The media narrative on the Heat this year is a week-to-week game of building them up to knock them down. The Heat were unstoppable seeking to avenge last year's Finals loss, then stoppable and listless, then unstoppable at home, then mediocre on the road, now tenuous and shaky heading into the playoffs.
The bench was tremendously improved, then incredibly underwhelming, and now largely invisible. Udonis Haslem is a rock, Haslem is shooting bricks, and Mike Miller just re-injured all his fingers while drinking Gatorade.
This shifting narrative has been supported by the statistics and numbers. One game Miami looks elite and unbeatable, then the next game they seem to have aged by 20 years. What is going on with this team?
The numbers on the Miami Heat this season are lying to fans. They don't show what this team is truly capable of in playoffs. The playoffs will be missing one key factor that the regular season has: back-to-back games.
To date, Miami has lost 17 games. If you look at the schedule you'll notice a theme to the Heat's losses. Yes, many of them have occurred on the road. But over half of the losses have been in back-to-back games on the road. There is no tougher challenge for a professional basketball team than winning on consecutive nights on the road. Teams that excel at this grind usually have big centers and play out of the post. The Heat have a collection of rusty turnstiles at center and their post game is non-existent other than the occasional LeBron James post up.
The Heat entered the season with one of the most grueling schedules. Everyone had to play back-to-back games. But few teams have had to play as many consecutive night games on the road against playoff opponents. Even when the Heat do win these difficult games, they mostly squeak by against mediocre opponents.
In back-to-back road games the Heat have consistently come out flat in the first period. The games are lost in the first 12 minutes on most nights. Teams with a few sharpshooters can push out to early double-digit leads.
Speed is the leading component to the Heat's defense and fast break points. They make their living by jumping in passing lanes, closing gaps in the paint, and making it difficult for the other team to run its offense.
There is no telling what can happen in the playoffs. The Heat's legs might be worn out after this abbreviated season. But critics shouldn't discount how this team looks when it is rested, focused, and has its Big 5 rotation closing out 4th quarters.
Grinding teams like Chicago can slow the game down on back-to-back nights. They can apply suffocating defense and edge out low scoring games with a deep bench. In the playoffs everyone steps up their defense but it's mostly the starters plus another 4 or 5 bench players. You rarely see deep bench rotations.
In the upcoming weeks experts will say Chicago is deeper, Oklahoma City is stronger, and Boston has more veteran winners. All of that is true. And these facts were also true last year when the Heat lost only 2 games in the playoffs against the veteran-savvy Celtics and the unstoppable Bulls. The question everyone will be asking is how will any of this translate into this years' NBA playoffs.
For the Heat, their regular season losses prove they might be playing possum with the rest of the league.