The Defensive Struggles of the Miami Heat

Jan 10, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) reacts after fouling out against the Brooklyn Nets during the first overtime at Barclays Center. The Brooklyn Nets won the game 104-95 in double overtime. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an old adage but one that’s proven to be true, “Defense wins Championships.” That’s certainly been the case for the Miami Heat having won back-to-back NBA titles and made it to the last three Finals.

In those three years, Miami has consistently ranked among the elite defensively; sixth in the Big 3’s first season together in 2010-11 with 94.6ppg, then fourth (92.5ppg) and fifth (95ppg) respectively in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. This year though Miami ranks only ninth in opponent’s points per game, allowing 98.2 per contest. Per NBA.com

Using the word Porous to describe the Heat defense may be somewhat of a stretch, but there’s no doubt it is worrying.

The Miami Heat is arguably one of the most athletic units out there and they’ve shown time and time again that they can flip the switch defensively to suffocate the opposition, though that has often come in spurts this season.

The team often cruises for the majority of the game on defense and opposing teams have been able to make the most of it by averaging 37.1 percent from 3-point range (which is fifth worst in the NBA) while shooting 45.9 percent overall from the field – 10th worst.

Moreover, the lethargic play has led to Miami sending teams to the free-throw line 23 times per game and rank 14th in that category.

It’s an issue that’s already been brought up this season after LeBron James blasted his team’s performance on the defensive end following a 111-110 loss to a Boston Celtics sans Rajon Rondo.

“We’re playing s*** defensively,” James so eloquently put it. “It’s that simple. We’re not a sugarcoat team. We came in and got right down to it. We’re terrible on defense, and we’ve got to change that.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra echoed his superstar’s message by saying: “You have to constantly stay on top of it regardless of who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you’re doing and we have to work at it. We’re not playing to our capability, so you have to stay on top of it.”

The Heat responded with a 10 game winning streak, in which they allowed 100+ points just once.

However the complacency has seemingly crept back in yet again because in the last 15 contests, Miami is 17th in points allowed at 101.9 ppg and has the worst opponent field goal percentage at 48.1.

After having so much success in recent years, perhaps it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise the Miami Heat are struggling despite what their 27-10 record may suggest. In the 10 losses so far this season, only two have come against teams with winning records (Indiana and Golden State), the rest of have been to teams with records under .500, including two losses in Brooklyn. That suggests they tend to overlook teams.

Another explanation for the Miami Heat’s lack of effort could be fatigue.

Since 2010, Miami has almost played the equivalent of one extra season when factoring in the playoffs. That’s a lot of games.

Following back-to-back losses in New York, 102-92 versus the Knicks and a 104-95 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, James told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that Miami are lacking the drive right now, stating that: “It’s a long and grueling season for all of us. We’ve played a lot of basketball in our four years together and it’s taken a lot of wear and tear on our bodies. Mentally it is fatiguing. We’re trying to find the motivation the best way we can as a group.”

After playing five games in seven days, the Heat don’t play again until Wednesday night as they go to the White House to celebrate their 2012-13 title success. Coach Erik Spoelstra has also given the team two days off to unwind which is virtually unheard of, even for a veteran club.

He hopes the rest will do the trick and his team will be refreshed as the Miami Heat aim to be first team since the 1984-87 Boston Celtics, to appear in four consecutive NBA Finals and win three straight titles.

Topics: Erik Spoelstra, Lebron James, Miami Heat

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