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Jan 17, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) talks with forward LeBron James (6) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Heat defeated the Sixers 101-86. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat: From An Optimist And Pessimist

After a blazing gallop toward Kevin Durant in the MVP race throughout February and the beginning of March, LeBron James hit a brief wall offensively.  Immediately following the 61-point performance vs. Charlotte, James contributed to three straight losses (Houston, San Antonio, Chicago) by shooting 23-of-59 (38.9 percent) from the floor.

Miami

Mar 1, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) adjusts his mask before a game against the Orlando Magic at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

In the next three matchups, the reigning Finals MVP reverted to superb efficiency, shooting 24-of-45 from the field.  We know that aspect of the game has become his leverage in debates with the NBA’s current superstars, and “impressive” isn’t a term that quite does James justice.

Nevertheless, the Miami Heat have been searching for solutions as a collective unit, dropping five of their last six games.  Their sixth home loss of the season occurred on Friday, with Brian Shaw‘s Denver Nuggets taking a 111-107 victory in South Beach.

The loss sparked me with an idea.  Often times, the one’s with the most die-hard love for the team — lifelong fans — can offer the sharp-witted knowledge needed to understand the highs and lows.

I was able to catch up with Jordan Richerson, who remembers the feeling of Pat Riley coaching Miami to their first NBA title in 2006 over Avery Johnson‘s Dallas Mavericks.  Engaging in an email back-and-forth, we tackle just a few of the pressing topics surrounding the 44-19 Heat.

(You can follow or contact Jordan on Twitter:  @J_Richerson)

Young:  So, you’ve been a supporter of this franchise since the Alonzo Mourning days, given that it became your first true opportunity to watch and understand basketball.  It’s safe to say you’ve been through tons of ups and downs, and this small portion of the season has been, well …. down.  Does this losing stretch concern you?

Richerson:  I am not too worried about them. I see them turning it on around the start of the playoffs like they usually do. That’s a Miami thing. My main concern is this: Why is LeBron tweeting about being happy and excited for his day, when he is not playing LeBron James basketball currently? It seems like his head isn’t completely in the game at the moment. Meanwhile, we have D-Wade playing phenomenally as of late. Something Heat nation has prayed would happen this season giving his knee issues. I predict they at least make it to the East finals to battle Indiana once again. It will be a dogfight, and I am excited to see it happen. It could go either way.

Miami

Jan 9, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) responds to fans

Young:  Never looked into that about LeBron’s actions off the court (Twitter, etc.) but it’s a terrific question.  I assume it’s because he knows he has the “on/off” switch anytime he wants.  The month of February was purely ridiculous for him, so it’s almost a guarantee that physical fatigue is setting in.  Wade has played possum all year long, making people think he  doesn’t have what it takes anymore, when clearly he does.  I raise this question, though:

Despite Ray Allen‘s 22-point performance Friday vs. Denver, it’s almost seemed as if Allen hasn’t been the consistent shooting spark off the bench that we figured he would be.  Lord knows he’s forever adored by the fans for the greatest clutch shot in history (in my opinion).  But, what’s been the deal with Allen all season?

Richerson:  Ray has definitely gone through a cold spell over the last few months.  Age could possibly be setting in, who knows.  Shooters do tend to hit a slump every now and then.  Battier has this happen frequently.  But after his 22-point game against Denver, I have a feeling he will be contributing a little more.  Even Chris Andersen had 14 against his former Nuggets.  That is great news for Heat fans, when non-scoring options are stepping up in the midst of James also searching for answers.  Just need to make sure the “Big 3″ pick it up when it is needed most.  Especially against teams such as Indiana.

Young:   The way I look at it, shooters that play with the same style as Allen can play until he’s 40-42.  Do you agree?  I’m not worried about him (neither are you & other Heat fans), but I am concerned about Miami’s ability to put a reliable defender on Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner throughout 48 minutes of a 7-game series.  I may be the pessimist here, but that spells a lot of responsibility for Wade, Allen, possibly Chalmers.  Matchup issues in the bench’s (especially with Andrew Bynum) are screaming new NBA Finals representative to me at this point.

Alright, it’s time to get to the most important player:  How much has Chris Bosh made you worship his game?  (haha)

Richerson:  I hope Ray stays healthy!  Seeing your beloved Steve Nash battle injury after injury at his age has me concerned about Allen’s future.  As for Miami’s defense, I believe there’s nothing to freak out over.  That’s always been one of their strongest areas, especially during the playoffs.  What I am worried about, however, is the man you just mentioned …. Christopher Wesson Bosh.  Or “Mr. Up & Down” as I have deemed him.  You never know how Bosh is going to play.  One game he’s going off and connecting from everywhere on the floor, while grabbing boards like his days north of the border!  Then, the next game he might go below his average with a terrible shooting performance.  We need him at his best come playoff time.  He has been great as of late, so I pray he stays at it.

Young:   Just goes to prove this a make or miss league (in Bosh’s case).  He knocks down those mid-range shots and 3-pointers, fans love him.  He misses, and there’s always a group that wants him traded, or to leave this summer.  THAT needs to stop.  For a while now, I’ve been fed up with people demanding changes just because a player doesn’t live up to their liking for a couple games.

You’ve caught all of Greg Oden‘s moments as a Heat member thus far.  Is this exactly the low-post threat they’ve needed since 2010?

Richerson:   Exactly.  I guess I have been one of the bigger Bosh-supporting Heat fans, as I have never demanded he be traded!

Here we have Greg Oden, the man I thought would never actually come back and play NBA basketball.  He has a fantastic post game, but I still think Miami needs a more prominent big man with a better post game.  One of the hundreds of post talents the Western Conference owns, perhaps?  I would hate to see them go to extreme measures to obtain such a player though (such as trading Bosh if he opts to stay in the summer).  Oden is a great “backup” center.  But, he still isn’t at the level of play we need like say, Shaquille O’Neal was.

Miami

Jun 16, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat president Pat Riley (right) and his wife Chris Riley watch during the second quarter of game five in the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Young:   On target there, Miami looks to be in trouble considering Bynum is even out shining Roy Hibbert on the offensive end.  Unless, of course, Oden is actually capable of playing 25 or so minutes when it matters.  I have a strange theory that Miami is hiding him (still) and not playing him in large spurts just because they can, and a No. 1 seed isn’t important to them.  In practice, Oden could be looking like a powerhouse, but we have the luxury of keeping it a surprise until May!  Indiana’s depth with Bynum could be the final straw to a championship run.  But, as San Antonio pointed out last year in the infamous Game 6:  NOTHING is set in stone until the final buzzer sounds.

We’ll close up for today with some of your brief thoughts on the Heat’s future.  It’s only appropriate!  I want to know exactly why fans should be convinced LeBron and Bosh stay in South Beach after this year.  I am firm with my prediction that both hit the road this offseason, and I’m labeled as the pessimist for it.  But, why should Heat fans remain calm about the matter?

Richerson:   I will approach this with more “off-court” matters.  LeBron’s wife opened that shop in Miami recently, not to mention he clearly loves South Beach.  I mean, who wouldn’t love it?  My prediction is that he stays for one more contract extension, and leaves at around age 33 to return to Cleveland.  I am perfectly fine with that if it happens.  But, Pat Riley better bring in some new players to keep him happy for the next few years.  As a Heat fan, I can only pray that these things happen.  I remember the days of Miami struggling far too well;  the days of D-Wade backpacking this organization to victory.  The best that he could, anyway.  And quite frankly, I do not want to go through that again.

Young:   People think the atmosphere of Florida doesn’t matter, but I know I wouldn’t find myself going back to Ohio when my life is set for me in the “Sunshine State”.

We’ll have to dive deeper into another franchise one day.  Perhaps, the dreadful condition of the purple and gold grabs our attention next time.  Until then, enjoy the battle of Eastern Conference brutes in May.  I don’t have to tell you who the other one is.
Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for ESPN TrueHoops’ 8pt9secs and HoopsHabit.com.   For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.

Tags: Chris Bosh Dwyane Wade Lebron James Miami Heat Ray Allen

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