Doug Collins had no answers.
After the 76ers lost to the Heat last Saturday, in the first of four meetings, the Philadelphia coach all but threw up his hands.
“They’re a great, great team,” he said. “I don’t see any weaknesses. The only thing that I could see is if you had two bigs, they could try to pound them a little bit. I don’t know if any team has that.”
That team is Friday night’s opponent, which is 9-3 since trading Rudy Gay and still boasts arguably the best two-big combination in the NBA: Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
While that duo didn’t do the most damage in the Grizzlies’ 104-86 win Nov. 11 – Mike Conley’s penetration and the since-departed Wayne Ellington’s shooting were more destructive – the Heat understand that many doubt they measure up.
“It’s always going to be the perception against us as long as we are playing the way that we play,” Chris Bosh said.
Told of Collins’ comments, LeBron James concurred with Bosh.
“No matter how good a team is, you have to say something could derail a team,” James said. “They said that about the Bulls in the ’90s, you’ve got to beat them up inside, and no one ever beat them up inside, and if they tried, it didn’t matter.
“But everyone feels like that’s the way to beat us, is to have two bigs try to beat us up, and you’ll win. I don’t know, is that the answer? But we’ll be there. We’ll be ready for whatever game plan teams have against us.”
It will be interesting to see Erik Spoelstra’s plan in action Friday night.
After all, the last time the Heat faced Memphis, 6-foot-10 Chris Andersen remained unemployed. And even since Andersen first dressed for the Heat on Jan. 25, Spoelstra has used him in tandem with Bosh for only 16 minutes, though their styles would seem compatible — with Bosh adept at popping out for jumpers, and Andersen a regular assaulter of the rim.
The self-proclaimed “Birdman,” however, showed signs in Tuesday’s win against Sacramento that he can handle more. Clearly, he thinks so. That was evident during an exchange with this reporter. I mentioned, in introducing a question about conditioning, that Spoelstra had spoken of keeping the veteran’s minutes in their current range.
That statement stuck in Andersen’s craw.
“What’d he say?”
That the coach was currently comfortable with Andersen logging roughly 15 to 20 minutes.
“Five,” Andersen said, adding a suffix to the 20.
So he believes he can eventually stretch to 25, even at his maniacal level of exertion?
“He’s got his goals,” Andersen said. “And I’ve got my goals. Whatever he says goes. But I’m always pushing myself to do better.”
He’s attempting to assimilate mentally, learning teammates’ tendencies. He said “playing with two of the greatest basketball players to ever play this game” has been “overwhelming, but I try to be smart about it, and try not to overthink too much. I don’t want to mess up.
“In the last five, six games, I’ve been playing a little bit more free. Free Bird-ish.”
James and Dwyane Wade sound giddy about the likelihood of more lobs the likes of those thrown to Andersen on Tuesday.
“We had three attempts, and we had two of them completed,” James said. “And the only one that didn’t get completed got kind of tipped in the air.
“But to have that a part of our arsenal in the halfcourt set is something that we haven’t had. And it’s a huge threat. Any time you’ve got a big who can set screens and roll for a lob, and catch it over the defense, that’s a huge threat, and teams have to account for that.”
“It brings a new dynamic to our team,” Wade said. “I have always thought, in my mind, by the time the playoffs come, he’s really going to be big for us.”
That aligns with Spoelstra’s timetable for seeing Andersen in full, well, flight.
“I still think it’s going to be another month,” the coach said. “He doesn’t look like he’s going to faint after a four-minute stint, so I think that’s getting better. .. He’s an instinctual player, so the less he has to think, the more comfortable he gets, the more active you’re going to see him become.”
Still, don’t expect passive play Friday night. “I’ve played against Memphis a lot whenever I was on the West Coast, so I already know those guys,” Andersen said. “High-low, bangers, relentless rebounders. You know, kind of like my style.”