LeBron James is having a career year, but a number of hidden factors have contributed to the Heat's success.
With their 27-game winning streak little more than a not-too-distant memory, the Miami Heat have already begun gearing up for the postseason.
But while the focus of the next two weeks will be ensuring that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are at 100 percent in time for the playoffs, the rest of the roster needs to stay sharp as well.
After all, Miami wouldn't be where they are were it not for "the best supporting cast in the business," according to Bosh. Ray Allen, Shane Battier and others have shone in complementary roles this year, but nearly everyone on the team has had a hand in several hidden factors that have made the 2012-13 season one for the ages.
The "long two"—any attempt taken from between 16 and 23 feet—is the most inefficient shot in professional basketball.
More than anything, the degree of difficulty is unnecessarily high for a shot that counts for the same as a layup. Long twos are so frowned upon that many coaches are more than willing to give up that long-range jump shot in the hopes that their team will be in better position for the resulting rebound.
Miami has turned what is typically an ill-advised shot into a weapon: The Heat are shooting a league-best 43.9 percent from 16 to 23 feet this season, far better than the league average of 38.3 percent. Miami's success from long range this year has forced opponents to extend their defenses out farther than normal, thus creating more ways for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to attack the basket.
Not every Miami win during the 2012-13 campaign has been a cakewalk. The Heat have found themselves in clutch situations (defined as when the score is within five points with five minutes or less remaining) more than two dozen times this season.
To their credit, Miami is more efficient in the clutch than they are during the rest of the game. As a team, the Heat shoot 50 percent from the field in crucial situations and have won more than 73 percent of the time when the game was in the balance.
But while their offense has been superb late in games, their intensity on the defensive end deserves accolades as well. In clutch situations this season, Miami's defensive rating is a mere 80.3.
The quartet of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen has started a grand total of 20 games this season, but they've been vitally important to the success of the Heat.
While James, Wade and Bosh carry most of the load, the "Fighting Clowns" are more than capable of pulling their weight (as evidenced by Miami's 105-100 shorthanded win over San Antonio on March 31). The Heat are a staggering 27-1 when its bench outscores their opponents' reserves. Not bad for a team that many people say is overly reliant on its "Big Three."
Yes—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all sporting career-high shooting percentages this season. But four other Heat regulars (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen) each have true shooting percentages in excess of 57 percent.
With so many consistent offensive threats, it's impossible for opposing coaches to focus their efforts on two or three players. Nearly everyone in the Heat rotation can do something of note with the ball in their hands, as evidenced by the team's stellar 112.5 offensive rating.
One can criticize the Heat for a lack of focus at times, but that has had little effect on the way the team takes care of the basketball.
Miami is averaging just 13.6 turnovers per game this season (third in the NBA), and the team's 1.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is far higher than the league average. Conversely, they've been able to force turnovers on nearly 15 percent of their opponents' possessions—a fact that hasn't been lost on head coach Erik Spoelstra, who has often been criticized for the team's pedestrian rebounding numbers.
"If we force turnovers, if we win the turnover game, that's the most important thing," said Spoelstra during an interview with Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald back in January.