Miami Heat Still Team to Beat in NBA Championship Derby

Ethan NorofCorrespondent IApril 11, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 04:  Dwyane Wade #3 and LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat talk after a timeout against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Miami Heat hold an impressive 40-16 record this season and stand at second place in a competitive Eastern Conference, but the narrative around this championship-hopeful team is utter panic with the postseason around the corner.

Just 3-3 since April began and 13-9 since the All-Star break, the Miami Heat team is once again searching for its identity.

The largest problem that has doomed the Heat in the second half of the season has been general inconsistency between games, something we hadn't been seeing previously.

Despite winning games against teams like Orlando, Indiana and Oklahoma City, Miami has lost winnable games against teams like Utah, Atlanta and Phoenix.

Although the Heat have run into some stiff competition in the second half—like the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics—none of the remaining regular-season games should be taken as an indication that this team will struggle in the playoffs.

This is the same team that almost everyone pegged as the preseason NBA title favorite. This is the same team that we saw advance to the championship last season.

So, why is the opinion of what this team is capable of doing changing so rapidly?

This is still the team to beat for the 2012 NBA title.

But given the team's recent struggles, why should that still be the case?

If we sat here and made snap judgements about teams based on isolated segments of play, we all would have thrown out the notion that the Boston Celtics could compete for a championship.

We would have decided that the Atlanta Hawks would fail miserably without Al Horford, and we would have guessed that the Chicago Bulls would crumble without Derrick Rose on the court.

Most everyone also probably would have guessed that the San Antonio Spurs were too old to hack it this season, and we would have believed that the Portland Trail Blazers were primed for a deep postseason push.

Did any of those things happen?

I get it. We all analyze results as they occur, but did anyone project the Dallas Mavericks to win it all in 2011?

How many fans were slamming the Los Angeles Lakers when the team traded Lamar Odom for virtually nothing in return?

What's the point? Let's slow down on the belief that Miami is a club in trouble.

When Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are playing their best basketball, this is a team that is incredibly difficult to keep up with for a full 48 minutes.

Despite all of the hoopla surrounding the Heat currently, Miami is tied for fourth in defensive efficiency and third in offensive efficiency (via ESPN's John Hollinger).

As we've seen with veteran teams previously, these guys have a tendency to "turn it on" when the playoffs roll around, and that's exactly what we're likely to see from Miami.

What has to go right for the Heat to march toward the title?

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat shoots a free throw during a game  against the Sacramento Kings at American Airlines Arena on February 21, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

One of the biggest differences between the Miami club we saw earlier this season and its current version has been Chris Bosh.

Bosh turned in a healthy first half of the season with averages of 18.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, but his averages have tailed off in the second half of the year to just 17.0 points and 6.6 rebounds.

It doesn't seem like a huge drop-off in production, but it is.

Bosh has registered just one double-digit-rebound game since the All-Star break, and he's failed to make his presence felt with his jump shot like he did earlier this season.

Bosh's jumper was spacing the floor effectively for the Heat, allowing James and Wade to effectively drive into the paint because Bosh was drawing his man out to the perimeter.

We haven't seen that from Bosh of late. He's struggled with his shot, and it's been a huge reason as to why the team has struggled to reach expectations.

There is one key thing to remember about the road to the title for the Miami Heat: This is a team that is incredibly difficult to beat in a seven-game series.

This is a team waiting to flip the switch, and nobody should believe that the electricity has gone out in South Beach.