About a year ago, in early January, Diego brought his talents and Miami Heat blog, Leaving It All On The Court, to Bloguin. At the time he had no idea about the embarrassment of riches that would fall from the NBA sky onto South Beach. Still, he continued to diligently and expertly report the happenings of the Miami Heat. We are pleased to have Diego with us to answer a few questions about his Heat, before we face them tonight. Hopefully, this game does not turn into his pre-anniversary celebration as the Knicks continue to show signs of a playoff player with an 18-12 record. (You can also check out my answers to Diego's pre-game questions at N.Y. State Of Mind)
KFB: Since the Heat started out 9-8 and the sky was falling, they have been spectacular. How have the Heat changed since their disappointing beginning and can they sustain this level of play all season long?
DIEGO: An easier schedule has certainly helped a lot, and to an extent this group was going to improve with time. Miami is also using stifling defense to ignite fast-break opportunities, but I point to Erik Spoelstra's move to always have a point guard in the lineup -- either Carlos Arroyo or Mario Chalmers -- as a big factor. Prior to the move, Eddie House subbed in for Arroyo, and James or Wade had to take on the primary ball-handling responsibilities. Now with either Chalmers or Arroyo on the court at all times, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can focus a little bit more on scoring, which has gone a long way toward getting them to build chemistry.
With regard to sustaining this level of play, complacency is a part of human nature. We all saw the Heat nearly lose to a depleted Washington Wizards team the day after Miami beat the Knicks. Nonetheless, I see the Heat continuing to play at a high level. Pat Riley gave Mike Miller the fourth-biggest contract on this roster, and he will be a big piece to the Heat's plans when he contributes.
KFB: What can we expect Offensively from the Heat?
DIEGO: Offensively, I expect the Heat to get out on the break -- that is where Miami is at their most dangerous. Spoelstra told his players that if they get a stop on defense, a set play doesn't have to be called and his players can just push the ball. In the half-court sets, Chris Bosh should get a lot of touches. If Mike D'Antoni puts Amar'e Stoudemire on Zydrunas Ilgauskas to start the game, Miami has a clear mis-match with Bosh against Wilson Chandler.
KFB: What can we expect the Heat to do defensively against the Knicks?
DIEGO: Don't be surprised if Ilgauskas plays very limited minutes. He played only 11 minutes against New York in Madison Square Garden. Joel Anthony should get a lot of playing time, and he can use his athleticism to defend Stoudemire. As far as perimeter players, Spoelstra preaches the help-and-recover gospel. Neither Arroyo nor Chalmers are particularly good defenders, but they will need help from other players to defend Raymond Felton's dribble penetration. Miami has done a good job of that for the most part, as James Jones took a few charges on the Christmas Day game.
KFB: Can the Heat win the Championship this year or are there more changes that need to be made?
DIEGO: The Heat are not a perfect team and do have flaws, but can win a championship. People who think that role players win championships should ask Michael Jordan if Steve Kerr won him a couple rings.
Miami's success in the playoffs will be predicated on the play of Wade, James and to a lesser extent Bosh. If they come to play, I wouldn't bet against the Heat. The role players are a significant piece to the championship puzzle, though. We still need to see Miller and Haslem come back (which may not happen until the playoffs) to see how good this team is.
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