What Miami Heat Must Do Between Now and Start of the NBA Playoffs

Wes Goldberg@@wcgoldbergContributor IIFebruary 28, 2014

Oct 23, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis (23) battles for a rebound with Miami Heat center Greg Oden (20) and power forward Chris Bosh (1) during the first half of a preseason game at New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In his most recent games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers, Dwyane Wade scored 24 and 32 points, respectively.
In his most recent games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers, Dwyane Wade scored 24 and 32 points, respectively.Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been made of the Miami Heat needing to “flip the switch,” but what does that even mean?

I’ll let Chris Bosh answer that, in response to a question by Bleacher Report’s Ethan J. Skolnick about what bothers him the most when people talk about the Heat.

Probably that we don't work hard, that we just expect everything comes easy to us...That we just think we show up and that's it. That whole Hollywood thing. Dudes work hard. We put a lot of time into this.

Hmm. Seems to me that this flip-switching narrative is as fictitious as the stories told in 50 Shades of Grey.

So how have the Heat improved in February, then? What do they need to do between now and the postseason to keep going up the curve so that they peak precisely at the right time?

Managing Health

We know Miami’s primary concern is being healthy in the playoffs. More than home-court advantage, this is the most important thing for the Heat. Especially in regard to Dwyane Wade.

A healthy, cutting, helping, jumping Wade takes the Heat from the level of The Tourist Angelina Jolie to Tomb Raider Angelina Jolie status.

A lot hotter.

The Heat look better now because Wade has played in nine of the team’s 10 February games. In January, when the team lost six games, Wade logged 20 minutes or more just four times.

In Miami’s 10-game win streak from mid-November to the first of December, Wade played in all but two games and logged more than 30 minutes in each appearance save for a blowout against the Charlotte Bobcats (23 minutes).

What about Miami’s back-to-back losses?

Wade never played in both games of those losses.

Heat fans could grow upset with the Heat's on-and-off approach to playing Wade, but a healthy Wade in the playoffs is a lot more important when every game counts.

So are a healthy Greg Oden, Ray Allen and LeBron James.

The Heat have played more games than any other team the last three seasons and the miles are piling up. They know how to win in the playoffs, but they just need to be healthy to do it.

Healthier than last season, when Wade and Shane Battier were especially beaten up.

Add a Player

Adding a veteran to the mix would be a terrific insurance policy. Caron Butler, Danny Granger or Ben Gordon could all come in and take on some scoring responsibility. 

Granger would be my last choice since he's been on-and-off with injuries the last couple of seasons. As for Gordon, he's a one-dimensional, three-point specialist. 

Butler has a history with the Heat, and rejoining the organization has a good feel to it.

When Wade needs the rest, Butler is capable of a spot start. This would also help preserve Allen, who has started in place of Wade a few times this season.

The Heat have been known to use as few as eight players in a given playoff game.
The Heat have been known to use as few as eight players in a given playoff game.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Oden is averaging a little more than eight minutes per game in February.
Oden is averaging a little more than eight minutes per game in February.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Tightening the Rotation

I call this Apple’ing the rotation, and it might be the only thing the Heat can control (a.k.a. “turn on”).

You’ve surely noticed the way Apple goes about packaging its products. Steve Jobs eliminated wasted space in his packaging. He tightened it up.

NBA teams "Apple" their rotations in the playoffs. No wasted minutes. No wasted space.

Miami, of course, can only Jobs it up when players aren’t injured. But that’s why we talked about that first.

By now we’ve come to the conclusion that, for the Heat, January (57 percent win percentage) was bad and February (90.9 percent) is good.

Let’s take a look at the player usage (measured by minutes per game) by the Heat in those months.

In January, 16 players got minutes, including Rashard Lewis 13.6 MPG; Toney Douglas (traded to Miami) 1.8 MPG; Michael Beasley 12.3 MPG; Greg Oden 8.4 MPG; Udonis Haslem 13.9 MPG; James Jones 2.6 MPG; Roger Mason Jr. 8.1 MPG.

In February, 12 players got minutes, including Lewis 9.0 MPG; Douglas 6.6 MPG; Beasley 10.8 MPG; Oden 8.3 MPG. Haslem hasn’t played; neither have Jones or Mason Jr. (recently traded).

That’s tighter than an Apple Store on Christmas Eve. 

Playing with a more playoff-like rotation will help the players get in the playoff groove and give them an idea of what to expect.

Except one question remains about the rotation.

Find a Third Big

The Heat have a need for a third big man, and it could end up costing them if they don’t address it.

Haslem’s decline has been a punch to the stomach of Miami’s rotation.

Along with Chris Andersen and Bosh, Haslem used to be in the mix in the frontcourt. Now he is a liability on defense, isn’t as effective crashing the boards and can’t hit the Fontainebleau with a rock from 15 feet away. As a result, his minutes have taken a nosedive.

Miami traded away Mason Jr. to create a roster spot, but filled it with DeAndre Liggins on a 10-day contract.

So it seems the Heat will count on Oden to be the third front-liner.

Having not missed consecutive games since Jan. 10, his playing time has increased and is more consistent. He even earned a start, replacing LeBron James against the Chicago Bulls this month.

Oden’s numbers don't impress, but his impact on defense and around the rim is obvious. He is protecting the rim better than any other Heat player, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, with numbers comparable to Roy Hibbert, Robin Lopez and Joakim Noah (although yielded from a much smaller sample size).

Take a look at this play against the Utah Jazz. Oden shows a promising amount of energy and range in the defensive half court. Certainly more than I expected at this point in his comeback.

He’s also a good complement to Bosh. Check out this play against the Los Angeles Clippers (one of the best teams in the league finishing at the rim).

Bosh takes out Blake Griffin and Oden boxes out the alley-oop-happy DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers wanted to get it inside, but “Boden” denied any inside access. Instead, the Clips opt for a crappy three-pointer.

This combination is similar to when Andersen and Bosh play together, which has seen its success this season. Oden has broken into this rotation more consistently, though not yet to the point you would feel comfortable betting on whether he will play or not.

Oden has improved throughout the season, and if he can stay healthy in a tightened rotation by the playoffs, it will be a big help.

That could be said for the whole team, really.

All statistics accurate as of Feb. 27, 2014. Follow Wes on Twitter @wcgoldberg.


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