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Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Riley getting restless as Heat come unwound
By PETER VECSEY
NEW YORK — There are plenty of losses throughout a season and then there are coach-killing losses.
The Cavaliers' third consecutive conquering of the two-on-five Knicks on Friday (115 points on 13 assists) at Madison Square Garden almost certainly would qualify as such if not for Mike D'Antoni's good fortune of not having to face the admirably restructured-on-the-coroner-table team in the playoffs.
Miami's colossal collapse at home to Orlando, immediately followed by the San Antonio's 30-point pasting — adding up to a 14-18 blotch vs. opponents .500 or better — means Erik Spoelstra's coaching eligibility is rapidly evaporating.
The organization and its organizers have too much of everything invested in rounding up Two And A Half Pinups to allow this intolerable failing, as well as the Heat's inability to close out close games; 5-13 in those decided by five points or fewer, hardly what you would expect from a 43-20 outfit.
More and more worthy opponents either take the ball out of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's hands at the appropriate time — after they have habitually dribbled too long and thus have great difficulty so much as making a good pass in congestion — or scheme to make James a long distance (off-target) shooter.
And Spoelstra has yet to parry the growing problem . . . despite Pat Riley's regular guidance and expertise. But many things just can't be explained. Either you have the feel or you don't.
Much of coaching is communication and having a sense for dealing with situations before they become situations and calling players out on the spot for objectionable behavior.
The solution might be as simple as adding just one more superstar. Since Dwight Howard isn't available at this time, Riley may be forced to insert himself.
Months ago, when the Heat got off to a false start, I could not conceive of Riley replacing Spoelstra this season, and I still believe he is as loyal as ever to his long-standing student.
Still, the griping already has begun.
How else do you explain defensively delinquent and often aimless (60 percent from the line) Mike Bibby washing up on South Beach?
His presence (29 minutes vs. the Spurs should do wonders for Mario Chalmers' confidence. And what must management have thought of Carlos Arroyo to release a guy who was the team's starting point guard not that long ago.
At any rate, I saw Riley sitting serenely in the stands (can't he get better sight lines?) during the Magic's hostile takeover and I couldn't help but observe his vital signs convulsing.
Well, at least he wasn't chewing his fingernails.
Without knowing anything, fact is, Riley is getting antsy?
You bet your sweet Bibby he is. As team president, he would be negligent not to be contemplating a coaching change as a last-ditch resolution if there's not a competitive improvement against the contenders.
We learned long ago never to assume Padre Riles will stay perched on the sidelines if his team is spinning its sneakers.
Tornado clouds have formed. I'm not saying he's poised to jump into his Batmobile, but the elements are irresistible for a true storm chaser.
Like every other man on the couch, I'm wondering what's going on with New Orleans' Chris Paul. Coming off a distressing undressing by Jose Calderon (22 points and 16 assists vs. seven and five) his next seemingly tame encounter was more of the same as Toney Douglas out-distanced him, 24-4.
Both antiseptic efforts resulted in fat conquests for the Raptors and Knicks. That made three straight setbacks for the Hornets going into Friday's important appointment with the Grizzlies, and the third successive time Paul got rudely outplayed; Kyle Lowry tripled his output 18-6 in Houston's two-point victory that ignited this anxiety.
Paul looked like he didn't care. He reminded me of the mid-1970s at Rucker Playground when Tiny Archibald, feeling thoroughly unchallenged, would nonchalantly set up his teammates for easy baskets and refuse to shoot for an entire game.
With Chauncey Billups sidelined with a thigh injury, it was clear to everyone what had to happen for NOLA to succeed at MSG; Paul needed to exploit Douglas.
Instead, Paul allowed himself to be systematically sabotaged.
So, what's bothering him?
Why the diminished returns?
Is he playing hurt (knee was surgically repaired during the off-season)?
In a recent 10-game span, Paul shot .336 from the field and averaged 11 points.
Elite players may be off for a few games in a row but never 10. Suddenly the league's quickest playmaker looked very guardable. I can't believe I'm even writing this about a 25-year-old.
All of this was rummaging through my attic before Friday's game in Memphis.
So, what happened?
David West sprained his ankle early and never returned. A little later, Paul re-sprained his ankle, only he returned, and notched a victorious 23 points and 14 assists.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBAfor the New York Post.