Grange on Heat: Rebounding a fatal design flaw

LeBron James had 32 points in the Heat’s first losing effort in 53 days.

It’s probably a bit harsh to say Chris Bosh is the weak link in the chain the Miami Heat were trying to pull down a piece of NBA history with.

But are you kidding? You know that Dennis Rodman would have gotten one or both of the rebounds Bosh couldn’t come up with at critical moments down the stretch. You’d get good money that Horace Grant would have pulled it down.

It’s fitting that the Miami Heat’s winning streak ended in Chicago, home of Michael Jordan and the last truly great NBA team. Jordan and Pippen did their part, but it was Rodman who led the NBA in rebounding when the Bulls went 72-10 and started their run of six championships in the next eight seasons.

The Miami Heat lack the frontcourt bulk to own the boards. It may be a short-coming that holds them back from matching the kind of dominance LeBron James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade came together to create.

There’s no tragedy in failing to extend their winning streak to 28 games, but in falling short they may have exposed a fatal design flaw.

A number of things went wrong down the stretch of their 101-97 loss to the Bulls.

There was LeBron briefly losing his composure and taking a flagrant foul by ramming into a screen by Carlos Boozer, giving Chicago a pair of three throw and the ball. There was some poor free-throw shooting by the Heat as they shot just 16-of-23 from the line. For a team on such a long roll they looked a bit confused at times down the stretch, or it could have been the Bulls rising to the challenge in the house that Michael Jordan built to keep the Heat from continuing on their quest to eclipse the NBA-record 33-game winning streak owned by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

And while it might be petty to try to pin down the loss and the end of the streak on one play or two, there were certainly a couple that Bosh would like to have back down the stretch that cost his team and served to emphasize why the former Raptor is an expensive role player for the Heat, rather than a do-it-all stud.

If there’s one thing Miami doesn’t do particularly well it’s rebound and given that Bosh is the team’s only high-profile post-player a lot of that falls on him.

Bosh did come up with a late offensive rebound with 2:40 left to play in the fourth quarter and the Heat trailing 92-85, but he brought the ball down to his waste as he pivoted and Kirk Hinrich, the 6-foot-2 Bulls guard, was able to wrestle it out of Bosh’s hands and call timeout. Chicago scored on its next possession to push its lead to nine points.

But Miami is difficult to count out. In the span of a week earlier this month they rallied from 13 points down in the final eight minutes to beat Boston, from a 27-point third-quarter hole at Cleveland, and from 11-point deficits against Detroit and Charlotte. They were down by 10 after the first quarter Wednesday night and by eight at half.

As the streak grew it appeared the Heat, the defending NBA champion, was embracing it — but only to an extent. Regular season records are nice, but the Heat were put together to win titles.

“We haven’t had a chance to really have a moment to know what we just did,” said James, who had 32 points in the Heat’s first losing effort in 53 days. “We had a moment, just very fortunate, very humbling and blessed to be part of this team and be part of a streak like that. It’s one of the best that this league has ever seen. We recognized that and rightfully so.”

Team life cycles are measured in dog years these days it seems. With the advent of new luxury tax penalties that make keeping an expensive team like Miami together for as long as some of the cores of the other elite teams in NBA history had to make their mark nearly impossible.

After coming together in the frenzied free-agent summer of 2010, James, Wade and Bosh all have out clauses in their respective contracts following the 2013-14 season.

It seems unlikely that the three of them will get to stay together long enough to match the Bulls’ six championships in eight years in the 1990s, or even the three-peat Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant managed with the Lakers to usher in the new millennium.

But a record winning streak to go along with a Finals appearance and two or three championship rings would have been a nice bit of luster for their still unfolding legacy.

But if the Heat have a flaw it’s rebounding — James leads the club with 8.2 per game. Last night they were out-rebounded by 12. In particular the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer out-rebound Bosh, his counterpart at power forward 17-4.

And after Bosh’s first gaffe at the hands of Hinrich Wednesday night there was another one coming.

An incredible steal at half court by James and a resounding dunk, followed by a driving lay-up by Ray Allen cut the Bulls’ lead to a potentially manageable five points with just under a minute left when Nate Robinson of Chicago took a three-pointer.

As it was clear that the ball was going long Boozer leaned into Bosh on the far side of the basket and easily muscled the Heat power forward out of the way with a level of resistance that even the Toronto Raptors’ Andrea Bargnani — a noted in-the-paint pacifist — would have been able to muster.

Boozer grabbed the ball and put it back up to put Chicago up by seven again — more than enough.

The problem with playing for history every night is people watch. And as the Miami Heat were making their play for a permanent mark in sports history books — and let’s face it, having the second longest winning streak ever in the NBA doesn’t quite have the same ring to having the longest winning streak in all of North American professional sports — they saw Chris Bosh lose the ball twice on a pair of critical possessions.

In the long run of the season it won’t mean much, particularly if the Heat manage to win their second straight NBA title.

But it was a glimpse at why the Heat are unlikely to be challenging the Bulls as the best NBA team since the advent of the three-point line.

Somewhere Rodman is downing a tequila shot and figuring he could come away with that ball and maybe kept the streak alive.

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