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Warning: The Heat Is Hot

March 25, 2013
March 25, 2013

Table of Contents
March 25, 2013

LEADING OFF
  • In the final days of camp, hope springs eternal for five veterans of struggle and heartbreak

THE MAIL
MARCH MADNESS PREVIEW
PRO BASKETBALL
JEFFREY LORIA
  • Less than eight months after he opened a stadium built in his own image and at a taxpayer expense that will eventually exceed $2 billion, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria green-lighted yet another stripping down of the franchise. He insists it's all in the name of winning

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Warning: The Heat Is Hot

It would be easy to give all the credit for the Heat's winning streak—which on Sunday reached 22, the second longest in NBA history—to LeBron James, who's having his best season. But bad news for other title hopefuls: It hasn't just been James firing on all cylinders during the streak

BEHIND THE ARC

This is an article from the March 25, 2013 issue

Miami is on pace for franchise bests in field goal percentage (49.6%) and three-point percentage (38.6%). During the streak, the Heat's long-range shooting has been especially sharp: Shane Battier is hitting 53.3% of his threes, while Mario Chalmers (above) was dropping 41.1%.

ON THE GLASS

Undersized Miami is the worst rebounding team in the NBA, averaging 38.5 per game. But during the streak the Heat has outrebounded nine of its 22 opponents, with James pulling in 8.0 boards a game to spearhead the gang glass attack.

TO THE HOLE

At 31, Dwyane Wade is having his most efficient season, shooting a career-best 52.4% thanks to eschewing the three and returning to a slashing style. Wade had 11 straight games with at least 20 points on 50% shooting during the streak, the longest such run of any guard this season.

ON DEFENSE

James is a weapon who can guard four positions. But the midseason signing of 6'10" free agent Chris Andersen—who calls "disruption" his best skill—has added a shot-blocking presence that has helped the Heat hold its last 10 opponents to under 100 points.

Subtract Points, Add Victories

Since dumping their top scorer, the Grizzlies have been on a tear

What happens when you flip your leading scorer for a past-his-prime small forward, an unproven power forward and a fringe prospect? If you're the Grizzlies, you continue your march toward the best season in franchise history. The new Memphis management, which took over after billionaire Robert Pera purchased the Grizzlies for $377 million last October, was hammered in the press in January after sending Rudy Gay to the Raptors in a three-team deal that brought in Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye. The Grizz were ripped for being cheap (the trade slashed millions off the payroll, getting them further under the luxury tax threshold) and impatient (because of injuries, this was the first full season that Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol had filled out the frontcourt).

Turns out, they were something else: smart.

Since dealing Gay, which was preceded by the salary dump of rotation players Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington, Memphis had won 15 of its last 20 games through Sunday and stood fourth in the West at 44--21. The 33-year-old Prince has provided playmaking and strong defense, while the 6'10" Davis has slipped comfortably into Speights's role. Sure the schedule has softened: In the 21 games before the trade, the Grizzlies played 13 games against playoff teams; in the 21 since, they have played nine. But with Gay gone, ball movement has improved. Memphis ranked 25th in assists to field goals made (56.8%) before the deal; since then it is 10th (62.2%). "The additions of Tayshaun and Ed have made us more of an unselfish team," says point guard Mike Conley. "That's the biggest difference."

Removing Gay from the locker room has helped too. Last summer he went to the front office and asked to be traded. Gay, team sources say, was unhappy with his role in coach Lionel Hollins's offense and uncomfortable playing alongside Randolph, a ball-dominating post scorer. Memphis could have rolled the dice and hoped that Gay—who was shooting a career-low 40.8% this season—would pick up his game by the playoffs. But with Gay able to opt out of his deal after next season, the new group decided to go ahead and jettison him.

Without Gay, who took a team-high 16.4 shots per game, the Grizzlies run almost everything through Randolph and Gasol. Gay's absence has also created more opportunities for Conley, who had been encouraged by Hollins to be more aggressive. Conley has responded by ratcheting up his scoring (14.9 points), assists (7.0) and field goal percentage (43.0%) since the trade.

Ultimately, the success of the deal will be determined in the playoffs. The Grizzlies have never been past the second round, peaking in 2011—when Gay was out with an injured shoulder and Memphis stretched the Thunder to seven games. That version, says Conley, was a lot like this one. "We didn't rely on just one or two people to carry us," says Conley. "This team plays unselfish ball, plays defense and has so many different guys who step up every night."

PHOTOGREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDTWO PHOTOSJOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDPHOTOJIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGESPHOTOFERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (PRINCE)ROYAL MANNER Since coming to Memphis in the trade that saw Gay depart, the 33-year-old Prince has provided playmaking and defense—as well as an upgrade in the locker room.