Well, do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is that Dwyane Wade did play (you could knock me over with a feather...nobody respects Portland enough to come back against them, but I guess a three-game losing streak was enough) and Portland played a very credible game, threatening until the final buzzer. The bad news is that we should have won this game and we squandered a magnificent effort--perhaps a season best--from several players. I guess the best way to put it is I'm equal parts entertained and angry.
Heat 93, Blazers 90
--This was the best first half of offensive basketball we've played all year, and probably for a long time. We had 60 points at the break. We hit a glorious array of shots to get there. We also outhustled the Heat, outrebounded them, made their offense one-and-done, and moved the ball like crazy on our end. We pushed the ball up the court and really put pressure on them to defend. It was a beautiful display (offensively, that is...more on the rest later). The only category in which the Heat had us beat was free throws, as they made a parade to the line while we shot, like, three attempts all half.
--A little math will tell you that if we scored 60 in the first half and ended with 90, that means the third and fourth quarters weren't very good. What happened? A combination of things. First of all a lot of those first half shots were jumpers, albeit open ones. But you can guarantee that when the Blazers are soaring because of the long ball they're going to come back to earth by the time the game is over. This is doubly so since the ball movement stopped, or at least slowed in the second half. Instead of shooting free and easy jumpers we were shooting contested ones. Also we tired significantly again in the fourth quarter. Miami started gaining in the rebound battle. They won the hustle points. Our jumpers started falling short. And while we were putting up far more shots than they in the first half because we were pushing the ball up the court, getting set quickly, delivering efficiently, and also getting second chance opportunities, none of that stuff happened late in the game. We were walking the ball, slowing down, only getting one shot. Again physical deficiency bites us in the backside. This has GOT to be addressed by our players in the offseason. We cannot sustain the kind of effort we need to win for four quarters. And embarrassingly enough, the bench guys got tons of minutes tonight and we still faded late. It's not like anyone played all 48. It's sad.
--We're almost halfway through the season and it's time to face facts: we're just not a good defensive team and probably won't be this year. That means that we're going to keep losing more than our share of games. In past seasons the perimeter defense has been so poor that our big guys' problems were hidden behind their blocked shots. Nobody had to do anything besides blow past us into the lane. This year our outside defenders are marginally better at staying in front of their men so we're treated to the sight of what happens when opposing teams work inside to their big men. And it's uglier than a walrus on Botox. Our guys can still block shots when they're helping but they're getting destroyed straight up. In fact I'm ready to say with confidence that we are just incapable of defending the middle without fouling. A game-changing interior defender should be very high on our draft day wish list.
--The one kind of defense we got semi-right tonight was transition...for most of the game anyway. We were hustling back.
--The bench was spectacular tonight. Dixon, Webster, Aldridge, and Magloire basically came in as a group near the end of the first and along with starter Brandon Roy they made a heck of an impact, both in energy and scoring. Maybe Nate has found a substitution system that works? One can always hope...
--Much like the team, Zach had a mixed night. On the one hand he was doing exactly what we wanted him to do in the game preview: hitting outside shots so the Heat big men had to come out away from the bucket and letting us make hay on the boards. He also had a couple of hustle plays, assists, and steals. BUT Mr. Randolph got in early foul trouble and only played eight minutes in the first half. AND we scored 60 points in the first half from up-tempo play, lightning quick ball movement, and serious unselfishness. The court was far more open with no Zach and with everybody else moving. The third quarter wasn't too bad, as Zach wasn't dominating the ball. But as the game got tight in the middle minutes of the fourth the offense became a complete horror show (and not in the quirky Clockwork Orange sense) of one-on-one Zach specials. And he missed pretty consistently. By the time the closing minutes came and the ball finally found other people it was too late. The rhythm was gone, the ball movement was gone, and everybody was reduced to going one-on-one. Despite the 7-15 final shot tally this was not Zach's finest hour. If you asked me if we could win this year without Zach my answer would be an emphatic "NO!" But if you asked me if we could have a credible offense and the potential for a lot of victories a couple years from now without Zach I think I'd be willing to grant that, especially if tonight's first two quarters were any indication. Oh, in case you were wondering Zach's defense was God-awful again too. I haven't seen him give a solid defensive effort in weeks.
--Brandon Roy scored 18 and until he got a little solo-happy late in the game he was really carrying the team. It was beautiful to see him work in that first half. He had four rebounds, four assists, and while Wade was making short work of him on many possessions (and helped draw five fouls from Brandon) he did make a solid effort to stay in front of him. And Roy's post moves tonight...MWAH! Mahvelous dahling. He had a couple up-and-unders that had to be seen to be believed.
--This game also belonged to young Mr. Lamarcus Aldridge. All of you Big Smoothie fans can rejoice. From the moment he came into the game (at power forward, by the way) he created a ton of energy. He finished the night with 14 points (including the only effective shot in the closing minutes of the game), six rebounds, and two blocks. This may have been his best overall game and he racked up 32 minutes tonight as proof. Something I noticed that I really like is that when he went to set a pick tonight he ran to set it. He just had so much energy out there.
--Martell Webster also belongs solidly on the plus side of the ledger tonight. He only took 9 shots but they were good shots and he scored 12 points out of them. He also added 7 rebounds...a sure sign that he's into it. You may expect a little more playing time out of him, I'd wager. He and Aldridge were the best stories of the night from a fan's point of view.
--Jarrett Jack only shot 2-for-8 and scored 7 points, but who cares? He got 11 assists. The shooting will come back for him. As long as those passing instincts stay true he's going to be more than fine.
--Ime Udoka shot 4-8, got 6 rebounds, and snatched 2 steals. What's more he was the only effectively energetic player out there in the fourth quarter and his hustle helped keep us in the game as long as we were.
--Juan Dixon had another pretty nice game: 7 points, 2 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals, 50% shooting in 14 minutes. Come on guys, you're not going to see many better stat lines than that in such limited minutes and when he's reasonably on he really does help out there. Give the guy a break.
--Sergio: 3 assists, 2 rebounds in 10 minutes and didn't hurt us.
--Don't talk to me about centers. At least Magloire got 5 offensive rebounds. But that was the only significant center stat (or contribution) of the night. I'm instigating a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy for our seven-footers tonight.
--I like the Heat broadcast crew. They were passionate without being annoying and covered both teams in the broadcast.
--That Dwyane Wade kid is pretty good. I think he might make it in this league someday. What's scary is that's what he's like coming off an injury (33 points, copious driving, single-handed destruction).
--Also, in case you hadn't figured it out, Jason Kapono can shoot. He was doing a Dan Majerle impression out there for a while.
--Once again in this more wide-open game I missed Travis Outlaw.
--The crowd sounded really nice tonight. Way to represent!