Today's game is guaranteed to attract a lot of eyeballs. Thus, we're providing a lot of analysis. In addition to the exchange between Brian and ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh, we recorded a podkast with our buddy Kevin Arnovitz, who runs the Heat Index for ESPN.com. The conversation covered items like the Heat's current struggles, the matchup today vs. last Christmas and the on-court dynamics. Plus, the Wonder Twins, because that's just how we roll.
Also, while filling in for John Ireland on 710 ESPN's Mason and Ireland show, we were part of a conversation with ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, who's part of the Index and has covered LeBron since his high school days. As always, Windy delivered some great details.
You can hear both conversations in their entirety by clicking on boxes to the right, but below are some excerpts:
Arnovitz, on what's going wrong for the Heat right now:
"It's a pressure cooker. It's incredible, because even Erik Spoelstra, who's been sort of this paragon of poise throughout this whole thing, (after the Portland loss), he pretty much just came up to podium and said, "We don't have a lot of answers and all we can do is not... let... go... of... the... rope. And that's not my emphasis. That's actually his cadence. That rope is sort of slipping away.
"There are really two trains of thought. On one hand, and it's almost as if the shoe is on the other foot. I remember coming out to Los Angeles (around Christmas) and it was just catastrophic. The sky was falling. The Lakers had officially ceded their championship rings before New Years and the Heat were at the time, I think, (winning) about 19 out of 20. Brian Windhorst, one of his favorite axioms is, "In the NBA, there's always time." There's always time in a game to come back. There's always time in a regular season to come back. Even in the playoffs, there's always time. So one frame of thought is things really aren't that bad. Luol Deng misses a shot. LeBron (James) makes another drive, a shot against Carmelo Anthony he would normally make. We're talking about how they've lost three out of five, and things aren't that catastrophic.
"But there's just a microscope on this team that accentuates every problem."
Arnovitz, on how much of these problems are the result of Spoelstra's coaching:
"I think very little of it. I tend to subscribe to the non-naysayer school of thought, which is that randomness happens in basketball. You shouldn't lose five in a row, four of which at home, but these are really close games, with the exception of San Antonio. We're talking about a possession or a possession and a half either way. I do think there is a butterfly effect.
"I'm not saying there aren't issues. I'm not saying there aren't problems. I'm certainly not saying they're playing up to their potential. But I documented on Heat Index a game against the Knicks where on the last seven possessions they supposedly melt down. I looked at these possessions and five of those seven were really good sets... You sort of go back and examine the tea leaves after a game and this isn't a poorly coached team.
"There's stuff that we obviously can't know. Is there this bubbling mutiny under the surface that we don't see at practice and media availability, that those guys have checked out. But this doesn't look like a team that's checked out. That's one thing that even those ridiculing the Heat can say. They're competing."
Arnovitz, on where the pressure being felt by the Heat comes from:
"I think they set their own expectations. I'm not one of these people that feels like they have anything to feel sorry for. Yeah, the pep rally, aesthetically speaking, was a little silly. (But) I'm not really a (Stan) Van Gundy guy. You have to accept the scrutiny because you had a championship rally before you had a practice. There is a fascination with this team. We see it on the site. People say ESPN is driving that. Baloney. There is an insatiable appetite for news about this team, particularly when they lose. This is shadenfreude to the max."
Arnovitz, on which member of the Heat's supporting could/should step up today:
"Mike Miller was supposed to be that guy and it hasn't happened. I think the unspoken story is that thumb is bothering him more than anybody realizes. I remember him saying even a couple of weeks after he got back that catching the ball really hurts. Anytime a ball at any speed sort of falls into his hands or makes contact with his thumb, it's exceptionally painful. What does it take for a 40 percent, 41 percent three-point shooter to drop to being a 20-something percent three-point shooter. Maybe it's that thing of pain.
"I'm not making excuses so much as looking for explanations. Miller has been awful. He's been awful defensively. He's been awful offensively. And he was supposed to provide this versatility. The notion that this team could morph into anything it wanted to be because ultimately they had James on the floor. And Wade on the floor. And Mike Miller on the floor. Three guys that can defend three positions. Handle the ball. Post up. Rebound like crazy for perimeter players. And Miller has just given them nothing.
"And he's taken minutes away from James Jones, who was essentially the fourth best player on the team. If you look at the advanced metrics, he was a really effective guy to have on the floor. He was a big part of that early December/January run. Wade (after the Portland loss) at the podium essentially said he's not really sure why Eddie House and James Jones are on the bench.
Windhorst, On LeBron, Cry-gate and apologizing for the Bulls loss:
"I'm pretty sure that it wasn't LeBron (crying), but he did speak to the team that night. He was pretty upset by his failure. To me, even though everybody is attracted to the idea of all the crying, the fact that he apologized to his team, something that he's never done before (is significant). Most of the time in his career when he's lost games, it's almost never been his fault. Even when he would miss a final shot, usually his team was in the game because he had scored 35 or 45 points. For him to go to situation where he felt he needed to apologize for his failings is just as important as if there were tears streaming down his face, even though I know it's not as attractive a story."
Windhorst, on what constitutes "accountability" for James:
"Wow, that's a great question. Has LeBron ever been held accountable for anything? He's sort of quasi-stuck his toe in the water and apologized for "The Decision," saying it wasn't the greatest execution of his career, but he doesn't regret doing it. And he's never said he regrets doing anything. Certainly, he's had bad games in his career, but you can never say his team was worse off for having him on the court. So I'm not so sure that it does exist at this point. Maybe that'll be different come the spring. But maybe not. I don't know. That's a great question, really.
On the dynamic between Wade and James, on and off the court:
"I think they get along just fine. The problem is that they don't have a very good on-court chemistry. One of the things (said at the beginning), and I was one of the people who sort of said this, was that "Yeah, their skill sets are sort of similar, but they'll figure it out." It was coaches and lifetime basketball people saying the same thing. "They'll figure it out. It'll take them 25, 30 games, but they'll find a balance."
Well, it's like 65 games and they have not found that balance. In fact, they're not even close to finding that balance. They have not been able to figure out a way to help themselves on the court. I think that's one of the things that Kobe Bryant said (Wednesday) after practice. He said, "They haven't defined their roles yet. If you look at the Lakers, we all have our roles." That's true, because everyone has sort of been slotted into a role that's pretty defined and pretty obvious. Ron Artest is not going to be bringing the ball up the court.
"On the Heat, that's not really the case. Both of these guys have similar skill sets and have done similar things in their career. Both of them have made sacrifices. If you're LeBron James, you sacrifice your reputation. You sacrifice playing in your hometown. You sacrifice a significant amount of money to come down here. How much more are you willing to sacrifice? And if you're Dwyane Wade, how do you balance yielding to the younger, stronger, probably better LeBron in comparison to being the guy that got you to a championship in the first place? It's not a similar formula. They haven't figured it out yet and that's one of the reasons they're losing. They haven't been able to put it together on court, chemistry-wise."