As a part of a new weekly initiative here at RaptorsHQ, we reached out to another of our SB Nation brethren (this time it was HotHotHoops ) in hopes of speaking to one of their writers about the Miami Heat ahead of Wednesday night's matchup with the Toronto Raptors. Fortunately for me, Jay Ramos was nice enough to respond back with some thoughtful answers to a few questions that I had:
RHQ: Now that the Heat have won a title, there have been rumblings that they are beginning to suffer from what Pat Riley called the "disease of me." Is this something that you have seen? and how has this year's incarnation of the Heat looked in comparison to last year's team?
JR: That's one of my favorite Pat Riley quotations. Yes, there have been rumblings. Dwyane Wade mentioned that he misses being the first option, and Chris Bosh has publicly questioned the Heat's system. To put it in perspective though, these issues pale in comparison to the Heat Miami has faced the past two seasons before they captured a championship. It's not even close. There is a calm the team has about having done it before, and the way they turned up the intensity at the end of their last road trip, notably against Golden State and Los Angeles (Lakers), adds credence to the notion that they can 'turn it on' when they want to. It's a dangerous way to play, but they are human, and it's happening.
To the second question, this season's team has gotten back to it's defensive ways of late. They have slowed down the pace a bit and are just about where they were last year offensively. They have not been able to overcome a defensive rebounding problem, and that's the biggest difference so far.
RHQ: Now that we are almost halfway through the season, how would you evaluate the contributions of the Heat's biggest offseason acquisition, Ray Allen?
JR: Ray was on fire to start the year, but has cooled down a bit. He seems to disappear at times, and I think that's part of the adjustment in playing the least amount of minutes he's ever played. With that said, he consistently plays with the Heat's closing lineup despite not starting, and the team has a few sets designed to get him the looks from beyond the arc with these lineups when a dagger is needed. He's a fourth option, but you won't see him running around screens as much as you did in his Celtics days. He'll do some ball handling and getting to the rim a little more, and he pretty much has his niche carved on this team. He's also a huge part of the reason why so much of the Heat's offense comes from 3-point production, specifically the corner 3-pointer.
RHQ: From a Raptors perspective, it's always fun to check in with the old face of the franchise. How has Chris Bosh fared this season in your opinion? he seems to be catching some scrutiny in the media of late for his lack of production in the rebounding department.
JR: Watching Bosh play is a joy. Watching him work screen-and-rolls with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and popping out, facing up other big men and taking them off the dribble, and stroking mid-range jumpers is a treat. His right elbow jumper is one of the most efficient shots on the team (He's shooting an absurd 59 percent from there.) He's trying to add the 3-ball to his game some more, but the frequency in attempts hasn't been as much as expected.
Now we must get the topic at hand, and Heat fans have to accept this. He's a below average rebounder. He's had points in his career where he's been solid, but since he's worn a Heat uniform, he's been below average. The Heat have the personnel to overcome this and have before, but the scrutiny is warranted. You would like it if he could eat some more glass. I will say that as long as he can be a good defensive player, which he has in fitting into Miami's system, we should be able to accept his unproductive rebounding and take the great (Which is most of it) with the bad.
So overall, there is still no reason to say he hasn't fared quite well and put together another All-Star season.
RHQ: I'm going simple with this question: what has been the biggest surprise for you this season?
JR: LeBron James' shooting. It's one thing that he improved his 3-point shooting last year. It's a whole other thing that he's shooting 40 percent from long distance. He's not taking the random, off-balance shots that he had a bad habit of taking in the past as much, and his spot-up jumper has been really sharp. His overall production is around the same as it's been his whole prime, but if you did deeper, he's playing more efficiently than ever. Maybe that's not surprising to some, and I get that. But you did not imagine LeBron James shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc on more than three attempts per game a few years ago.
RHQ: The Heat recently signed the "Bird Man" Chris Andersen, how do you see him fitting in with the team?
JR: I see him more as an insurance. The Heat's coaching staff are saying the right things about his fit in the system, but we've been here before. The Heat have brought in veteran big men during the year since 2010 on a budget and they haven't really made a difference. It's a 10-day deal anyway, he might not even be here next week.
RHQ: Is there anything else you think Raptors fans should know about the Heat before Wednesdays game?
JR: Know that there is hope to beat Miami. There is a good chance at this point of the Heat showing up and taking a night off. It's a pain in the ass for us, and it should go away by the second half of the year, but it is what it is. Also, someone tell the Raptors 3-point shooters to be ready. If you can move the ball a little bit, you should get some good looks from the outside against this defense.
My portion of the Q & A can be found here