Miami Heat small forward James pulls down a rebound against the Portland Trail Blazers during first quarter of their NBA basketball game in Portland Thursday. Rebounds, however, have been few and far between for the defending champion Heat, and it's causing them problems. (Photo : Reuters)
What was once looking like smooth sailing for the defending champion Miami Heat have quickly become troubled waters in South Beach.
While barely holding a half-game lead atop the Eastern Conference ahead of the New York Knicks, the Heat have lost five of their last eight games, including a two-game losing streak that saw them drop a 92-90 heartbreaker Thursday to rookie sensation Damian Lillard and the up-and-coming Portland Trail Blazers.
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While there can be some concern over whether their centerpiece LeBron James is overworking himself--he's racked up 41.3 minutes per game in the last 10 games--there are other problems the Heat have been having.
Primarily, it's their woeful rebounding. "No rebounds, no rings," was the mantra of Heat team president and legendary NBA coach Pat Riley. It doesn't seem like the Heat are paying much mind to that motto these days, though.
In terms of rebounding, Miami, with only 29.1 boards per game, is the second-worst rebounding team in the NBA, behind only Boston's league-low 38.7 rebounds.
The Heat matched the Blazers on the boards at 45 a piece in their Thursday loss, but were outrebounded on the offensive end, 11-8. Before then, Indiana, the league leader in rebounds, crushed Miami on the boards 55-36 in their 87-77 win on Tuesday.
In terms of rebounding, not one of Miami's players is even in the Top 20 on the NBA listings. James leads the team on the glass with 8.4 rebounds.
And it's finally beginning to be a problem for the defending champions.
"It's something that has been a concern for some time now," Heat center Chris Bosh told the Associated Press recently. "Guys are getting second-chance points on us. Teams are bigger than we are and a lot of time we're rotating, bringing our bigs away from the basket and teams are taking advantage of that, plain and simple. We need to figure out a way to fix it."
Of course, in the past, Miami's rebounding woes have been glossed over by their explosive offense (tied with the Clippers for sixth overall with 101.8 points per game). They were out rebounded 53-24 by the Timberwolves on Dec. 19 but still won 103-92.
And last season, the Heat were ranked 21st in the league in total rebounds, yet they still managed to power through to the NBA championship with their scoring and the outstanding play of James and Wade down the stretch.
This time around, however, with every team in the league gunning for them, the lack of second-chance points of offense and defensive rebounds could eventually cost them, as demonstrated this week by Indiana and Portland.
And playing Sacramento Friday night, Miami could find themselves sliding further down in this losing streak if they let DeMarcus Cousins (10.2 rebounds per game) run roughshod on the glass.
So, the question remains: how do the reigning champs fix this problem? Is a trade at the midseason deadline the answer? Is it something else?
If you ask James, he'll say it's a team thing.
"We don't have a dominant rebounder," James said. "Collectively we've got to try to help rebound with one another, but right now we don't have the size and the athleticism to go up there and dominate a rebounding game. We're trying to collectively do it together, when teams get offensive rebounds try not to give them second-chance points - we're getting killed in that, too. It puts a lot of pressure on our offense."
And a lot of pressure on their hopes of repeating as champions, as well.