Considering they are currently the top team in the East, there's no denying that the Miami Heat have played very well to start the 2012-13 season. However, this team has clear flaws and the coaching staff can't be complacent.
Erik Spoelstra needs to make a few alterations and make them now in order to put the Heat in the best possible position to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy for the second year in a row.
Reduce LeBron James' Minutes
Unsurprisingly, LeBron James is having a tremendous season and looking like the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP award at season's end. As the team's leading scorer (26.4 per game), rebounder (8.3), passer (6.8) and best defender, LeBron has carried the Heat to 23 wins.
As the numbers above suggest, the Heat are a substantially better team when LBJ is on the court compared to when he's not. So there's little doubt that decreasing LBJ's nightly minutes (currently 38.5) for the rest of the season would cost the Heat a game here or there.
But the Heat, more so than any other team in the NBA, have to be thinking about the long term over the short term. Miami possesses one goal this season and that is to win another championship. The best way for the Heat to do that is to enter the postseason with their best player (who's also the best player in the world) healthy and fresh. Well, if LeBron continues to play the fifth-most minutes in the league while bearing this type of ridiculous in-game responsibility, he almost certainly won't be.
Plus, Miami can afford to lose regular-season games. The Eastern Conference is especially weak this season. The New York Knicks (23-11) are the only team truly contending with the Heat for the East's top spot. Even if a decline in LeBron's minutes cost the Heat significantly in the wins column, it's still almost impossible to envision a scenario in which Miami still doesn't finish the season lower than the No. 2 seed.
Simply put, there's little at risk in reducing LeBron's minutes by a few every night, but it's risking the ultimate and only goal by not.
Give Josh Harrellson a Role
After having him appear in only five games, the Heat recently waived Josh Harrellson, but shortly after the team made the wise decision and re-signed him. Perhaps now Coach Spo is willing to see what he has in the former Kentucky Wildcat.
As Heat fans know too well, Miami desperately needs help on the glass (29th in team rebounds). Entering the season, the Heat were relying on Chris Bosh in his first year as a full-time center to pick up more of the rebounding slack, yet he is actually having his worst season on the glass (7.6 per contest) since his rookie campaign in 2003-04.
Bosh's backup, Joel Anthony, has helped the Heat greatly on the defensive end, but he's doing just a horrendous job on the glass. In fact, Anthony has the seventh-worst rebounding rate (11.2 percent) among all NBA centers, according to ESPN.
This is an area in which Harrellson can help the Heat out. When the big man was given playing time last season with the New York Knicks, he grabbed 3.9 boards in 14.6 minutes per night (15.0 percent rebounding rate).
Also, Harrellson has a three-point shot in his arsenal, something few big men (especially Joel Anthony) have. Harrellson shot 33.9 percent from long range in 2011-12 and has the potential to be a big asset in terms of floor spacing for Miami.
In a game against the Sacramento Kings last season, Harellson knocked down four triples. To get that type of production from someone capable of playing the 5 is very valuable in this league.
It's not as if Harrellson would be a transformative player for Miami, but he excels in two areas and would be helpful to the Heat in a small bench role.
Reduce Mario Chalmers' Minutes
With a pair of 11-assist games in the first four games, Mario Chalmers had a promising start to the 2012-13 season. However, since then, little has gone the right way for the 26-year-old point guard.
Chalmers just hasn't been the playmaker and distributor he appeared to be very early in the season and is now averaging just 3.5 assists per game.
Unfortunately, though, that's not the only area of his game that he's struggled in.
After shooting 44.8 percent from the field last season, Chalmers is shooting a poor 39.0 percent through 33 games. On top of that, his three-point shot has also declined, falling from 38.8 percent in 2011-12 to 35.2 percent this season.
Plus, on the defensive side of the ball, Chalmers is getting completely out-shined by his backup, Norris Cole. While opponent point guard counterparts have played with a 19.4 PER when Chalmers guards them, they are held to a 7.6 PER when Cole (who is making his name as one of the best on-ball defenders in the league) takes them on, according to 82games.
The Heat have plenty of great non-point guard ball-handlers (such as Dwyane Wade), so the team has some nontraditional options . Also, even though he struggles mightily on the other end, giving Cole a bit of Chalmers' playing time to terrorize opposing ball-handlers makes sense.
Note: Statistics are accurate as of January 10