A: Then, at least for the moment, you stand alone. Heat players felt Wednesday's game in Indiana was one that got away for far more than that. They had a late lead and couldn't hold it. Through all that might have gone wrong, they still felt they had it. And then they couldn't close. And that's something a championship team has to be able to do. That's why LeBron and Bosh were so sullen afterward. There simply won't be many opportunities for quality statement games the remainder of the season, save, perhaps for the game in Memphis and the visit by Indiana. This was moment they allowed to get away.
A: I'm not sure there are any "answers" when you lose, but there now is a huge question mark with Oden, who simply wasn't up to the moment he was added for. Even before the game, Erik Spoelstra tried to backtrack on the expectations, saying Greg wasn't signed as a "Hibbert stopper." Then, after the game, Spoelstra spoke of how Oden played well in his limited minutes. At the moment, it appears Oden's stock is as down as Haslem's stock is up.
Q: Ira, will Rashard Lewis continue to get minutes the rest of the year? I don't understand Spoelstra, why he was so in love with Michael Beasley. -- Mark.
A: I doubt Beasley would agree with your characterization, considering the erratic minutes he has endured, even when playing well at times. I just think Erik has been cycling through as many combinations as possible, to see what works, what doesn't. I am surprised that Rashard was pushed so far down the rotation, considering there were positive results when he was on the court earlier in the season and then again on Wednesday. But Spoelstra does have a way of cycling back through players, as evidenced by the reemergence of Haslem. Still, once you re-inject Ray Allen into the mix, the minutes will be limited. The real loser in the equation might be Shane Battier. Of course, with the Heat, it's all cyclical, seemingly.
March 26, 2014
Q: Some people forget very easily. They forget about Dwyane Wade, too. Real fans ride the waves. -- Phyllis.
A: Well, there certainly has been a lot of surfing with Dwyane this season, considering the 19 games he already has missed, mostly due to his knee-maintenance program. The reality is we went into the season basically figuring on Dwyane missing about 20 games, considering all the back-to-backs. But when you actually experience all the missed times, it does seem like a lot. And with four back-to-back sets left, he'll probably wind up sitting out more than a quarter of the season. All of that said, if he has 10 to 15 Wade-like games in the playoffs, all will be forgotten. But if the knee problems prove problematic in the postseason, that is when it will be time to reflect on counting on him so much to be a playoff difference maker.
Q: With all this talk about D-Wade sitting out games on a regular basis putting the team off rhythm, D-Wade should make the ultimate sacrifice and come off the bench. It not only boosts the bench, but will also result in a consistent starting lineup. -- Ananth.
A: And that's not happening, because one of the things that makes Dwyane who he is, is his pride. Move him to the bench, and some of that would be lost. Nor is it necessary. Look, without Dwyane at the top of his game, a third consecutive championship is going to be a longshot. The Heat need him to be a major contributor, a contributor playering starter's minutes. Perhaps there could be something to moving to the bench later in his career. But let's face it, it's not as if there is a definitive replacement option at the moment, anyway. And Ray Allen has been so good lately in his sixth-man role at shooting guard that I'm not sure you want to tinker with that approach.
Q: What specific changes would you make to the starting five and reserves if you were Coach Ira? What about dusting off Rashard Lewis or James Jones? It just seems to me that something needs to be done. -- Brian.
A: I wouldn't change a thing. I would just tell the players it has to be done better. Look, this bench is not what we thought it was. But as I mentioned above, I wouldn't implode the second unit for a better first five. Allen and Chris Andersen have been particularly effective off the bench. What I might do is keep Udonis Haslem in the rotation even in the games that Greg Oden starts. I think Haslem's grit is built for the playoffs. I'm also not sure how much Shane Battier has left in his tank.
March 25, 2014
Q: Is Wednesday's game against the Pacers a "must win"? After all, if they can't get it together against their biggest rival for a nationally televised game, there's little hope they can get it together for the playoffs. -- David.
A: I don't know if it's "must win," but it is must-show-up-and-be-heard-from. If there's no fire Wednesday . . . well, there might not be any fire left after three consecutive visits to the NBA Finals. But no games mean as much as playoff games. So it's not as if the season ends with a loss Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. No one will remember a late-March game in June if they Heat are parading a trophy down Biscayne Boulevard. In fact, Wednesday is fascinating on so many levels. If the Heat win, it will make almost all of their remaining games meaningful. But do they want that, having to push through to the end? No matter what, it'll be fun. And intense.
Q: As this season winds down, the media will up the heat on the Heat players about their status next year, and the quest for three-peat will become a secondary issue. The storyline about what team LeBron James will be on next year is more interesting than if he can win his third ring. The same is true for almost all the Heat players, who do not know who will be with the team next season. This leads to a lack of loyalty and cohesiveness to the Heat squad, which is showing up on the court as James' decision time inches closer. -- L.K.
A: I disagree. Winning a championship remains the priority throughout the roster. LeBron knows his money will come from anywhere he wants. And Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still have two years and more than $40 million left on their deals if they don't opt out, so they're set, too. As for players in the final years of their contracts, it's safe to say, at their ages, that a title remains more of a focus for Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones than lining up future employment.
Q: Hey Ira, why is Erik Spoelstra giving time off to the players amid this slump so late in the season? Even if they have a relaxed shootaround or just a walkthrough practice with no high intensity training, it will be beneficial. All this time apart from each other is only affecting the chemistry. -- Ryan, England.
A: Because if a player is injured, he's injured. And Wade said his ankle wouldn't let him play Monday against the Trail Blazers. Look, I agree that cohesion trumps almost all. What it doesn't trump is health in the playoffs. That still means the most to this team or any team. So if Wade doesn't feel right on Wednesday, he sits. Period.