Friday, November 16, 2007

Give Shaq a Break, Guys

Over the last couple days it's become trendy for South Florida sports columnists to call for Riley to bench Shaq.

The big guy's performance has taken a dive this year, no doubt. Still, I'm trying to figure out what these writers think will be accomplished by benching him.

The fact is that Shaq, even in his diminished state, has been one of the most effective players on the team over the last 6 games.

Shaq struggled in his first two games this year, but he turned things around in the 5 games leading up to the Seattle game. He averaged 18 PPG and shot 50% from the floor during that time. He also played 30+ minutes in 4 out of those 5 games.

The Heat has been losing due to it's 27th ranked 3 point shooting percentage, it's inability to defend the three, and the complete lack of players who can get into the paint with any regularity (aside from Wade).

J-Will is shooting 39% from the floor. Ricky Davis, the guy who was supposed to keep us afloat with relatively efficient scoring, is shooting 40%. Dorell Wright still doesn't have a clue. Smush Parker has been a bust of epic proportions, shooting 28%.

Yet, for some reason, people are ignoring the barrage of missed jump shots being fired by the aforementioned players and are focusing almost exclusively on Shaq's terrible game against the Sonics.

There are some players on the team who have played like they're worthy of being benched, but Shaq isn't one of them. The only thing Riley would be doing by benching Shaq is ensuring that the team ends up in the lottery.

In my opinion, Riley needs to stick with the current starting line up and give this team a chance to get it together now that Wade is back.

Wade looked excellent against Seattle for a guy who hasn't played much basketball in six months. As soon as he came on the floor you could see the team become more aggressive both on offense and defense. Ricky Davis attacked the rim more last night than he has in any other game this year. Wade found open shooters all over the floor. The offense looked threatening for the first time all year.

If the team is still struggling two weeks from now, then we can start talking about shaking things up. I say be patient for now, though.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Detroit 91, Miami 80

The Heat opened up the season in disappointing fashion, losing to the Pistons.

One aspect of Detroit's game plan became very clear during the opening possession. They were going to test Dorell Wright, instantly doubling off him whenever Shaq touched the ball in the first half.

He responded surprisingly well early on, stepping into (and hitting) his first couple jumpers. As the game wore on, though, his shakiness from the outside returned. He also tried to do too much at times, passing when he should have been finishing on a couple drives.

He wasn't terrible, but Riley only let him play 24 minutes. He has no chance of remaining a starter once Wade returns unless he hits that outside shot and makes better decisions with the ball.

The Pistons withstood the Heat's early fast start and turned things around mid way through the 1st quarter. They took full advantage of the favorable match ups Billups and Prince had throughout the game. Prince in particular torched us, scoring 34 points (a career high) and grabbing 12 boards (tying a career high).

The Heat played through Shaq in the 3rd quarter and were able to tie the game, coming back from an 8 point deficit.

Unfortunately, things fell apart early in the 4th quarter. We took quick shots in transition and turned the ball over. One turnover came when Smush Parker made a spectacularly bad attempt at a behind the back pass in transition while surrounded by three Pistons. Lakers fans everywhere chuckled.

It's disappointing to open the season with a loss, but I'm also encouraged that we were able to hang with a good Pistons team for most of the game. However, it's obvious that remaining around .500 is the best this team can hope for until Wade comes back.

The key to this team staying afloat is going to be how quickly they improve at playing off of Shaq.

After half-time everyone finally started doing a better job of cutting and moving when Shaq had the ball. Riley also made a minor tweak, moving Dorell to the corner opposite of where Shaq was posted up (making it more difficult to double off him).

There was a 5 minute stretch in the 3rd quarter where everything clicked. Shaq was finding open shooters, and they were knocking down shots. The Pistons finally had to lay off a bit, and Shaq scored three straight baskets at one point.

There are a lot of new guys on the team who have to get used to playing with Shaq. I expect both Shaq and everyone else to get off to faster starts in future games as everyone becomes more comfortable when Shaq has the ball.