What We Learned About Miami Heat During Their 1st Half of the Season
There has been plenty to glean from the Miami Heat throughout the first half of the 2013-14 season.
On their way to a 27-11 record, the Heat have made clear the completely unique way they are approaching the season.
They've found key contributions from an unexpected player, but on the other hand, they also found out that someone who used to be a contributor no longer is.
And lastly, there has been an answer to the biggest offseason question that surrounded the Heat: Is Dwyane Wade still elite?
Let's take a look at that answer and the other most valuable things we've learned about Miami.
Stats from Basketball Reference unless stated otherwise.
They Are Coasting Through the Regular Season
There's no denying it: Miami isn't giving maximum effort this regular season.
Having physically exhausted themselves playing 297 games in the past three seasons (playoffs included), the Heat are trying to preserve the energy they have left for another deep postseason run.
The negative effects of Miami's coasting style have shown up on the defensive end, where the Heat have clearly lacked energy and effort.
The Big Three Heat have always been one of the premier defensive teams in the league; however, Miami finds itself outside of the top 10 in defensive efficiency this year (they allow 105.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 12th). Opponents are shooting 46.1 percent from the field (23rd in the league) and 37.3 percent from three (27th).
Miami's consistently losing to teams they have no business losing to, with nine losses to teams that have a below-.500 record.
The most recent example: The Heat fell behind by 34 points by the second quarter in their last game to the Washington Wizards. A late surge was not enough for Miami.
After the loss to the Wiz, LeBron told the AP, “They was playing at another speed. They was playing at, like, 15 and we was playing at, like, seven.” That's been a theme this year for Miami.
Still, the Heat are right to coast. Getting to the postseason as energized as possible is hugely important for them. Though, it is going to obviously be difficult for Miami to catch the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference if they continue to approach the regular season in this manner.
They Are Being Extremely Cautious with Health
Working hand-in-hand with the Heat's coasting-approach has been Miami's approach to injury.
Miami has been very quick to rest key players (Shane Battier, Chris Andersen, etc.) for games if they aren't 100 percent healthy. This plan has been most noticeable in the Heat's handling of Wade, who is recovering from offseason shock treatment on his knees.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has consistently sat Wade for at least one game in the Heat's back-to-back scenarios. The Heat don't want to overwork Wade in the regular season and have his knees betray him in the playoffs, as they did last year.
Postseason success is the only thing that ultimately matters to this team, so getting to May and June as healthy as possible has become the Heat's top regular-season priority.
Dwyane Wade Is Still a Top Player
Dwyane Wade's knee problems in the 2013 playoffs resulted in him playing about the worst basketball of his career. And that resulted in a summer of many people questioning Wade's status as a superstar player.
Well, Wade's play this season has certainly silenced those doubters. With much of his explosiveness back, Dwyane's per-36-minute averages are 20.6 points (54.0 percent shooting from the floor), 5.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.6 blocks.
Offensively, Wade's been particularly dangerous on cuts to the basket. He's 38-of-47 on shots after cuts, according to mySynergySports.com (subscription required), coming off of screens (17-of-28) and post-ups (31-of-63). And on the other end, opponents have converted just 38.4 percent of their shots when Wade guards them.
It's been an incredibly productive season for Wade, and the second half promises to be even better, given his improving health.
Udonis Haslem Is No Longer an Asset
While Wade is proving his abilities haven't diminished much despite his aging, Udonis Haslem is doing the exact opposite.
At 33, Haslem hasn't been able to contribute much at all to the Heat this season, and it's why he's found himself out of the rotation for the past few months.
Haslem's rebounding numbers are down significantly from a year ago (averages 7.0 per 36 minutes after averaging 10.6 last year). Opponents are eating him up on the defensive end, scoring on 26 of 41 field-goal attempts when Haslem guards them, according to Synergy.
On offense, Haslem's ability to help the Heat spread the floor continues to worsen. He's shooting just 36.8 percent in spot-up opportunities, according to Synergy.
Haslem will always be a great locker-room presence in Miami, but his on-the-court value has never been lower.
Michael Beasley Was a Brilliant Offseason Acquisition
There were many skeptics (I was certainly one of them) when the Heat signed Michael Beasley this offseason, but Pat Riley and co. look like geniuses for their decision to bring back their first-round pick in the 2008 draft.
Beasley has become a key role player on this team; he's producing on the both sides of the floor.
Beasley's been the Heat's most prolific scorer outside of the Big Three, scoring 10 points per night on 50.3 percent shooting from the floor. Beasley's been effective from all over the court; he's finishing at the rim and knocking down his jumpers.
Beasley's also been surprisingly committed (given his reputation) on the defensive end. Opponents are shooting just 37.5 percent when Beasley guards them, according to Synergy. B/R's Ethan Skolnick hinted that Beasley might deserve some more playing time based on his work on defense.
To top it all off, the Kansas State product is grabbing 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, which ranks second on the Heat.
All of this is just further proof that it's usually a mistake to doubt the great Pat Riley.