Despite a 3-1 record, the Miami Heat have been far from perfect, as the team has struggled in some important aspects of the game.
The Heat are breaking tradition and deploying a style of play, a positionless scheme, that may be revolutionary in the long run, but for now it is causing a few issues for the champions.
This change, which has been stimulated due to the presence of two elite penetrators and no suitable centers, has caused coach Erik Spoelstra to use small lineups that excel in the athleticism department but lack mightily in other important areas, including rebounding.
Nevertheless, the Heat's early success shows that this new scheme is here to stay. After all, it perfectly complements Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as the lane is mostly wide open for driving due to no post presences.
If the Heat can correct these early woes, the rest of the league may have quite a problem on their hands.
There is no denying that for the last few years the Miami Heat, despite playing in a league dominated by height, have excelled with rather undersized players manning the big man positions. This year is no exception.
Not only are there no true seven-footers on the roster, but the Heat have no legitimate center in their rotation. Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis compose a big man core that is talented but rather small.
Anthony and Haslem, two bruisers known for their gritty styles, are both under 6'8", while Bosh and Lewis are only 6'10". Plus, both of the latter players possess lanky, lean bodies, which aren't typically suitable for the center position.
In turn, these four players won't be able to stave off the largest teams from taking control of the paint, especially on the opponent's offense.
Against the Denver Nuggets, the Heat allowed 72 points near the basket. Simply put, that statistic is atrocious, considering Denver possesses no consistent post-up threat.
Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov and Kenneth Faried make up a rather young, inexperienced group of big men that shouldn't be able to take complete advantage of the Heat's arsenal of power forwards.
The Miami Heat haven't just struggled with interior defense, but also out on the perimeter, allowing opposing guards to penetrate to the lane. If the Miami Heat want to repeat as champions, the team needs to start recapturing the defensive spark that lead them to their first title.
As of right now, Miami is ranked first in the league in scoring, averaging exactly 110 points per contest. However, the squad is also allowing nearly 100 points per game, which lists them as the 22rd ranked defense in the Association.
Of course, one could make the argument that their poor play on this side of the floor is due to their rigorous early schedule. The New York Knicks, who handed the organization their one defeat so far, focus primarily on the offense.
The Denver Nuggets ranked first last year in scoring, putting up 104.1 points per night. The Boston Celtics, on the other hand, have retooled their team after the departure of Ray Allen, shifting from a defensive powerhouse to a somewhat fast-paced team.
Nevertheless, Miami needs to compensate for their lack of size and athleticism, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can't contribute all of the load on defense.
Due to the shift to a small starting lineup, Erik Spoelstra has decided to put natural small forward Shane Battier, who is only listed at 6'8", down one position into the power forward role. Of course, positions don't really matter in the Heat's game plan, but there is no doubting the fact that this veteran will find this move to be difficult.
Already 34-years-old, Battier's career is beginning to dwindle. Not only has his athleticism started to fail him, but this former Duke star has even struggled somewhat on defense, which has always been the best aspect of his game.
Last year, Battier was the catalyst in both the offense and the defense. This year, the Heat want the elder statesman to play a larger role, but is he still capable of producing like in past years?
Even though he is averaging nearly 25 minutes in the five games this season, Battier is only scoring six points and grabbing two boards per night. While his numbers last year weren't any better, Battier now has expanded role on the team.
The solution to this problem may be found in Battier's slumping field goal percentage, which stands at a dismal 37 percent.
Second-chance opportunities are vital for team success in the NBA. Whether it be collecting an offensive rebound, collecting an easy steal or just forcing the opposing team to commit a turnover, these advantages are sometimes a true determinant of who wins the game.
Controlling the boards has not been Miami's strong suit this year. The team is only collecting a shade under 40 rebounds per night, which ranks them 23rd in this specific department in the league.
However, their offensive rebound numbers are even worse, as the team is only managing to grab around seven of their own misses per game, which is second worst in the league.
The Heat, even though the team possesses two of the top players in the league, can't falter at a multitude of different aspects of the game and still expect to win the title. The franchise needs to right a few of these ships before it is too late.
Both teams were expected to be shells of their former selves, but that simply has not been the case in the beginning of the season. The Orlando Magic are 2-2, losing one of their games to the Chicago Bulls by a margin of six points, while the Atlanta Hawks are 2-1, just recently beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-95.
While neither team is competing for a championship, there is no denying that both franchises can make life rough on the rival Miami Heat.
Don't count out the other two teams battling for Southeast supremacy, though. Both the Charlotte Bobcats and the Washington Wizards came into the season with much improved rosters. While the Wizards have struggled since opening day, mostly due to the injuries to John Wall and Nenê Hilário, the Bobcats don't look nearly as bad as they were last year.
Miami better watch their back, because their division rivals aren't the doormats the franchise probably expected them to be.