The Heat is back in Indiana for the first time since a competitive playoff series.
Mocking Miami fans has become one of NBA Nation's favorite pastimes.
After all, game after game, television viewers see more than a smattering of empty lower bowl seats, sometimes well into the first quarter. Heat fans tend to arrive late and (especially in the pricy seats) appear more concerned about looking good than actually looking at the action on the floor.
And yet, something strange has happened in front of those people:
The Heat has become a dominant home team.
Miami is 16-3 inside AmericanAirlines Arena. That compares to a 7-6 record on the road, prior to the start of a six-game trip that will force the Heat to face five teams that entered Monday's play a combined 64-30 at home, all of them above .500...even the listless Lakers.
That home tilt might not seem so striking, until you consider that the Heat, with six or seven of the same players in its regular rotation, was a virtually an even proposition (30-11 vs. 28-13) at home vs. the road just two seasons ago.
So what's happening away from South Florida?
Why has Miami been comfortably beaten by quality teams (Knicks, Grizzlies, Clippers, Bucks), struggled to beat lesser lights (Magic, Bobcats), and even fallen to a couple of non-contenders (Wizards, Pistons)?
(All quotes for this piece were collected through the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics were accurate as of Monday afternoon.)
Like many young players, Norris Cole plays with more poise and confidence at home.
The Heat enter every game hoping to get quality play out of both of their point guards, and reasonably satisfied if they get that out of one.
When Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are on their games, Erik Spoelstra can keep at least one of them in the game, taking some of the ball-handing burden away from LeBron James, and generally making the Heat more dynamic.
But that has been the exception on the road this season.
It's not a surprise that Cole would continue this pattern from his rookie season, committing six more turnovers in 12 road games than in 18 home games, and shooting 33.8 percent vs. 38.5 percent. He's still an NBA neophyte, and reacting to the road life, and the accompanying on-court challenges, certainly isn't easy.
Chalmers, however, should be over it at this point.
Entering this season, his fifth in the NBA, there wasn't much divergence in his home-road splits. Certainly, he hasn't shown, whether in the NCAA Tournament or in the NBA Finals, that much fazes him.
So it is strange that he is averaging just 5.6 points on the road, compared to 8.5 at home, while shooting 35.7 percent compared to 41.9 percent.
Strange, and damaging.
Miami needs more from him in hostile environments.
On the road, LeBron has had to do more on his own.
This slide will take nit-picking to new heights...or depths.
LeBron James' road splits are remarkably special this season, as has been the case every season.
He is averaging 27.2 points on 52.7 percent shooting, with 8.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
Still, he has said that the only statistic that interests him is turnovers ("I hate giveaways") and he has been slightly more turnover-prone on the road. That has contributed to the Heat being slightly more than slightly more turnover-prone on the road.
Simply, he has spoiled everyone by his road dominance over the years, with all nine of his 50-point games coming on the road, that it is odd to see him shooting significantly higher percentages from both the field and the line at home.
The latter discrepancy is the more concerning, as he has connected on 76.3 percent of his foul shots at home, and 69.9 percent on the road.
"We want to have a bunker mentality and a road-warrior mentality when we hit the road," James said on an earlier road trip, prior to losses to Detroit and Milwaukee. "And we understand to this point we haven't played great basketball on the road."
Well, he has.
It's just a tick less great than what he's done at home.
That sweet stroke hasn't led to as much scoring on the road.
Ray Allen would be the last person on the Heat whom you would expect to underperform on the road.
Allen is not only the most experienced player on the roster, but he's also been a model of consistency throughout his career: he has done what he does, no matter where he is.
Pick the statistic and, over nearly 600 games at home and nearly 600 on the road, you wouldn't have found even a sliver of difference. Points, rebounds, free-throw percentage, three-point percentage, shot attempts, whatever...he has always progressed, or regressed, to his means.
And perhaps he will again.
But so far, he has been a much stronger player for the Heat at home, even though it hasn't been his home for long.
Allen has committed more turnovers per game on the road, by a significant margin. And he done everything else much less well, most notably his specialty: shooting.
He is shooting 52.9 percent overall and 52.1 percent from behind the arc at home; on the road, those percentages are 41.7 and 38.3, respectively.
On a team otherwise bereft of bench scoring, that's had a major impact.
Allen has raved about having the practice facility and parking and a family room inside AmericanAirlines Arena: "It's one-stop, and you're able to have everything at your fingertips."
Why have his finger-tips produced more points at home, though? Is it the background?
"It's hard to really say," Allen said. "You play so many games at home, you get comfortable there."
Now he has six on the road, where he needs to start replicating what he's doing in Miami.
Dwyane Wade has had some frustrations away from Miami.
If you only watched Dwyane Wade play in Miami (in the place he has commonly called his "house") you might not know what all the critics were chirping about.
Inside AmericanAirlines Arena, Wade is shooting 21.4 points on sublime 53.4 percent shooting. He is getting to the line 6.4 times per game, still well-below his career norm but not alarmingly low, and is making a healthy 79.3 percent of his attempts.
That's where the wear has shown.
He has missed four of the games, one due to sickness, two due to injury and one due to a suspension after he lost his cool in the previous road game, kicking Ramon Sessions in the groin.
His numbers in the other nine games?
They're still serviceable, with 18.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
But his efficiency has been off: .455 from the field and a staggering .660 from the line. He's also shown more flashes of anger about not getting calls, which hasn't influenced the officials, as evidenced by his 5.6 free throw attempts per contest.
There were signs of a breakthrough on the last trip, with 29-of-58 shooting in the three games he played.
Of course, everyone wanted to talk about the game he missed, after his kick to Sessions didn't.
We've seen this look a lot on the road.
By now, you'd figure this team had been through everything.
No team in NBA history, not even the current Lakers, had endured the scrutiny that came the Heat's way in 2010-11, and that squad rebounded from a 9-8 start to make the NBA Finals.
Then, after falling short, the Heat made it back, and won.
So it's been a little jarring to see Miami get jarred so frequently by unfavorable occurrences on the road.
Erik Spoelstra likes to call them "road warriors."
They've too often been "road worriers," getting off their game as soon as someone on the other side starts to push them in a way they weren't anticipating.
Sometimes, it's been a single player, such as Memphis shooter Wayne Ellington going off from deep in a way he had never done before.
Sometimes, it's been an entire bench, such as what Detroit's did by hitting every conceivable shot, combining to score 36 of the Pistons' 41 points in a single quarter.
Sometimes, it's been an atmosphere, like the charged Madison Square Garden in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which helped get the Heat all out of sorts.
Sometimes, they have been their own problem, as was the case in Washington, when they didn't take the situation seriously until too much time had elapsed, an attitude that nearly got them beat in Charlotte and Orlando.
Only once on the road this season, in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back, has Miami shown the resolve of a champion, pulling through in an impossible situation against a quality opponent.
“No matter who you’re playing, who is in the uniform, you’ve got to fight for every win in this league, particularly on the road,” Spoelstra said after the overtime survival in Orlando.
“We haven’t been playing particularly well on the road, so maybe this will change the dynamic and hopefully we’ll have a paradigm shift in 2013 and we’ll take off and start playing the way we’re capable of on the road.”
This trip will test that.