MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat return to the court Thursday night for Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers looking for someone to help out LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the offensive end of the floor.
The Heat know that LeBron and Wade will give them 20 to 30 points per night and can carry most of the scoring load. But the team also knows that having to have LeBron serve as the power forward through long stretches on the defensive end and run the point is not a plan for success.
“It’s a lot more taxing being in there with bigger guys,” James told CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald. “Defensively is the biggest difference. When you’re on the perimeter, there’s more space. The interior is more cramped and physical. But I’m ready for the challenge.”
He may be ready, but the rest of the team outside of Wade has been as TNT analyst Charles Barkley would say, “turrible.”
The Heat’s role players haven’t been able to get anything going offensively since the playoffs began. Mike Miller and Shane Battier are shooting 33 percent and 32.3 percent respectively. The Heat could survive and thrive on if one or both of them could get nine points a night.
Some fans have called for guard James Jones to get more minutes to help with the offensive drought the Heat are putting together this year. But when Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra put Jones into the lineup for 10 minutes in Game 2, Jones responded with a 1-4 shooting performance and he’s shooting 29 percent over his last 61 shots.
That means the burden will likely fall on three players’ shoulders: point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole and forward Udonis Haslem.
Udonis hasn’t been able to dial into his shot all season and hasn’t played consistent minutes showing the burst he used to display in his long career in Miami. Udonis has routinely passed up jump shots to defer to Wade and LeBron and has played without much aggression throughout the season.
Norris Cole got on the court for the Heat in Game 2 for 17 minutes and responded by hitting both of his shots and not turning the ball over. But, Cole being a rookie known for having his pedal to the floor at all times could make Spoelstra nervous about keeping him in the game long-term.
That leaves Mario Chalmers as the possible key to the Heat’s chances of stealing Game 3 and regaining home court advantage in the series. Chalmers played 22 minutes in Game 2 and shot 20 percent from the field and 50 percent from the foul line.
If Chamlers is able to hit 2 or 3 three pointers, the Heat’s offense takes on a completely different look. The Pacers defense will have to move out from the low post and that will open up lanes for LeBron and Wade to attack.
That’s been the plan for the Heat since the Big Three arrived and it worked to perfection with Chris Bosh in the lineup. But with Bosh out an indefinite period of time, the Heat have to have someone other than LeBron and Wade hit shots.
Chalmers has a penchant for hitting big shots, ask the University of Memphis. But he’s going to have to be able to hit shots consistently for the Heat to have any shot of not going down 2-1 in the series.
The other area the Heat need to improve on greatly is free throw shooting. LeBron missed two critical free throws down the stretch and Wade has struggled at times from the free throw line during the series.
Wade shot well in Game 2, hitting 80 percent of his free throws. But if LeBron and Wade struggle, you may see the Pacers start hacking away on both players knowing they can win by putting them on the line.
The Heat aren’t out of this series, yet. But everything rides on the shoulders of the cast around LeBron and Wade. If they can’t raise their game though and Bosh can’t get back for Game 4, the Heat may spend another season wondering what if.