The Miami Heat don't always lose consecutive games, but when they do, there's cause for concern.
The defending NBA champions are coming off back-to-back losses against the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, respectively, dropping both games in less-than-impressive fashion. There isn't much wrong with this Miami team, but there remains some glaring issues that were especially evident in the two losses.
Where is Chris Bosh?
The Heat were lauded with both praise and criticism when the Big Three was put together. Bosh was considered a third wheel but has been instrumental in Miami's recent success. He wasn't, however, in the past two games for the Heat.
Bosh averaged just eight points on 36.8 percent shooting over the last two games, with zero free-throw attempts against New York and just two attempts against Brooklyn.
He is one of the best mid-range shooters the NBA has to offer but hasn't played like it this season. After shooting 50.2 percent from that area last season, he's down to a mediocre 44 percent this season.
That remains a solid conversion rate, but it isn't what we're accustomed to seeing from Bosh. It was especially glaring in the two losses, where he was just 1-of-7 on jump shots (1-of-5 from the mid-range area).
Bosh did play a bigger role rebounding the ball (something he's been constantly criticized for), snatching nine boards against New York and 10 against Brooklyn.
Yet, despite this, he was mostly unaccounted for offensively. Bosh's importance in the paint defensively for Miami is vastly understated, but he just couldn't get it together on the other end.
What makes this that much more concerning is that Dwyane Wade missed the Heat's matchup versus the Nets to rest, having played the Knicks the night before. With the Heat's second-best player out, logic suggests the ball would be forced into Bosh's hands.
While the defense of the Knicks and Nets deserve credit, Bosh attempted just 9.5 field goals in averaging 40.5 minutes over the two games. As the second- or third-best player for Miami, depending on Wade's health, Miami needs to both incorporate the big man and ensure he's aggressive and focused enough on a game-to-game basis.
Defense, defense and more defense.
The Heat are a suffocating defensive team when they're motivated but didn't look anything close to it against the Knicks and Nets.
New York shot a blistering 53.7 percent from the field on January 9, with Brooklyn converting on 46.5 percent a night later. Again, you can point to Miami playing back-to-back games or being without key contributors to the Heat's lackluster intensity defensively.
On the other hand, both New York and Brooklyn have two of the worst offenses in the league. Neither group has a concrete identity on that side of the ball, namely due to injuries to key players.
The Knicks average 95.3 points (tied for fifth worst) on 43.7 percent shooting as a team, ranking them in the bottom 10 in terms of team offense in the NBA. The Nets are barely any better, averaging 96.3 points on 44.3 percent.
The Heat should have taken both games in stride considering the chemistry and cohesiveness the team has put together the past few seasons, but they instead fell to two squads that severely lack both.
LeBron pointed out the fact that fatigue has played a role thus far, per a report from CBS Sports' Ken Berger:
We've played a lot of basketball in our four years together. It's taken a lot of wear and tear on all our bodies. It's mentally fatiguing. And you just try to find the motivation the best way you can as an individual and as a collective group.
Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal further broke it down, calculating that the Heat have played "an additional 67 games, which is more than many guys play throughout the length of an entire regular season."
It's imperative to touch on Miami being without Mario Chalmers (Achilles tendonitis), Shane Battier (quad) and Wade (rest). All three are terrific perimeter defenders and integral components to how successful the Heat's defense is.
While both are potential and/or realistic reasons for Miami's poor defense against New York and Brooklyn, neither can be used as excuses considering how well the team has played without key players before.
Do the Heat have a lack of depth?
Miami's roster is rife with experienced veteran players, whether you look toward LeBron, Wade, Ray Allen, Battier or any other Heat rotation guys who come to mind. Yet, a potential lack of depth was unveiled with players missing time.
It goes without saying that Miami would obviously miss a beat without Wade, Chalmers or Battier. All three are, and have been, the star(s) and/or role players who have kept the Heat ahead in crucial games of the NBA Finals.
In their absence, head coach Erik Spoelstra limited his rotation to just eight players against Brooklyn (and nine against New York, counting Wade). Norris Cole played a whopping 52 minutes against the Nets, becoming the only point guard for Miami sans Chalmers.
Cole had 35 minutes of action the night before, averaging 15 points over the two games. Yet, Allen was forced into playing 43 minutes against Brooklyn, with the game going to overtime.
He shot 2-of-14 field goals and is converting just 20 percent of his shots in January. Indeed, the Heat have had almost a week off since losing to the Nets, so it's no real cause for concern providing Allen with so many minutes.
Having said that, Spoelstra had no one to turn to with Allen struggling so severely. In no way will Allen be called upon to play that long regularly, but it points to Miami's lack of assistance on the bench.
Roger Mason Jr. had three points on 0-of-3 shooting (3-3 from the free-throw line) in 21 minutes, with James Jones receiving zero minutes. Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony were the only other two players in uniform for the Heat (both logged DNPs).
Haslem is averaging 2.6 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting this season, both career-low averages and vastly below what's expected from the team's best big man aside from Bosh. Anthony has averaged 3.1 minutes per game for the 12 games he's been on the court.
As aforesaid, Miami was without players who play quite a large role for the team. Yet, in their absence, the Heat had nobody to rely on to ensure the team kept rolling.
If Miami is to lose Wade or another player for a key stretch in the playoffs, the team has little potential to achieve a highly coveted third consecutive championship. If what was on display against New York and Brooklyn was the Heat's response to being without integral cogs in their machine, the team may need a trade to keep a consistent level of talent on the roster.
Any team that has the likes of James, Wade and Bosh is absolutely a top-heavy one, but the bottom of the barrel can't be this bare for Miami. It might be an overreaction in one regard considering the Heat's record and the early point of the season, but it remains concerning against the likes of the Knicks or Nets.