The Miami Heat, the defending NBA champions, find themselves one loss away from being eliminated from the NBA Finals and their bid for a third consecutive championship would be dashed. This deficit in the series comes after another blowout win for the Spurs in Game 4 in Miami on Thursday night. The Heat trail the series 3 games to 1, and would have to mount a comeback of epic proportions to win this series.

 

In fact, no team in NBA history has rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win in the Finals and the Heat will attempt to climb out of that hole on in San Antonio in Game 5 (Sunday, 8 PM EST – TV: ABC) where the Spurs could win the NBA title on their home floor with a victory. The Spurs loyal fans will be out in full force at the AT&T Center which will make the conditions difficult for the Heat to win and survive in this series.

 

In my prior coverage of the NBA Finals between these two outstanding teams, I have focused on the adjustments needed by each team to respond to their respective strategies. However, at this point, I am not sure whether the Heat have answers to some of the challenges that San Antonio has presented them with in this series.

 

The Heat looked very tired in the two losses in Miami in Games 3 & 4, but particularly on Thursday night. It is a long and difficult grind to get to the NBA Finals in four straight years. Those extra playoff games and all of those grueling minutes will eventually take their toll on a team, and Miami is an older team than they were when they started this run.

 

Righting the Ship

 

In order for the Heat to get back into this series and at least force a Game 6 to be played back in Miami next week, they have to play with a great deal more intensity and focus. If you read the mainstream media coverage of the NBA Finals at this point you have three distinct “camps” with different opinions on the series:

The inevitable Spurs victory – this group has the series already written off as over and that the Spurs will win the championship even if they do not win it in Game 5 on Sunday they will inevitably win it. They feel that the Heat have no chance to win the series.
The Heat need sweeping and drastic change – this group believes that the Heat, after winning the last two NBA championships and making it to the Finals four years in a row, now mid-way through a series with the Spurs need to make wholesale changes to their strategy on defense and on offense in order to have a chance to win the series.
The Heat need to make small changes – this group believes that the Heat need to make smaller changes yet impactful changes such as changing the starting lineup, changing the player rotation, using the bigger lineup more in various game situations, and be more focused on their execution overall.

 

I fall within the last group, group 3, in that I maintain that the Heat can at least win a game or two in the series if they make some changes to the lineup and the rotations of players they use. I have written in previous coverage of the team this season that I feel that Udonis Haslem should be the starting lineup, or at the very least be in for more minutes than they have used him in the playoffs.

 

He entered the game on Thursday night, and in the postgame report the notion of Haslem starting in Game 5 was discussed. I think it is a move that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra needs to make, Haslem will give you maximum effort, good defense, and some size in the lineup to match up better with the Spurs bigger players. I also think that the Heat should use Ray Allen in the starting lineup and bring Rashard Lewis in off the bench in Game 5.

 

Miami needs to get a lead early, they have not lead in any of the games in this series, and if they can get Allen going with the 3 point shot then they can set a pace in Game 5. The player rotations also need to be tweaked because the Spurs took advantage of certain defensive mismatches in Game 4 on their way to that pivotal victory. Miami needs to address this issue or they will lose this series on Sunday.

 

Dwayne Wade looks exhausted and that is a big issue for the Heat at this point, I know that the depth on this team is not as good as it has been in the past, but they need to rotate in other players to give him a rest more often so that the breakdowns on Thursday do not happen again in this series. One player I think can help in that regard is James Jones, who the Heat have not used at all in this series. They could also shake up the rotation and use Michael Beasley in certain situations to spell Wade and try to inject some offensive creativity into the lineup.

 

I know that Rashard Lewis was providing some offense for the Heat and giving them minutes at the “stretch 4” position on the floor, but his defense is a liability and he does not rebound the ball. They need to make a change and have Shane Battier or another player start at the 4 and change the look of their lineup.

 

Big Changes

 

I am not in the camp that believes that the Heat need to make big, sweeping changes to their approach at this point. I think that scenario can cause more harm than good because it could shake the confidence of the team and they will lose the series anyway. I cannot believe that some members of the media and reporters believe that the Heat, who have not played a zone defensive scheme all season long, should now go to a zone defense more than halfway through the NBA Finals against the best offensive team in the league.

 

The Heat have never been a zone defensive team, and in 48 hours, they are going to install and run a zone defense in Game 5 with their entire season on the line. That just does not make any sense at all. The team just needs to be much crisper on their defensive rotations and watch their switches so they do not get caught in mismatches.

 

Miami also has to watch having their rotations split by the Spurs, which happened numerous times in Game 4. San Antonio is so difficult to deal with because their big frontcourt players can pass the ball so well. Therefore, when the Heat rotate defensively to try to trap the San Antonio player in the frontcourt, they split that rotation by passing into another area of the floor and move the ball to an open shooter.

 

The Heat have to do a better job of clogging the passing lanes with bodies so that when the rotation comes in on the big player for the Spurs they have no space to pass the ball. Miami is capable of playing very well defensively, and they have shown that capability at several points in this series before Games 3 & 4 got away from them, but they need to be more focused defensively to win Game 5.

 

If the Heat fail and lose either tomorrow night in San Antonio, or at some other point in this series, big changes will be coming to the Miami Heat from an organizational perspective. The “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh all have opt-out clauses in their contracts that could make them free agents this summer.

 

 They each have to decide what they are going to do, if they “opt-in” it will be for one year, which I think James will do, but logical thinking dictates that Bosh and Wade will opt-out and either sign new contracts with Miami, or test the free agency market rather than delay free agency for one year.

 

Chris Bosh has already stated that he intends to return to Miami, even if that means taking a pay cut on new long term deal. I think that the Heat will rebuild around LeBron James and bring in a new group of players around him to make another run at multiple championships. This roster has to change though, it is old in some spots and lacks the overall depth needed to make another run similar to the one the Heat just made over the past four years.

 

Another loss in these Finals, will certainly tarnish LeBron’s “legacy” with the game because his teams will have lost 3 times in the Finals and won just twice. It is not fair that he should be judged that way, but the reality is that he will be judged in that way. The comparison in sports between great players or great teams always comes down to the number of championships they won. That is how history will judge LeBron James.

 

Outlook

 

The reality at this point is that the Miami Heat had been undefeated at home in the playoffs prior to this past week, they lost two games in a row on their home floor and neither game was closely competitive. The Heat had a knack for winning games in the playoffs directly following a loss, in fact they lost back-to-back games in the postseason for the first time in over 40 games.

 

The Heat are getting crushed defensively in this series, and the reality is that the toll of all the extra games over the past four seasons has drained them, they are running out of time both in this series and as collective group. This team is in for a major overhaul regardless of the outcome of Game 5, and it looks like the Spurs are on their way to avenging the loss in last year’s Finals, and about to bring the 5th championship to San Antonio. One more Spurs victory and that scenario is the reality, and the Heat will then have to navigate a summer of great change.