Miami Heat's Explosive Offense Is Masking Early-Season Defensive Struggles

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Miami Heat's Explosive Offense Is Masking Early-Season Defensive Struggles
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Only once this season have the Miami Heat scored fewer than 115 points, and that was in their disappointing road game against the red-hot New York Knicks when they put up just 84 points to New York's 104.

On the surface, that's downright amazing. They're averaging an astonishing 111 points per game on 52 percent shooting (first in the league), 46 percent for three (third in the league), 82 percent from the free throw line (fifth) with over 25 assists per game (third) and the league's top effective field goal percentage at 58.3 percent.

To put it bluntly, the Heat have been downright amazing when they have the ball. What's so astonishing, however, is that they're defense has almost been the complete inverse of their offense.

They're allowing their opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field and 41 percent for three (both in the bottom third of the league). They're giving up an exorbitant amount of offensive rebounds and fouling like crazy. Lucky for them their opponents are shooting a meager 77 percent from the free-throw line.

Oh sure, they're putting up some decent numbers in the vanity stats, averaging seven steals and just under six blocks per game, but they're losing the battle in the trenches.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

What happens to this team if their shots stop falling and their defense continues to slouch? Actually, we saw exactly that in their loss to the Knicks.

Miami shot just 46.5 percent against New York, not an incredibly terrible number, but a sharp drop from their season average while turning the ball over an incredible 21 times. If this team isn't completely focused on offense, they're incredibly beatable when they play defense like they've been playing.

Where is the point of worry for the Heat? Well, I doubt that we're quite there yet.

A few points could have been shaved off here and there against Boston and Phoenix if Miami wasn't so far ahead. That is to say they've had to play a lot of garbage time so far in Miami, which usually leads to the team that's behind scoring more than they would have otherwise.

Even still, that 106.5 average that they're giving up is shocking, and really there aren't many excuses.

Miami does have a quicker pace than most of the rest of the league, but they average the seventh-most possessions per game, which isn't exactly running away from the league. A lot of their problems are plain and simple hustle problems, although preparedness might be a bit of an excuse as well.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Guys like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen have played terrible defense when the opposition was spreading the floor like Denver did. Chalmers was constantly beat off the dribble by both Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. Battier is slow rotating to cover shooters, Lewis is useless if his man is faster than he is and Allen is really only helpful on defense when the pace is slow and his man tries to back him down, as opposed to going around him.

It's not the middling players that create the bulk of the problem, however. LeBron James hasn't seemed up to his normal war-hawk defense that he's built his greatness around in the past few years. 

What's been really shocking has been Chris Bosh's complete indifference toward boxing out in these first four games. He was constantly worked around by Brandon Bass (six), Tyson Chandler (six offensive rebounds), Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee (13 combined) and Marcin Gortat (five).

Just check out how passive Bosh was defensively against Faried, who was able to muscle up and either score through Bosh or fly in around him and get an offensive rebound.

Bosh is expected to be their big man in the middle, but when a shot goes up on defense he's still playing power forward, positioning himself for the ball that caroms eight feet or so off the rim, rather than right in the restricted area for the ones that fall right out.

You don't hear any panicking going on today, and realistically there shouldn't be panic if a team is 3-1. However, that doesn't mean this team shouldn't work on their deficiencies. 

This has become a very fast-paced offense, but that doesn't mean they have to model it after the old Golden State Warriors who run, take a shot and wait to get the ball back. There is defense to be played in every situation.

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