After Chris Bosh injured himself in Game 1, many pundits were ready to put the fork in the Miami Heat. Following their Game 3 loss and subsequent 2-1 series deficit, many were starting to twist the fork. However, the duo of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade scored a million points collectively in Game 4, knotting the series at two-a-piece. Last night, we saw the greatness of James and Wade as the Heat comfortably rode to a Game 5 victory. With Danny Granger and David West injured, this series is in the bag and Miami fans can thank Eric Spolestra for making this one change…
The Change?: Moving James to power forward.
While James has been scoring and rebounding at a historic rate, his contributions elsewhere have made his move to power forward a huge bonus. During the last four games as the Heat’s power forward, James has averaged the following stats per game:
- Steals: 3.2
- Assists: 7.1
- Personal Fouls: 0.9
- Blocks: 0.9
- Turnovers: 4.1
While James’ turnovers and blocks have not been on-par with the average power forward, his points, rebounds, steals, assists, and personal fouls best his fellow PFs. Despite his imposing 6’8″ figure, James is considered small for a power forward and has gotten banged around by David West and Roy Hibbert in the low post. Still, James has been able to effectively defend West without fouling him and limiting his own production.
James’ statistics are impressive, but his most impressive attribute cannot be quantified. James’ decision making, vision, and ball handling make him an absolute nightmare to defend. Protypical power forwards can’t match his speed while small forwards can’t match his strength. On the surface, playing LeBron at PF may seem like a risky proposition. However, playing James at PF allows Miami to deploy Shane Battier, a great defender and outside shooter, into their starting lienup. Given its lack of bigs, Miami has opened up more possibilities for its shooters by playing James down low.
While LeBron clearly helps Miami on the block, it’s residual effect helps Wade. While his Game 4 performance was undermined by the King, Wade’s 22 second half points carried Miami to the win. Wade squashed all of the notions about a possible injury with his second half performance. With James facilitating the offense and manning the low post, Wade has more opportunities to slash and score at the rim. With Bosh playing PF and James playing small forward, Wade had to share the lane and perimeter. Now, bigger defenders must account for James, leaving Wade more room to operate. This strategy has worked against the Pacers, but may not work against bigger, more versatile teams.
While James and Wade are playing great basketball, Bosh’s absence isn’t the reason why. Wade’s atrocious Game 3 performance was foolishly overlooked as analysts pegged Bosh’s absence as the sole reason. In fact, Indiana just stomped Miami in Game 3. It wouldn’t have matter if Bosh was healthy or not. Miami wasn’t winning Game 3. Since Game 3, Wade is showing signs of the Dwayne from 2005.
Looking ahead, the Heat’s lack of size shouldn’t be too much of an issue against the Boston Celtics. Like the Heat, the Celtics have employed smaller lineups to attack their opponents. While the James-Wade show should be enough to beat the Celtics, a Bosh-less Heat team won’t be able to match up against the Thunder or Spurs.
Short term, the Heat are a better team without Chris Bosh. The Heat can space the floor and use their shooters/slashers effectively against the Pacers and Celtics. However, against bigger Western Conference teams, the Heat will need Chris Bosh if they want to win the NBA Finals.