Season's End Proving Miami Heat Weren't Over-Reliant on LeBron James

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IApril 16, 2013

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 02: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the New York Knicks at American Airlines Arena on April 2, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

To achieve 64 wins, it's going to take more than having arguably the greatest player to step foot onto the hardwood wearing your team's jersey.

At 65-16, the Heat have long broken the previous franchise record of 61 wins, set by Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway in 1997. They ran off a historical winning streak that topped off at 27 games and have been firmly situated as the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed for over a month.

Leading the charge has been LeBron James. If all goes according to plan, he's going to become the first unanimous league MVP in NBA history.

It will come deservedly so, too, after finishing the season with a PER of 31.4. It's the fourth-highest PER in NBA history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain's 1962-63 campaign, his 1961-62 season and Michael Jordan's 1987-88. LeBron is the only player in the past decade to crack the top 10 of highest PER of all time.

And yet, it almost seemed that James was cruising in the middle of one of the greatest individual regular seasons in NBA history. This Heat team isn't at 64 wins because LeBron learned to consistently hit jumpers.

They're 65-16 because LeBron has gotten more help from his teammates at any point in his career. It truly puts into perspective just how weak James' supporting cast in Cleveland was when you take a look at the names Miami has obtained over the past three offseasons.

LeBron no longer has to deal with the pain that comes from creating a perfect play only to see it dismantle before his eyes because his teammate didn't have the talent to finish it off. Taking the place of guys like Sasha Pavlovic, Delonte West and Larry Hughes have been the likes of Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers.

Including LeBron, the Heat are in possession of seven players who are shooting at least 35 percent from beyond the arc. Of those seven, four are shooting at least 40 percent, including Battier, Allen, Chalmers and James.

Seldom-used Mike Miller and Rashard Lewis, who have spent large portions of this season out of the rotation, are shooting 39.8 and 38.5 percent, respectively.

What's more terrifying for opponents? The fact that the Miami Heat have LeBron James? Or that they have a rotation that could rival that of any opponent's starting lineup?

Take Miller and Lewis as examples. As a result of Miami's extended maintenance program, those two have received more minutes than they have throughout the season.

Miller, who played in one game in the month of February and failed to record a field goal between January 25 and March 24, has converted at least four three-pointers in four of the past eight contests, including a 7-of-11 performance in a win against Charlotte.

He recorded a season-high 26 points in that victory. This is a player who has received minimal playing time and was hardly ever featured during Miami's winning streak. In fact, he scored 13 points on 13 shots in the 27-game span.

Meanwhile, Lewis has been instrumental in a few of Miami's recent wins, including posting a season-high 19 points (3-of-5 shooting from deep) in a win against Boston.

Like Miller, Lewis was also nearly nonexistent during Miami's winning streak. The 10 points he scored against the Los Angeles Clippers and the 11 he dropped against the Orlando Magic represented the only instances where Rashard finished with double-digit points.

In his past three games, Lewis has shot 6-of-13 from beyond the arc.

Once again, this is someone you may not see much of come playoff time. Miami's playoff rotation will be whittled down to nine, which includes the starting lineup composed of Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, James, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh.

The bench will feature Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen. Unless Miami finds Cole struggling, or the possibility that Haslem falls out of rotation because of Andersen, it's unlikely you'll see Miller or Lewis playing significant minutes.

There won't be any complaints from the peanut gallery. Battier is the 14th-best spot-up shooter in the league, according to SynergySports, garnering 1.28 points per possession, and Allen ranks 15th with 1.27 PPP.

There are too many shooters on the floor as it is, and that's what has made LeBron James' so much easier this season.

According to SynergySports, the Heat rank first in the league in points per possession on spot-up sets, where they are shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc.

The ball is moving, and it's resulting in Miami garnering a great deal of open jumpers, which has obviously paid off in dividends for the sky-high three-point percentages of Battier, Allen and Chalmers.

Total, 25.1 percent of Miami's offense comes off of spot-ups, according to Synergy. It's a dangerous game to play since they're relying on jumpers, but it doesn't hurt when they have great shooters getting great looks.

Opposing coaches will certainly want Miami to take jumpers rather than having LeBron or Dwyane pound them in the paint, but that's becoming one of the Heat's strong suits as they rank second in three-point percentage.

Naturally, the Heat lead the league in overall field-goal percentage. Because when you have four guys shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc, chances are you're going to end up with some good looks within the perimeter as well.

Miami also ranks first in points per possession on isolations, post-ups, scores for the pick-and-roll man, cuts and, of course, transition opportunities.

It helps when the team doesn't have to rely on a single player every night. Does it help to have LeBron James, who is about to win his fourth MVP in five seasons? Of course.

He's going to lead the way, but he's not going to have it come as easy as he's had it this year without a substantial amount of help from teammates who have come through on so many occasions this season.

Miami's second win of the season against the San Antonio Spurs could be used as a clear example.

Even without James and Wade and being on the road in one of the toughest places to win, the Heat were able to come through thanks in part to Bosh's game-winning three-pointer, as well as 23 points and nine rebounds.

He wasn't alone, as Lewis chipped in a season-high four blocks, Miller hit four threes and Cole and Allen combined for 27 points and nine assists. They truly excelled, however, because of their defensive system, as well as garnering more looks as a result of there being no James or Wade to dominate the ball.

Without anyone controlling the ball, the Heat moved the ball around as well as they had that season, which resulted in 12-of-28 three-point shooting.

Miami has been taking an abundance of threes in the absences of either one, two or even each member of the "Big Three." They shot 13-of-33 against Charlotte, 14-of-25 against Philadelphia with LeBron in the lineup and 17-of-41 in a win over Washington where James, Wade and Bosh all sat out.

Maybe if Carmelo Anthony missed more than six of his 26 jumpers in New York's win over the Heat, which featured Chris Bosh as the only Big Three member, Miami could have put an end to the winning streak.

Even in contests without LeBron and Wade facilitating, the Heat's other team was able to come up two three-pointers short of tying the franchise record for threes in a game. It's downright bewildering when taking notice that Ray Allen shot 1-of-7 from deep that game.

There is a sense of urgency among Miami's other team when it's not at full strength.

Because of the shortcomings on talent and greatness, they have to rely on their fool-proof defensive system, move the ball to find an open shot, rather than relying on kick-outs from James and Wade, and exert a great deal of energy throughout the contest, instead of sporadically as sometimes seen during the season.

Over the past eight games, the Heat are allowing their opponents to score a mere 91 points per game. They've held their opponent to less than 90 points three times and allowed over 100 twice, one of which was that contest against New York where the Knicks scored a vast majority of their points from outside of the paint.

Only twice did the Heat feature their entire Big Three in those eight contests.

But can this team survive without James? Nobody is denying that James makes everything work at maximum efficiency, but there is due recognition for his teammates that they never seem to garner because of the generalization that LeBron is doing everything.

In case you haven't noticed, yet, the Heat aren't the Cleveland Cavaliers. If LeBron was truly doing everything on his own, his team isn't beating the San Antonio Spurs and there aren't seven players shooting 35 percent or better from beyond the arc.

The 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers had three guys shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. Those three, Mo Williams, Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak, respectively shot 37, 25 and 17 percent from beyond the arc come postseason time.

That's being over-reliant. That's where relying solely on kick-outs from one player and calling it offense fails to come through. Once the postseason rolls around, the defenses are tougher and adjustments can be made in between games.

Miami's not about to see Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers all shoot below 37 percent in the postseason.

In fact, this is usually the moment where they begin to excel.

Let's not forget that Battier was a 55 percent shooter from deep in last year's NBA Finals. Unlike the guys James was parading around as capable for entire regular seasons, these guys know pressure and they embrace it.

The maintenance program wasn't used simply as rest for Wade, James and Bosh. It was also used to get the seldom-used guys like Miller and Lewis into a rhythm, just in case they are called upon, as well as the regular rotation players brimming with confidence.

The Heat don't have to prove anything to anyone. However, stifling a few more dissenters comically downplaying their success doesn't hurt, either.


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