Outside of LeBron James, the Heat have appeared lethargic and indifferent to what was supposed to be an epically-fulfilling title defense.
Yet this isn't the same team we watched dismantle the Oklahoma City Thunder during the finals; this isn't the same unflappable entity we watched spit in the face of adversity just last season.
Instead, Miami has not-so-subtly entered a seemingly enervated state, one that has seen them drop two inexplicable games in a row despite awe-inspiring performances from the Chosen One.
So what gives? How has the poster-team for success gone from dominant to dormant so suddenly? Why has the most voracious of teams become nothing more than an ambiguous substance?
Less than 20 games into the regular season, some would hesitate to draw striking conclusions with regard to any team, let alone the reigning champions. At the same time, however, it shouldn't take even close to 20 games for the Heat to play with the same ferocity that carried them all last season.
With the additions of Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and even Josh Harrellson, this was supposed to be an improved team, a faction that provided an overwhelming air of certainty in the quest for a repeat.
And yet, here the Heat stand, embarking on one of the most tepid 12-5 starts to the season the league has ever seen.
Of course, second in the Eastern Conference and first in their respective division isn't a terrible place to sit, but it's how Miami has arrived at its current destination that is truly vexing.
Statistically, the Heat's woes have been diagnosed. They're allowing the second-most points from beyond the arc (27.5) of any team in the league and are 23rd in defensive efficiency (103.7 points per 100 possessions).
In the interest of full disclosure, Miami has combated such defensive deficiencies with the third-most potent offensive attack (109.3 points per 100 possessions) and the highest effective field-goal percentage (54.2) in the league, an honor they share with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But again, this goes beyond the stat lines, beyond the box scores.
There has to be a reason Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for merely 25 points on 6-of-25 shooting from the field in one of the biggest games of the early season. There has to be a reason why the Heat are posting a paltry plus-3.7 with LeBron—who is having another MVP-esque season—on the floor.
As I alluded to earlier, that's where Miami's languished being comes into play.
Watching the Heat during their losses to the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks, as well as the near loss to the San Antonio Spurs, was an unbecoming experience for all. Even on a subpar night, Miami should have no qualms about putting away a depleted Knicks and Spurs team, not to mention a docile Wizards squad.
Performances such as those are a surefire sign that a team isn't just underachieving, but lacking heart. We watch as James continues to fight, even when the Heat were down big against the Knicks, but where is that same commitment from everyone else?
I will never directly accuse any player of lagging purposely, but when I look at the Heat, I do see a lack of urgency throughout the game's entirety. Where is that killer instinct that allowed Miami to put games away early all last season?
Simply put, it's gone and Chris Bosh (via Chris Tommasson of FOX Sports Florida) even admitted to it:
"Yes, it's impossible to have that same fire, that same hunger," Bosh admitted. "The hunger changes, but we don't have the same motivation and we have to find different motivations now. And I think that motiviation is always just trying to be the best and sometimes you got to be knocked down a few times in order to get that back."
I'm sorry, but I can't buy into that. Not entirely.
Right now, the entire Miami team has the opportunity to fight for dynasty-level success. If that's not enough of a reason to remain championship-starved then what is?
Bear in mind, the Heat posted a six-point win differential last year. That margin has been cut in half thus far this season. Are we just supposed to accept that such a performance is the direct result of a lack of interest?
Whether or not the Heat won a title last year is irrelevant. Insufficient defense and all, every member of the Heat should be expending as much energy as James is; everyone should be displaying that same sense of exigency he is.
As professional sports teams have come to know all too well, complacency is the enemy of progress and often results in significant regression. Despite starting the season 12-5 for the second straight year, the Heat have receded.
They're defense has never been more permeable, Dwyane Wade has never struggled more than he is now and this team, the most recent of NBA champions, has never depended upon James as much as it currently is.
More importantly, though, their respectable record has been plagued by the same absence of accountability and interest as the 2010-11 campaign. Even worse, it's something this team could, in fact, readily control, because Bosh actually cited their borderline lackadaisical discourse as reality.
Yes, James has never been held in higher regard nor has he ever been a more respectable leader. But why have the efforts of his supporting cast, his fellow superstars, dissipated into oblivion? Why have the Heat began the season with a record that suggests dominance, but a performance that implies abeyance?
Truth be told, no one can answer that, not even the fiercest version of James himself.
But that's neither here nor there. Right now, all that matters is that James is the only member of Miami's finest who seems ready to defend the Heat's throne. Right now, safeguarding the team's rank appears to mean everything to him.
And seemingly nothing to the rest.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 6th, 2012.
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