Miami Heat Fooling Themselves by Waiting to Flip Switch Against Lesser Teams

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2013

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 20:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat and Udonis Haslem #40 at American Airlines Center on December 20, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Miami Heat enter the 2013 portion of the schedule with a 21-8 record, tops in the Eastern Conference, yet constantly playing down to their opponents has robbed them of a few wins here and there.

Of Miami's eight losses, five of them were legitimate playoff teams giving them the old one-two punch. Three of them were a result of their rope-a-dope defense failing to take down the dope.

Specifically, we're talking about losses to the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks.

Their initial ugly loss of the season was the infamous drop to the Wizards. That game included a lot of letting guys take open shots, slow transition defense and just a game full of shrugging shoulders.

They tried to turn it on late, but the three-pointers that normally fall, didn't.

In the end, it was a regular-season loss that ended up minimally impacting their position in the Eastern Conference.

The next was a loss to the Detroit Pistons, a 10-point loss that started with them playing great defense, but that lasted all of one quarter. Miami gave up 92 points over the course of the final three quarters after their offense seemed to be clicking so well.

Once again, just another loss in December. It's really no big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Then they lost their next game to the Milwaukee Bucks.

It may seem like losing to a legitimate Eastern Conference playoff team isn't really that big of an embarrassment, but when we're talking about the Bucks, we're talking about a team whose offensive firepower comes at the hands of two guards shooting 40 percent.

This is a team Miami should beat, and handily.

Still, they went into the fourth quarter up 71-69 and decided defense was too boring, giving up 35 points in the fourth quarter.

On the surface, it seems like going into autopilot at times isn't going to hurt them too much. It's just a few regular-season games, right?

Actually, that's a question I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Basically, Miami has been pointing to games against lesser teams and calling them unimportant with their style of play. They believe they can win them with less effort, and if not, how much does a loss hurt them here and there?

In fact, how is this much different than what the San Antonio Spurs do?

San Antonio will sit some of their older players on the second end of a back-to-back, or a fourth game on five nights, basically giving their opponents an unearned advantage before the game even starts.

Well, both teams do give their opponents a decided advantage, but it's the way they go about doing it that makes up the main difference.

Miami is going about it in a way that could be habit-forming. It's a decision by the players on the floor to play beneath their station.

San Antonio's, meanwhile, is a decision by Greg Popovich to sit a player, or two, or four on any given night.

Popovich's decision not to play guys is a vote of confidence in the team's bench; Miami's decision to play down to the level of their opponents is a hope that things work out in the end. Sometimes they don't, and that ends with a shrug of their shoulders.

It's something that is dangerous in that it can be habit-forming. Not that they're going to turn themselves off in the playoffs, but rather that they're going to rely on their fourth-quarter game and three-pointers to win in the end.

That's a volatile way to go about winning games, and if they continue to defy their own skills, it could come back to bite them in the end.