Why the Miami Heat Are Vulnerable Against Terrible Teams

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Why the Miami Heat Are Vulnerable Against Terrible Teams
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Dwyane Wade's shot is blocked against Washington.

The NBA world is a fickle beast.

One minute, we're all gushing about a certain player or team, telling everyone who will listen how great they are. The next, we're lining up quicker than Apple fanatics at an iPhone launch to pick apart their failures.

The Miami Heat ride this roller-coaster harder than most.

Although they own a 14-6 record and find themselves sitting in a very cozy second place in the Eastern Conference, some of their play this season has them being hounded from all corners.

So why are they having to defend themselves beyond belief every time they happen to lose or play poorly?

Put simply, it's because it often happens against bad or weakened teams.

Already this season, the Heat have lost to a dreadful Washington and a depleted New York, as well as pushed to the limit by a resting San Antonio and a struggling Cleveland.

The Wizards will be licking their lips for tonight's rematch.

So why are the Heat unable to bring their A-game against bad teams? Why are they vulnerable when the opposition is missing star power?

The answer lies quite simply in complacency and three-point defense.

 

Complacency

It's rare for a player to actually admit that complacency is a factor in poor play. After a loss, we'll usually be given a tow-the-team-line "we played hard, gave 100 percent, but they were just better than us tonight" statement. At times, post-match interviews become so mundane you forget that you just watched a great game.

Dwyane Wade's comments, which can be seen in the clip below, reflect exactly this, as he tries to brush away the notion of the team's frailties after the loss to New York on Dec. 6.

Dwyane Wade's post-match interview on December 6.

However, Chris Bosh threw away the safety guidelines for interviews when he had this to say via Fox Sports after the very same game.

"Yes, it's impossible to have that same fire, that same hunger. The hunger changes, but we don't have the same motivation and we have to find different motivations now."

It's a refreshing change to hear a player honestly admit that intense motivation isn't always there, that complacency is an ever-present threat.

While many will scoff at the idea, it's understandable that the Heat are struggling to fire themselves up every second night. They are the defending champions, possess two of the NBA's greatest-ever players at their positions, and play in a conference where there appears to be only one legitimate challenger. 

When a high playoff seed is essentially guaranteed, what else is there to play for during the regular season?

 

Three-Point Defense

The Heat's three-point defense is terrible against all teams and it's no secret around the NBA. However, the "bad" teams that they've lost to or struggled past this season are all teams that enjoy hoisting them from deep.

This is why the Cavaliers were able to hang around against Miami, why the short-handed Spurs pushed them all the way, why the Carmelo-less Knicks blew them out, why the Wizards embarrassed them.

As long as you allow teams the fire away freely from deep, the longer they'll keep themselves in the game, regardless of how poor they are.

New York (29.1), Cleveland (22.8), San Antonio (22.3) and Washington (21.5) all rank in the top 10 for three-point attempts per game. Not surprisingly, they fired away even more than usual against the Heat, as shown in the following chart. 

Miami have conceded more attempts from deep (504) than every team in the league except Charlotte. Additionally, they are ranked 21st in the NBA for opponent three-point percentage at .361.

Every team in the league now understands that three-point defense is the Heat's biggest weakness. Their defensive system collapses hard onto dribble penetration, while their double-teaming tactics in pick-and-roll situations regularly leaves men open on the perimeter if the ball is swung quickly.

Examine the first two baskets in the following clip.

Steve Novak highlights Miami's defensive problems.

Now New York is hardly a bad team. In fact, they're one of the NBA's best, but the video is a great example of how Miami is bleeding points from long range.

The first basket is a result of three players collapsing onto J.R. Smith as he drives to the basket, while the second clearly shows the weakness in Miami's pick-and-roll defense. 

Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier double-team Raymond Felton in a pick-and-roll with Anthony. Anthony slips the pick which sees Wade rotate, leaving Steve Novak wide open in the corner. 

Double-teaming the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations is fine, but when you do it nearly every time the opposition runs it, you're going to be found out.

This weakness is hardly a new one, either. Anyone remember the Orlando Magic coming back from 24 points down to beat the Heat on March 3, 2011? Remember Jason Richardson drilling 6-of-8 from deep as his team went 16-of-29 from long range, going on a 40-9 run?

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Of course, there will be many out there that will point to Wade's topsy-turvy season, to Ray Allen's defensive struggles, to the heavy load placed on LeBron James.

But these factors don't explain why the Heat are vulnerable against bad or star-less teams.

Without the intense motivation that they've previously had, Miami always flirt with complacency. When the opposition starts firing up uncontested threes, they are able to hang around, able to stay in the game.

It's a pattern that is now glaringly obvious.

Consequently, expect the Heat to continue meandering through games against the NBA's lowly teams, particularly those fond of the three-ball.

However, don't let it fool you. It doesn't mean the Heat can't still be great come playoff time. They definitely can.

It's just with little to play for right now, they're not even close to playing at their best.

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