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How the Miami Heat Might Be Outsmarting Themselves by Going Small-Ball

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 07:  Chris Bosh #1, LeBron James #6, Ray Allen #34 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat watch the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 7, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.   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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Peter EmerickSenior Writer IIJune 14, 2016

The Miami Heat are widely believed to be one of the top three or four teams in the entire NBA, based on this season's progress thus far.

They are in the upper echelon of the league, with teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and the New York Knicks.

Being considered in that realm would be quite an accomplishment for most teams, but for the Heat it's somewhat of a step back.

With the talent the Heat has on their roster—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh—the Heat should be the NBA's premier team. The Memphis Grizzlies or the New York Knicks shouldn’t blow them out; the Heat should be asserting themselves as the elite of the elite.

The reason they're not though is because they've made the dangerous transition to playing "small-ball."

What exactly is small-ball?

It is defined as playing with a smaller lineup than usually expected in the NBA. More often than not, teams don't play small-ball by choice. Instead, they play it out of necessity, based on the talent they have on their roster.

Without a true center that can play on both sides of the ball, the Heat have no option other than playing with an undersized lineup.

On paper, a lineup with LeBron James at the power forward spot and Chris Bosh at center doesn't seem like a bad setup. In some ways it's a smart way to play because it creates mismatches based on LeBron and Bosh's ability to score from nearly anywhere on the court.

Though, on the court, it's a different story.

As we've seen in the Heat's blowout losses this season against the Knicks and the Grizzlies, their small-ball lineup hasn't worked out so well. Both teams had a significant size advantage in the paint, and that advantage led to the Heat not being able to control the pace of the game.

The Heat's small-ball lineup certainly doesn't hold back their offense, which ranks No. 1 in the NBA, with an average of 105.5 points per game-according to ESPN.com

Their lineup holds them back when it comes to playing on the other side of the ball. On defense, the Heat give up the NBA's 24th most points per game, with an average of 100.3 points-according to ESPN.com.

While it's early on in the season, it's clear that the Heat's defense is lacking and is the foundational reason why they are struggling against the top teams in the league.

Talented teams that struggle because of their lack of size isn't something new.

When you look at the most talented teams in the NBA this year—San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, L.A. Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets—the vast majority of them have significant size in the paint.

Those teams have their fair share of weaknesses, too, but the Heat's lack of size in the paint isn't something they can work on or gradually get better at throughout the season.

Deciding to play "small-ball" is a decision that the Heat can't go back on.

With Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem leading the second unit, the Heat don't have the luxury of adding size. That could turn out to have a major impact on the outcome of their 2012-13 campaign.

If the Heat fail to repeat this season, it won't be because they can't hold their own on offense. Instead, it will be because they don't have the size to compete on the defensive side of the ball.

Matching up with other "small-ball" teams in the playoffs will be a key for the Heat. If they adhere to their small lineup against bigger, stronger teams, their title hopes this year could certainly be dashed.

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