It was an eerie stat that ABC used during the broadcast of Sunday’s Heat-Bulls game.
Despite all the hand-wringing and consternation about where the Heat are and the fact they have not quite looked like the championship team they were the last two years, Miami has an identical 39-14 record as they did last year through 53 games. And the same record they had the year before and the year before.
By that statistical measure, the Heat are still right on schedule.
But Miami is not quite the same and the team is certainly pacing itself a bit more than it has in year’s past. The threat the Pacers and Thunder present certainly add to some uneasiness. Indiana holds a 1.5 game lead on Miami in the Eastern Conference standings.
And teams are gunning for the Heat every night with their championship pedigree.
“Probably more than anything teams are being up and ready to play against us and us using the game to get into the competitive battle,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That consistency, we have to get off to a good start defensively and then maintain it once we get into the rotation. Offensively, that helps our defense. In the times that we defended well, our offense has gotten what they wanted to.”
Offense has not been a problem for the Heat. They still lead the league in offensive efficiency. However, the Heat’s typically swarming defense has struggled. They are 13th in the league in defensive efficiency. Not even in the top-10!
The thought is that Miami will be able to flip the switch when the time comes.
So is the problem as simple as the Heat are bored?
Bored is a bit unfair (made you click!). Really it is Miami recognizing that it can pace itself and keep the focus on the big picture — the NBA title.
Dwyane Wade has spent much of the year on an injury maintenance program to manage his bulky knee. He has sat out several games as a healthy scratch to keep the wear and tear off. Greg Oden even was brought along slowly to make sure he could contribute at this time of year.
Having a guy like James helps alleviate those concerns. But Miami has also had several players step up and step into roles easily. Guys like Rashard Lewis know exactly what the team needs from them and have been able to fill in when called upon.
The principles of what the Heat are doing has to remain, even if the intensity and talent is not where it will be in April.
“For us to get to our game, that’s the way it has to be [the ball has to be moving],” Spoelstra said. “It’s not always easy and the opponent has something to say about it. We are an aggressive, attacking team and sometimes it’s not available to get that on the first option. the ball has to move, you have to trust and get to second situations.”
The Heat have the experience to build that trust. It may take more than simply turning on the switch, but the Heat are still a force to be reckoned with.
With a guy like James, it does not really matter what happens with the Heat. When they are ready to play, they will be ready to play.
“It doesn’t matter who is on the floor against us,” LeBron James said. “We know the next man is always excited to go against us and step up. We’ll be ready.”