The Miami Heat are still two-time defending champions. They still have the best player in the world in LeBron James. But after a 1-2 start to the 2013-14 NBA season, we’ve learned quite a bit about this Heat team.
Miami still ranks dead last in the NBA in rebounding (as it did during the 2012-13 season). Also, the defense has looked uncharacteristically shoddy and has contributed to losses as opposing teams continue to target Miami.
As two-time defending champs, the Heat are going to be challenged regardless of the opponent. They simply have to match that intensity, which hasn’t happened in the early going.
Not everything we learned was negative, but the Heat have fallen below .500 for the first time with the Big Three since losing the season opener in 2010-11.
It’s certainly not time to panic. The NBA season is in the very beginning stages at this point. However, Miami does have some aspects it needs to correct.
Note: This article was written prior to Miami’s home game against the Washington Wizards.
While saying that a defending champion has a title hangover is one of the most cliched phrases in sports, it would certainly explain the Miami Heat’s rocky start to the 2013-14 season.
Aside from a masterful second quarter in the season opener against the Chicago Bulls (in which Miami outscored Chicago 37-18), the Heat looked far from impressive.
While their offense has been solid, the defense has looked completely uninspired.
It’s still early in the season. We shouldn’t expect Miami’s defense to rank in the bottom third of the NBA throughout the 2013-14 year.
However, this team needs to display more focus before a three-peat looks like a logical possibility.
Greg Oden and Michael Beasley are two offseason acquisitions who were expected to make a meaningful difference for the Miami Heat this season.
Both are attempting a professional comeback (I refuse to believe that Beasley was actually trying to be a pro ballplayer with the Phoenix Suns). However, neither player has received a minute of court time this season.
It’s understandable that head coach Erik Spoelstra is being extremely cautious with regard to Oden. Beasley, however, couldn’t get court time against the Philadelphia 76ers even with Dwyane Wade sitting out.
These two role players may have big moments before the end of the season, but they have yet to see regular-season action.
Don’t be surprised if they continue to be benchwarmers for the foreseeable future.
While the Miami Heat have proven that their lack of size is just a weakness rather than an outright detriment to winning championships, it continues to be an area of concern.
Opposing big men have toyed with Miami early on.
In the season opener against the Chicago Bulls, Carlos Boozer scored 31 points in just 32 minutes on 13-of-18 shooting. Teammate Joakim Noah, despite being hobbled by injury, grabbed 11 rebounds in just 20 minutes of action.
In Miami’s stunning loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Spencer Hawes scored 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go with nine rebounds.
Opposing bigs have bullied Chris Bosh and Co. this season. They’re scoring with ridiculous efficiency, winning the rebounding battle on both ends and controlling the game.
Miami has already won two championships without a defensive big man who can complement Chris Bosh. If the team fails to achieve a three-peat, however, lack of interior size will be a huge reason why.
Miami has been out-rebounded in all three games so far this season by a combined margin of 20 rebounds.
While Chris Bosh is back to averaging more than 18 points per game, the 6.7 rebounds-per-game average would be a career low if sustained throughout the 2013-14 season. Oddly enough, that number leads the team.
The Heat, as they did during 2012-13, rank dead last in the league with 33.7 rebounds per game. Aside from Bosh, only one player averages more than five rebounds per contest (LeBron James with 5.7).
This factor certainly links with Miami’s lack of size, but successful rebounding can be achieved through effort and fundamentals. You don’t have to be the biggest guy on the court to attack the glass. It helps, but it’s not a necessity.
That’s something Heat players need to understand moving forward. Without a dominant rebounder, the Heat need to rebound by association.
There were offseason rumblings that Dwyane Wade was finally healthy and poised for a great season, but he already missed the Heat’s second game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The shooting guard had no official injury and was listed as being out in order to rest, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
Considering that Wade told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt in late October, “I’m not where I want to be (from a health standpoint),” it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that the three-time champion missed the second game of a back-to-back scenario.
With that said, Kevin Garnett was in a public battle with new head coach Jason Kidd over the right to play in such scenarios.
Garnett is six years older than Wade and has more miles on the odometer. The veteran showed his competitive fire by wanting to play in every game. The same can’t be said for Wade in the early going.
Perhaps the Heat are just trying to save D-Wade for the playoffs, but they need him to be a star and leader beside LeBron James regardless. He can’t do that in street clothes.
Wade has been banged up throughout his NBA career, but Miami’s title hopes ride on his health now more than ever.
With so many Eastern Conference (and Western Conference) teams getting better during the offseason, Wade's health is certainly a bigger X-factor than before.
The shooting guard is averaging 17 points per game, but he's shooting just 40 percent from the floor.
Being vulnerable in back-to-back scenarios is true for just about every NBA team. Playing two games in two nights takes a physical and mental toll, especially when traveling to different cities in between.
The Miami Heat are a truly interesting case, though, because they have the oldest roster in all of basketball with an average age of 30.5 years.
Miami’s vulnerability showed in a big way against the Philadelphia 76ers (the second game of a back-to-back set). Philly jumped out to a 19-0 start and held off the defending champs for a 114-110 win. Dwyane Wade didn’t play, and Shane Battier finished 1-of-8 shooting from the field.
Considering that the Sixers were projected to be the worst team in the NBA this season, the early loss is a minor red flag for the Heat.
In addition to age, the other problem facing Miami is depth. The Heat simply don’t have enough off the bench to compensate when one member of the Big Three misses time, evidenced by the fact that Roger Mason Jr. started in D-Wade’s place and played only 15 minutes against Philly.
Even if head coach Erik Spoelstra is sending out a healthy lineup, back-to-back situations will continue to challenge the Heat.
Thanks in large part to Michael Carter-Williams’ rookie debut, in which he recorded nine steals, the Miami Heat rank 21st in the NBA by turning the ball over 18.3 times per contest.
They’ve managed to limit the overall damage by forcing 18.7 turnovers per game in their own right. However, committing 18.3 turnovers per game is a massive regression from the 13.3 they averaged a season ago, which ranked them sixth in the NBA.
Many of those turnovers have allowed opponents to get out in transition for easy buckets (i.e. Carter-Williams’ fast-break slam at the start of the embedded video). That isn’t doing Miami’s defense any favors.
The Heat have struggled defensively to start the year. They’ll continue to do so if they can’t limit turnovers and fast-break opportunities for their opponents.
In order for Miami to get back into a defensive rhythm similar to the one it showed throughout the 2013 playoffs, it needs to force opponents into half-court sets.
Through his first three seasons with the Miami Heat, LeBron James’ highest assist total in a season was 7.3 per game in 2012-13.
In 2013-14 he’s averaging nine assists per game, which ranks him fourth in the entire NBA behind Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio and Jeff Teague.
The four-time MVP’s scoring average is down (22.7 this year compared to 26.8 last year), but everyone within the offense has benefited from James’ passing abilities.
It’s clear that LBJ is making a conscious effort to get his teammates involved. When they find their rhythm, it opens up the entire offense.
Of course, with James looking to distribute more often, he’s also turning the ball over more. After three games, he’s averaging a career-high 3.7 turnovers per game, which needs to be rectified.
Although the turnovers are a concern, Erik Spoelstra has to be thrilled with how LeBron is playing. He’s one of the most unselfish players in the league, and if he can get Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and other role players into a groove, the Heat will be tough to beat.
Despite starting the season with a 1-2 record, the Miami Heat have been dominant on the offensive end. Here are their offensive ranks in the early stages of the 2013-14 season:
- Points per game: 105.7 (NBA rank: eighth)
- Field-goal percentage: 49.6 percent (NBA rank: tied for third)
- Three-point field-goal percentage: 45.9 percent (NBA rank: third)
- Free-throw percentage: 78.2 percent (NBA rank: eighth)
Miami’s offense has remained remarkably consistent even though the team has started the season with a 1-2 mark. LeBron James is setting up teammates, Chris Bosh is averaging more than 18 points per game and just about everyone has been knocking down three-pointers.
The offense has been stellar. It’s Miami’s defense that has let the team down.
The Miami Heat didn’t win back-to-back championship trophies by accident. They won those titles by being dominant on both ends of the floor (especially on defense). Head coach Erik Spoelstra set a defensive tone early on, and Heat players embraced that style of play.
At the start of the 2013-14 season, however, Miami looks like a completely different team on that end.
After three games, the Heat are allowing 103.3 points per game. That ranks them 22nd in the entire league. For reference, Miami ranked fifth in opponent points per game last season by allowing just 95 points per contest.
Additionally, the Heat have allowed opponents to shoot a blistering 48.1 percent from the floor. That ranks them 28th. Only the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks have allowed opponents to shoot a higher percentage so far.
The Heat also haven’t locked down the perimeter. Opponents are shooting 36.5 percent from long range against them. That ranks Miami 18th at defending the three-ball.
Again, Miami’s offense isn’t the problem. It’s the defense that has been completely uncharacteristic.
Heat players need to look themselves in the mirror and remember the defensive effort they’ve displayed in the past.