The reigning NBA champions have played terribly recently, which should not go overlooked. Nine- and 10-point losses to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, respectively, followed by a 17-point loss to the Washington Wizards, sent the Heat fanbase into a state of emergency.
They did just that.
Miami cruised to a 15-point victory at the Wells Fargo Center. James flirted with a triple-double, while the Heat forced 23 turnovers and assists on 30 of their 38 field goals.
Miami was getting back to the basics, which was something they hadn't done for a couple of weeks. Instead, they had been getting badly beaten in transition and giving up too many points from beyond the arc. The Heat followed the same formula in Charlotte as they defeated the Bobcats in overtime.
On Monday evening, however, they lost to the Atlanta Hawks, with a final score of 121-114. The same problems from a few weeks ago flared up in the loss. Miami surrendered 12 three-pointers, did not get back in transition and struggled from the free-throw line.
Miami is struggling, but what needs to be understood is that the Heat are yet to pass the halfway point of the 2013-14 season.
What do they have to do to get on track against the Celtics?
First, Miami needs to forget about the road trip. They need to think of this recent span of games as a humbling experience. A two-week trip that included a visit to see the President doesn't happen all of the time.
Miami will need to continue to work on building up the three areas—defense, efficient team play and bench scoring—that got them to the NBA Finals in 2012-2013. That's key against the Celtics, a team that finally got starting guard Rajon Rondo back from injury.
Rondo will be tough to cover, but this is where working on team defense comes into play. Rondo tends to drive the lane to his right on most occasions. Miami needs to stack the right side of the paint with Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen, both of whom can provide a physical presence down low.
Rondo doesn't have Paul Pierce or Ray Allen to kick the ball out to anymore, which means perimeter defense will be easier for Miami. Forcing Rondo into making bad passes will lead to fast-break opportunities for James and Dwyane Wade. Miami likes to get out and run, which makes playing sound defense a necessity to the game plan.
What is Miami's biggest problem?
The last thing Miami needs to have is consistent bench play.
Norris Cole and Michael Beasley don't have to score 15 points apiece off of the bench, but they need to provide a spark against the Celtics second unit. In Miami's four recent losses, the bench has been nonexistent and unproductive. Bench play needs to be consistent.
If the Heat do all of these things, they will get back on track. Miami needs to take this game as a must-win. Not for the standings, but for their psyche.
Momentum is a key factor in any sport. If the Heat can find who they are at home against Boston, then the momentum will carry over for the rest of their homestand.