The National Post's Eric Koreen noted yesterday that the argument could be made that November is the best time to play the Miami Heat. In years past it's been later in the season that the team has found its groove, so best to tackle the Heat early in the year when they're not yet in Championship form.
The problem with making that argument is that even if it's true, we're still talking about a club that has a certain LeBron James holding court.
And for those who took in last night's game, you saw just how much that one individual can impact a match, regardless of how the rest of his teammates play.
LeBron James had 35 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists and made it look oh so easy in his Miami Heat's 104 to 95 victory over the Toronto Raptors. The Dinos hung tough for as long as they could, but LeBron and co. took control in the fourth quarter and never looked back.
The game story was pretty much the same as it's been through the first three games for the Raps. DeMar did what he could to keep the Dinos in it (21 points on 8 of 15 shooting), Landry Fields was an asset on offense, helping with ball movement whenever he was in the game, but neither player was enough to overcome LeBron, and they didn't get a ton of help from their teammates.
As has also been the case in this young season to date, Rudy Gay struggled, especially on offense. While he again did a nice job on the glass grabbing 10 rebounds, he tied Kyle Lowry for a team-high four turnovers, and hit only 3 of his 10 shots. Other players like the aforementioned Lowry and Terrence Ross couldn't get their shots to fall on a regular basis either so yes, a lot of the time it was DeMar and...
...well, Jonas Valanciunas, at least for a while. Jonas had a great first quarter, dominating inside, taking advantage of a Heat team employing a very small frontline in the absence of Chris Bosh. However as has been the case as well so far this year, his teammates stopped going to him as the quarter wore on, and Dwane Casey decided to again roll out his small-ball lineups for the bulk of the match. Jonas played 27 minutes, and Amir Johnson, who was having a quietly solid game, played only 24. Tyler Hansbrough instead played over both for stretches in the fourth quarter, causing the Raptors' media folks to inquire about potential injuries to Johnson. It was a bit of a strange situation, especially considering the Heat's offence on many an-occasion left Hansbrough trying to defend much more mobile Miami players. We've seen Casey employ this small-ball tactic a lot already in this young season and while I'm all for defensive creativity, I often wonder why he doesn't throw out a bigger line-up and force the other club to adjust to what he's doing. Instead, it was more of the same, and not just in terms of line-up deployment, but the way said line-up attacked and defended, both in unity and individually.
And to me, that's the biggest takeaway from this loss.
Yes, the Raptors hung around but you never really got the feeling they were going to take it. The bench was abysmal again, and as soon as the bulk of the starters left the contest, it got ugly fast. Even with the starters though, it just never felt like a game that was within reach.
I'm not saying after four games that it's time to blow things up, but already I think you're seeing the same trends as last year, from the Rudy Gay volume/efficiency discussion, to the lack of help from the bench, trends I don't expect to suddenly change.
A continuance of said trends, along with some other frustrating new wrinkles (can we please play Jonas more than 20 minutes a game and get him some touches along the way??) means that Masai Ujiri may not be waiting very long before deciding which direction to take this franchise.
In fact even after only four regular season games, one has to think he's getting an itchy trigger finger.