Friday, November 9, 2007

The Heat is Off (and they're out of Diesel fuel)

One year ago the Miami Heat were defending champs, bringing back the NBA Godfather in Shaq and a young Michael Corleone in Wade. Now they are the losers of 16 games in a row (going back to the end of last year) and are heading for a season that may be remembered in South Beach less kindly than third installment of that famous film trilogy. Here's how it went down:

2006-2007 Regular Season
L 89-91 Boston
L 68-94 Orlando
These two games can be excused because the Heat had qualified for the playoffs. At this point, the defending champs couldn't be blamed for mailing in the last two games of the season. Still, the streak has begun...

2006-2007 Playoffs
First Round Series versus Chicago Bulls
L 91-96 (Shaq's line: 27 min, 19 points, 6 rebs, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 6 fouls)
L 89-107 (31 min, 17 points, 8 reb, 1 assist, 7 turnovers, 3 fouls)
L 96-104 (32 min, 23 points, 13 reb, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 3 fouls)*
L 79-92 (16 points, 7 reb, 0 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 fouls)
This performance was shocking even though everyone knew this team was getting old and that they had coasted through stretches of the regular season. Wade lead the team in scoring in every game of the series and Shaq's only effort worthy of his playoff history came in a game three loss. He then turned in a 16 and 7 clunker in the elimination game.

2007-2008 Preseason
L 86-103 Detroit (Shaq DNP)
L 100-106 OT Atlanta (16 min, 10 points, 1 reb)
L 69-102 Orlando (DNP)
L 76-92 Charlotte (6 points, 3 reb; he left after 1st quarter with injury)
L 85-92 New Orleans (DNP, injury)
L 98-104 Memphis (DNP injury)
L 87-104 San Antonio (17 points in 1st half but left with injury)
Obviously you can't get too worked up about the NBA preseason. In a league where the regular season is largely meaningless then what is there possibly to say about the pre-season? These games generally fall under the "if a tree falls in the woods..." category. However, given the struggles of this team that bookend these games they are worth noting. And, you'd have thought that if this team (and Shaq) felt like they had gotten raw deal in the playoffs last year that they would come out guns-blazing before settling into cruise control. Teams with something to prove showed up in the preseason this year. Surprisingly. There was even a tilt between the Knicks and Celtics that felt like a playoff game because both teams were trying to send a message. The message sent by Miami was decidedly different.

2007-2008 Regular Season
L 80-91 Detroit (29 min, 9 points, 7 reb, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, 5 fouls)
L 85-87 Indiana (28 min, 8 points, 7 reb, 1 assist, 4 blocks, 6 turnovers, 6 fouls)
L 88-90 Charlotte (32 min, 17 points, 9 reb, 2 assists, 1 turnover, 5 fouls)
L 78-88 San Antonio (31 min, 17 points*, 3 reb, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 2 fouls)

And, here we are. 16 losses on the bounce. The sky is falling. The jet boats are sinking. While Wade could have made the difference in all of these games it looks quite clear that Shaq is no longer capable of doing that. Focusing on the middle two ball games, 2 points losses to Indiana and Charlottte, it is clear that the Diesel is running out of gas. No matter how much better either Indy or Charlotte are than anticipated these are the sort of close game that Shaq used to take over down the stretch. Instead of totaling 8 points in 28 minutes against the Pacers he would have scored 8 in the final 3 minutes a few seasons ago. He was too powerful and determined to lose a game like that very often.

All-Star pitchman and All-World player Dwyane Wade is still sidelined after undergoing knee surgery. His first full-contact practice was earlier this week and there is yet to be a solid return date. Meanwhile, Pat Riley's hair badly needs an oil change and the acquistion of Ricky Davis is a short-sighted, stop-gap solution to replacing Wade's offense and not an actual plan to reconfigure this roster in such a way so that it can compete for a title. Honestly, I think they'll be hard pressed to make the playoffs.

It seems to be the end of an era. Someone needs to replace Dwight Howard's Bible with rhyming dictionary if he has any chance of being the Next anything. Of course, Shaq may break out a big game here or there once Wade is back to take some pressure off of him, but unless he can find that Fountain of Youth, which Ponce de Leon did believe was located somewhere in Florida, it seems that the Heat are in trouble. And, with the Phoenix Suns coming to Miami tonight it doesn't look like they'll be turning things around just yet.

Additional Reading: Ian Thomsen over at SI doesn't think that Shaq is done just yet.

1 comment:

tiki&elislovechild said...
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