The Miami Heat have played as a very different team compared to a season ago, and even though they find themselves with a 24-11 record, they aren't getting the most out of their lineup, with problems to be solved here and there.
Compared to a season ago, the Heat were 28-7 through their first 35 games, scoring at a tremendous pace and on their way to having the seventh-highest-scoring offense in the league. They averaged 98.5 points per game, coupled with the fourth-most-stout defense, giving up just 92.5 points per game.
This season, Miami's offense is another step up compared to a season ago, averaging an impressive 102.6 points per game. However, Miami's defense has lost its edge, giving up 97.2 points on average, a number that puts them at 16th in the league.
As far as differentials go, Miami isn't too far apart compared to last season. They're scoring 5.4 points more on average than their opponents this season, while they scored six points more than they gave up last season.
That's really not that big of a lapse, but it's a lapse nonetheless. Plus, it seems like most teams would rather take a bit of a step back on offense rather than take that step back on defense.
A question that arises when the Heat have a particularly subpar game against a lesser opponent generally centers around a handful of problems that have persisted throughout the season.
Generally speaking, Miami has thee main problems that need to be addressed before things go south for them in the playoffs.
So let's take a look at what those problems are, exactly, and whether or not they can be problems solved from within.
The Heat have done a fine job limiting their turnovers this season, averaging just 13.8 turnovers per game, but they are taking the ball away just 14.6 times per game. That's 2.2 fewer turnovers forced compared to last season.
Not only are they allowing for fewer points in transition this season (they're in the middle of the pack with 12.9 transition points per game), but it keeps them from having an even more potent, dominant offense.
This should be something they can deal with from within when you consider the fact that they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the perimeter. They're great transition players and they both know how to force turnovers.
It seems to me that this might just be an effort problem. They're playing on the same pace as last season (averaging just two-tenths of a possession fewer per game on average this year), so they should be able to keep on with the transition game.
Miami is allowing its opponents to shoot 36 percent from the three-point line. That's an improvement from earlier in the season, but it's a problem that has carried over from last year.
It seems the major problem is that the Heat's defense is fine if it gives up three-pointers, as long as it doesn't allow too many points in the paint.
Rather than having a core of players good at stopping the long ball, they're better at stopping dribble penetration and forcing long two-pointers. They guard the ball very well, but in the off-chance that there is good ball movement around the perimeter, there's a likelihood of an open shot along the way.
It's a problem that persisted last season, and when teams start hitting threes, the only guys they have who are legitimately good perimeter defenders are LeBron, Wade and at times Mario Chalmers.
I don't think this is a problem that's going to be solved with the players on this team; rather it's something they'll have to live with.
The guys they have on the bench are the defenders they have to help out with the problem. And the best perimeter defender off the bench, Shane Battier, is a 34-year-old who has lost two steps.
Miami is giving up 2.7 more rebounds than it's pulling down this season, compared to averaging 1.8 rebounds more than its opponents last season.
Realistically, that's an enormous difference.
Not only are they the worst offensive rebounding team in the NBA with 8.1 offensive boards per game, but they're giving up the sixth-most per game at 11.9.
One of the most jarring stats I've seen is the productivity of their most-used lineups compared to last season.
Miami's top four lineups grabbed 48, 49, 51 and 54.5 percent of available rebounds a season ago, compared to 48, 44, 40 and 46.5 percent this season.
The main difference between this season and last season is the relative absence of Udonis Haslem in their top lineups.
Haslem is playing five fewer minutes per game this yea, and averaging more than two rebounds fewer this season compared to last.
Without him in the lineup, they're missing out on one of their most productive, physical rebounders, and it's starting to show.
I wouldn't say they need to necessarily put him back into the game more often, but for Haslem to play more like he did when attacking the boards. Throw elbows, be physical and fight for rebounds; this is a problem that can be solved from within.