Eddie House arrived in Boston in the same summer as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and in a matter of days he saw how seamlessly they blended with Paul Pierce. They had to sublimate egos and sacrifice touches (and stats), but they did not need to change anything fundamental about their styles. The Celtics started 29--3 on their way to the 2008 championship. "The learning curve," House says, "is different this time."
House has latched on with another Big Three, this one in Miami, only the pieces are not fitting together as naturally. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are taking turns pushing the ball instead of attacking in tandem, and Chris Bosh admits that he has been lost on offense, leaving the Heat with no genuine low-post threat. "Guys are not being themselves yet," House says. "At times LeBron is deferring to D. At times D is deferring to LeBron." More often it is the latter, with James charging from the top of the circle and Wade marooned on the perimeter, one of the league's great playmakers reduced to spot-up shooter.
When James and Bosh joined Wade over the summer, the three acted like old friends at a long-awaited reunion. But Bosh now says he barely knew James. Chemistry cannot be contrived, and the Heat has already lost four games, including two straight at home last week. Miami blew a 22-point lead to Utah and fell behind by 20 in a 112--107 loss to Boston.
James knew he would score fewer points and take fewer shots—that was part of the appeal, alleviating the individual burden—but his field goal percentage is down, so are his rebounds, and he is not necessarily making his teammates more productive. Bosh's shooting percentage is also down, and he is averaging 9.5 fewer points. James offered an early critique of his coach, Erik Spoelstra, claiming that his 44 minutes against Boston were too many.
Spoelstra is preaching patience. "We're not there right now," Spoelstra says. "We will be." Some of the Heat's problems, such as ball movement and transition defense, can be fixed. The projected return of Mike Miller, a premier three-point threat, in January will open up the floor. But the reality remains that the Heat lacks a low-post scorer—it ranks last in the NBA in shots at the rim, according to hoopdata.com—and has few assets left to acquire one. And it needs Bosh to undergo the same transformation that Pau Gasol did two years ago, when he decided no one would ever call him soft again.
As the Celtics left Miami last week, Pierce fired off a tweet that read, "It's been a pleasure to bring my talents to south beach," the latest in a widespread series of jabs at the Heat. As usual, James and the rest of the Big Three did not respond, swallowing yet another slight. They have tiptoed into this season, careful not to offend, but the polite approach is not working. They are still looking for an identity, and as a lifelong Raiders fan, House recognizes that they may be better off wearing the black hat than running from it.
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GREG NELSON (JAMES)
FADE ROUTE Like Wade and Bosh (background), James has seen his numbers take a dive during Miami's slow start.