5 Ways Miami Heat Can Still Improve Before NBA Playoffs Start

Nick JuskewyczContributor IIIFebruary 27, 2013

5 Ways Miami Heat Can Still Improve Before NBA Playoffs Start

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    The Miami Heat just capped off the month of February on a 12-game winning streak, but the Heat need to improve in multiple ways if they want to win back-to-back NBA titles.

    There's no need to complicate things. LeBron James, behind his 29.7 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds a game on 64.1 percent shooting is the main reason why Miami dominated the last four weeks. Dwyane Wade's 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists on 53.2 percent shooting wasn't too shabby either.

    South Beach shouldn't get too comfortable though. Miami struggled in that stretch to put away inferior opponents at home, such as the Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Sacramento Kings

    The defense has given up big runs at times, and while the Heat's offensive talent can overcome that most of the time, that won't fly in a seven-game series in the playoffs.

    This is what Miami needs to upgrade on before the playoffs begin.

Rebounding

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    Miami ranks dead last in the NBA with 38.6 rebounds a game. That's astonishing considering the fact that the Heat shoot 49.7 percent from the field (first in NBA).

    While the numbers have gotten better since the arrival of Chris Andersen, the glass is still a troubling issue against the premier post players.

    On Tuesday night, along with Marcus Thornton going off like an NBA Jam player on fire, the Sacramento Kings got 15 rebounds out of DeMarcus Cousins. However, the more concerning fact was that six of those boards were on the offensive end and kept Sacramento in the game on second chance points.

    This has been an ongoing trend against the better rebounding teams. The Heat are 0-2 against the Pacers and have been out-rebounded by 28 in the two games combined. 

    Excluding LeBron James, between all the Miami Heat forwards and centers that see significant playing time (Chris Bosh, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis and Chris Andersen), they combine for 102 minutes and 20 rebounds a game.   

    That isn't a good a ratio for five guys listed at 6'8" or taller.

    Miami enters March with a home meeting with the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night. The Grizzlies defeated the Heat by 18 in the first meeting back in November.

    While this Memphis team no longer has Rudy Gay and Marreese Speights, they have won their last seven games and still have Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

    With one winning streak needing to give, this will be an excellent test to see how Miami handles the boards.  

Interior Defense

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    There is no one specifically to single out. The defense inside simply has to be better overall.

    In Miami's last three losses, the opponents' leading scorers were David West (30 points, seven rebounds), Kevin Garnett (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Al Jefferson (23 points, 11 rebounds). LaMarcus Aldridge also had 20 points and 15 rebounds going back to the Heat's fourth most recent loss.

    What should Miami do? Play Chris Andersen more.

    Understandably, Birdman's minutes are kept to a minimum as he only joined the Heat a little more than a month ago. However, Chris Bosh and company need help in the post and Miami has been giving up too many points in the paint.

    In reference to the previous point about rebounding, Andersen has actually been one of the more efficient players. He's averaging 3.4 rebounds in just 11.8 minutes a game.

    Off the stat sheet, Birdman provides a meaningful spark. His hustle for loose balls and altering shots in the paint helps brings energy to the bench defensively.

    During Miami's 12-game win streak, the Heat have only allowed a player off the bench to score in double digits in five different games. Furthermore, in almost every occasion, those players were perimeter players raining three-pointers like Marcus Thornton of Sacramento, C.J. Miles of Cleveland or Dorell Wright of Philadelphia.

    Birdman is currently the most underrated player on Miami. He needs more minutes as the season progresses.

Ball Movement with the Bench

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    The Heat need a way to jump start their offense at the beginning of the second quarter. According to Hoopstats.com, Miami is only averaging 0.4 more points in the second quarter than its opponents.

    This is the spot when LeBron takes a rest. Too many times in the half court the Heat run one of their set plays, the ball ends up back in Wade's hands and it's pure isolation to beat the shot clock.

    Miami has a lot of great shooters coming off the bench, but that only goes so far if the guards can't get penetration and draw double teams. The Heat don't have a big man that will pound the rock down low, so if they aren't in transition, the half-court offense must be more effective.

    So when LeBron isn't on the floor, the way to beat a defense with a team like the Heat, is to move the ball quickly. They still run their sets. They still screen. They still cut. But Miami's bench needs to move the ball quicker to get better looks.

    While Wade is a superstar, it's easier for the defense to key on him without LeBron and his one-on-one opportunities are more difficult.

    The more Miami can avoid being stagnant with the basketball, the more it can wear down the opposition over 48 minutes. 

Ray Allen's Consistency

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    I'm probably a week too late with this considering that Ray Allen is 26-52 from the field in his last five games.

    Nonetheless, Allen is coming off his worst month of the season. In February, he shot 38 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from behind the arc. The sharp shooter also didn't score in double digits over a seven-game stretch from Jan. 30 until Feb. 10.

    Not only was it a scoring issue for him, but Allen also struggled on the glass. In the first 42 games of the season through January, he averaged 3.2 rebounds a game. In February, he only averaged 1.4.

    An off month isn't anything to be overly concerned about. Although, Allen is the best three-point shooter on the team, the biggest point contributor outside the big three and is arguably the most clutch. How the veteran performs off the bench is significant against the better teams in the NBA.

    Ray Allen can't afford cold streaks in the playoffs.

Converting with Less Than 10 Seconds

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    It's amazing what a championship can do. There has been little to no conversation in the 2012-13 season about how Miami can't win the close games or hit the big shot.

    Well, to be fair, nothing has really changed.

    So far this season, Miami seems to either blow out the opponent or get blown out. But in the few situations the Heat have taken the final shot to tie or take the lead, it's a brick more often than not.

    The Heat are 5-4 so far in games decided by four points or less.

    Miami's only game-winning shot with less than 10 seconds remaining, was against Denver when Ray Allen hit a three-pointer plus the foul with six seconds left. LeBron James also hit a game-tying three with seven seconds left at Boston, but the Heat eventually lost in double overtime. 

    The Heat's inability to execute on the last play is slowly coming back to life. LeBron James clanked an open three-pointer at Washington in a loss. Chris Bosh missed a wild shot at the end of regulation at Orlando. Mario Chalmers lipped out a wide open three at Portland to cap off a horrific collapse.

    Now in Miami's last game against Sacramento at home, Dwyane Wade missed a contested jumper in regulation before LeBron James had his shot blocked in the paint in the first overtime. 

    Most of the time, the Heat take care of business early enough or pull off a significant enough comeback in the fourth quarter so this situation won't come up. Also, it's not like Miami should be expected to make every last-second shot.

    Nevertheless, when you lead the NBA in field goal percentage and have that many shooters and playmakers, this is getting borderline ridiculous.