LeBron James' Patience Key to Heat Winning Another Title

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 14, 2012

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 12:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Golden State Warriors at American Airlines Arena on December 12, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Miami Heat will have to find their way to the defensive end of the floor before they start planning another championship parade.

With three losses in their last five games, the suddenly vulnerable Heat have allowed the ninth most points in the NBA (99.5).

While his team hasn't performed to its championship capability, it's been no fault of LeBron James.

He has cemented his position atop the basketball world, leading Miami in points (25.5), rebounds (8.6) and assists (6.8) and ranks among its top three in steals (1.4), blocks (0.8) and field-goal percentage (54.2).

The Heat can score with anyone in the league (103.2 points per game, fourth most in the NBA), but have struggled containing opposing shooters. They've allowed teams to connect on 36.1 percent of their threes, 21st in the league.

Despite the recent woes, James isn't worried about the state of his team. "We're good," he told FOX Sports Florida's Chris Tomasson following Miami's 97-95 home loss to the Golden State Warriors.

But his teammates could be wearing his patience thin.

James is the ultimate team player, sacrificing his body when his team needs it.

But he may not be seeing that same kind of effort out of his teammates.

James has rattled off at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in each of the five games of this relative rough patch. As a whole, Miami's Big Three (James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) have combined for 63.8 points per game over that same stretch.

But Miami has failed to capitalize on these offensive exploits.

The Heat need to rediscover those defensive principles that defined their 2011-12 championship run.

They don't have the size to consistently win the rebounding battle (minus-1.6 rebounding differential) so they have to end more possessions with blocks and turnovers. They're forcing 2.5 fewer turnovers this season than last (14.2 down from 16.7), and as a result, they're leaving points on the table.

Miami's far from pressing the panic button. They're still tied for second in the Eastern Conference, sitting just two games behind the conference-leading New York Knicks.

But their uninspired play of late could be keeping those championship planners out of work if coach Erik Spoelstra can't right this ship.