of his boots by Jason Kapono, and committed several unforced turnovers. Before the intermission, D-Wade had registered only 6 points on 2-7 shooting -- and then missed his first three shots in the second half.
To be fair, though, the Sixers looked to double Wade on every screen/roll no matter how far away he was from the rim. And Wade made excellent decisions in these circumstances, making the pass that led to another pass that culminated in an uncontested shot for a teammate. Unfortunately, the Heat only managed to shoot 41.9 percent from the field.
Michael Beasley was even worse. Bricking jumpers, forcing his dribble into crowds, and getting lost on defense. No wonder he only played 15-plus minutes.
Quentin Richardso n hit a few shots (4-7) showed crafty anticipation on defense (4 steals) but was never a major factor.
Jermaine O'Neal was returning from a five-game absence due to his various injuries -- and he looked as though he hadn't played in five months. JO huffed and puffed but couldn't find a way over or around the long-armed defense of Samuel Dalembert. Plus his defense was atrocious. In fact, he made Dalembert -- 19 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocked shots -- almost look like Bill Russell. (Of course, Dalembert did make one of his routine bone-headed plays when he was guilty of an obvious offensive goal-tend with his team trailing by a deuce and only 5.6 seconds left in the game.)
Carlos Arroyo could have been arrested for child abuse on the basis of the easy scores he produced against Jrue Holiday, the youngest player in the league. But Arroyo was always a step behind Holiday's substitute, the fleet-footed Lou Williams. In any case, Arroyo hit half of his open shots (3-6) and occasionally got to the rim. Yet his single assist attests to his penchant for over-handling, and was one reason why Miami's offense was so stagnant for most of the game.
Mario Chalmers was aggressive at both ends of the court, but shot only 1-6 from long distance. When is this guy going to put the brilliant pieces of his game together and become the dynamic point guard he should be?
Joel Anthony set several sturdy screens, but was usually a half-step late in his defensive rotations. And he should never be allowed to dribble the ball when a defender is within 10 feet of him.
Dorell Wright was the Heat's best player on offense -- 7-12 for 19 points -- and worst on defense. The young man has a world of talent.
As soon as Udonis Haslem entered the fray, his team instantly stepped up its intensity. With the game-clock reduced to just seconds, Haslem made a pair of critical defensive plays: A big show on a high screen/roll that jammed up the Sixers' play. And then drawing an important charging foul that negated a basket.
In the end, however, it was D-Wade who pulled the game out of the fire. In the waning minutes with the game still up for grabs, he nailed jumpers on back-to-back possessions -- his only successful springers of the contest. Then he powered his way through what was left of Philly's defense for a pair of three-point plays the hard way.
Never mind that Wade was only 6-11 from the stripe; that for most of the game he was outplayed by Kapono; that he shot an airball from 12 feet; and that he was 0-3 from beyond the arc. He did what he had to do when he had to do it.
So, then, what are Miami's prospects as the playoffs loom?
Their sieve-like interior defense will be the source of too many layups no matter who their first-round opponent might be.
Unless Beasley finally figures out the difference between a good shot and a bad one Miami will likewise be doomed to an early exit.
Haslem is a winner -- no need to worry about his performance in the playoffs.
Wright is an X-factor, who can conceivably keep both teams in the game.
O'Neal must make his jumpers to compensate for everything else he is no longer capable of doing.
Chalmers and Richardson also have to bury their perimeter shots.
But the key to Miami's fortunes is D-Wade. If his jumpers are dropping, then he's virtually impossible to defend. However, he'll have to average 40-plus points per game for Miami to advance into the second round -- which he's certainly capably of doing.
It should be noted that the Heat's win streak has been accomplished at the expense of some of the league's worst teams -- with the notable exception of Charlotte -- and that their remaining four games will be against Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey, so they could easily run out the season.
While it's true that a team can only beat the opponents that are on their schedule, the low level of their end-season competition does little to prepare the Heat for the playoffs.
In any event, nine plus a probable four adds up to 13 good reasons why the Heat will mostly likely secure the fifth seed and open the playoffs versus either Boston or Atlanta. Just accomplishing this would make for an incredibly successful season.
But there'll be no ugly wins for the Heat in the money season.
If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email email@example.com and he may respond in a future column.