Only a Fool Would Panic About Miami Heat's Slow Start, Right?

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Only a Fool Would Panic About Miami Heat's Slow Start, Right?
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The Miami Heat are 1-2, and the world is ending.

Not only did the defending champions fall to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers—a team that some people (myself included) expected to challenge the Charlotte Bobcats for the worst record of all time—they also saw a furious fourth-quarter rally against the Brooklyn Nets fall short by a single point.

All of a sudden, Miami is *gasp* under .500 for the first time since LeBron James' initial game in a Miami uniform, all the way back in 2010-11. 

Go to the grocery store and stock up on canned food. Lock yourself in a basement because the sky is falling. The world is ending. The universe is exploding. 

Or not. 

The panic meter shouldn't currently be vacillating between 10 and 11, nor should you suddenly fly out to Vegas and place bets on one of the Association's early-season upstarts. In fact, the panic meter shouldn't even have batteries in it yet. 

Only a fool would seriously be concerned about this slow start. 

 

Championship Roster Still Intact

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Although this particular group of professional basketball players hasn't been too successful at the start of 2013-14, it's still a largely intact version of last year's championship roster. 

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all back, though Wade sat out against the Philadelphia 76ers because A) the team probably didn't think he was needed and B) the health of his knees is a big priority throughout the year. 

Also returning are Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis and Joel Anthony. That's already 11 holdovers from the group that actually got to participate in the ring ceremony before beating the Chicago Bulls to open the season. 

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Miller is the only contributor who isn't back, and he'll be replaced both internally and through the additions of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. Although neither player has stepped onto the court during the regular season, it's safe to assume that Beasley will eventually get some time. 

According to RealGM, the troubled forward averaged 9.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game throughout the preseason while shooting 42.2 percent and actually exerting himself on the defensive end of the court. He looked like he belonged in the rotation. 

People asked the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman about Beasley's absence against the Sixers, and this is part of what he had to say: 

In the wake of signing Michael Beasley, I thought the move largely would be for nights like Wednesday, when Dwyane Wade (in this case) or LeBron James sat out. And I especially thought having someone able to create off the dribble would have helped when both LeBron and Chris Bosh were out at the start of the fourth quarter against the 76ers.

Eventually, the forward will play. But as Winderman goes on to suggest, we still don't know how he's looked during Miami practices thus far.

Still, this underscores a larger point: Miami's roster is strong enough that we can ask questions like this. Fans can wonder whether or not Beasley will play and when Oden will be healthy enough to suit up even though both are nothing more than luxury items.

The Heat have already emerged on top without them, after all. 

 

Slow Starts Have Happened Before

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Is it possible that the Heat just have trouble getting warmed up during the beginning of the season? Ever since the Big Three decided to take their collective talents to South Beach, they've experienced a pretty similar pattern. 

Every year, they get off to a bit of a slow start. Maybe they go undefeated through five games, or maybe they lose a few at the beginning. But by 20 games, the start has to be considered a little slow. 

And then, Miami heats up. 

Miami Heat over the years of the Big Three

With the exception of the 2012-13 campaign, Miami's winning percentage in games 21 through 40 has been higher than in games one through 20. And even last season, the winning percentages were still identical, as the Heat just stayed strong throughout the year and then went nuts toward the end of the season. 

Is this a mentality thing? 

It could be, and LeBron's comments after the loss to Brooklyn seem to fit in along that line of thinking. "We've just got to have a little more sense of urgency," the reigning MVP told the Associated Press via ESPN. He continued by putting things into perspective: "It's not doomsday right now. We're good, but we understand what we need to fix and correct.

Urgency. 

It's a word that described Miami in the final game against the Indiana Pacers in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. It also applied when their backs were against the wall in the NBA Finals. But Miami does have a tendency to lose urgency when the games don't really count. 

That's manifested itself in the team's defense thus far. Normally, the Heat boast a swarming, suffocating defense that closes in around anyone who works into the paint.

But not in 2013-14. Not yet. 

According to ESPN Stats & Information, "the Heat have lost two of their first three games this season, allowing more than 10 points more per game in the three games this season than over the previous 39 regular season games." The 39 games they refer to are the last 39 of the 2012-13 campaign, a stretch that saw Miami go 37-2. 

The Heat won't continue allowing 103.3 points per game, which currently leaves them sitting at No. 21 in the NBA. And that will come with effort, as they'll eventually realize that it's not okay to coast through any games on the schedule. 

It's a realization that has occurred later than it should each and every year of the Big Three era. This season is proving to be no exception. 

 

We're Dealing with a Three-Game Sample Size

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

At the end of the day, we're talking about three games. Twelve quarters. One hundred and forty-four minutes of action. 

There would be reason to be concerned if the Heat were 1-8, or something similarly crazy. But losing two games over a three-game stretch is by no means cause for panic. Even last year, Miami went 1-2 over a three-contest span six different times. 

What's causing this one to gain so much attention is quite simply the timing, which should be irrelevant. Last I checked, going 1-2 over the first three games affected the overall record just as much as going 1-2 right after the All-Star break. 

If anything, isn't it better to start out cold then heat up rather than doing the opposite?

Plus, this is by no means a large sample size. Take a gander at some of the other takeaways at this point in the season: 

  • A Phoenix Suns vs. Philadelphia 76ers matchup is a distinct possibility in the NBA Finals, since both of the supposed bottom-feeders are undefeated. 
  • The Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans not only aren't playoff contenders, but they aren't going to win a single game in 2013-14. 
  • Derrick Rose, he of the 1.96 PER, is one of the worst players in basketball. 
  • Stephen Curry is going to shoot 54.5 percent from the field, 57.9 percent from downtown and 100 percent at the charity stripe. So much for the 50/40/90 club. 
  • Speaking of three-point shooting, Kent Bazemore, Tony Allen, Patty Mills and Draymond Green won't miss a triple all year. 
  • Say hello to Paul George, your future scoring champion. 
  • Michael Carter-Williams is going to keep averaging five steals per game. 
  • Chris Paul will shatter the PER record with his 37.5 mark, and he'll be pushed for the title by Isaiah Thomas. 
  • LeBron James for MVP? Psh. Shouldn't he at least have more win shares than Zaza Pachulia first?

The point is that you can make a number of ridiculous takeaways when you're working with a sample size of only three games. 

And that's exactly what it would be to start panicking about Miami: ridiculous. 

Are you worried about the Heat?

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Maybe they'll get back on track when they host the 0-2 Washington Wizards on Nov. 3. Maybe they won't. But at some point, the Heat will start playing like an elite team capable of three-peating, simply because that's their true identity. 

Denying that would be foolish. 

You don't want to be a fool, do you?

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