Miami Heat: Getting things done at the defensive end

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images /
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Now holders of a four-game winning streak, the Miami Heat have re-established their identity at the defensive end of the floor.

After losing 105-90 at home to the Orlando Magic on Dec. 4, things were looking rather bleak for the Miami Heat.

Not only had they dropped to 9-14 on the season, but immediately awaiting them was a daunting six-game Western Conference road trip. If a 2-4 or 1-5 record on the trip were to arise, the outlook for the remainder of the season would be a real struggle.

However, this trip appears to have been a blessing in disguise, with the Heat recording an impressive 4-2 return, and in the process re-establishing their renowned defensive identity. Their identity was further established following their latest win, a 94-87 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

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With the win, their fourth in a row, the Heat now find themselves a game inside the Eastern Conference playoff race with a 15-16 record, having now won six of their past eight games. Granted, the latest win came after the Bucks arrived their hotel at approximately 4 a.m., having played the previous night in Boston.

However, to hold a team who entered the game averaging 117.8 points per game to just 87 points on 37.3 percent shooting encapsulates the overall attitude and approach exhibited by the Heat lately. Following their latest win, head coach Erik Spoelstra expressed the importance of this newfound intensity at the defensive end:

"“We have to be able to commit to this, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to play with these type of scores, but the commitment to our defense has to be there….We can’t go into games thinking we’re going to outscore people, or score 130 and get up more shots and more threes and just overpower you with our offense….Our identity is pretty clear.”"

Over this eight-game span, the Heat have ranked fourth in defensive efficiency with a 101.8 defensive rating, with their 86.1 defensive rating against the Bucks equalling their season high for a single game. When you consider they entered this recent stretch ranking 11th in the league with a 107.1 rating, this is certainly some improvement. Additionally, the Heat have led the league in rebounding over this recent stretch, pulling down 50.1 boards per contest.

As impressive as these numbers are, possibly the most noticeable aspect has been the depth of contribution. Over the past eight games, the Heat have had 10 players average at least 20 minutes per game.

As a result of this level of contribution, the Heat’s second unit has led the league in scoring during this time, averaging an impressive 49.3 points per game. Notably, this list of 10 players doesn’t include starting point guard Goran Dragic, who has played just twice since Nov. 18 due to a knee injury.

After a recent win over the Houston Rockets, Heat legend Dwyane Wade explained to Manny Navarro of The Athletic the mindset of the team moving forward:

"“The things we relied on [in the past] was our defense and winning ugly games, and we couldn’t figure it out. But now we’re figuring it out. If we want to win, we have to do what’s been successful for us. The goal for us is to keep teams under 100 [points]. That’s very hard in this new, modern NBA, but we’ve been able to do it five out of the last seven games.”"

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Following a quick trip to play the Orlando Magic on the road, the Heat then conclude the calendar year with three more games at American Airlines Arena. Given their newfound zest at the defensive end of the floor, this provides the Heat with a terrific opportunity to commence 2019 above .500 and start heading in the right direction.