The Miami Heat's defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday centered around the matchup between the NBA's two best players, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but there was plenty more to see in the game.
Many of Miami's recurring issues were further exposed in the loss, and Durant's scoring supremacy was reinforced thanks to his efficient 33-point night. Let's take a look at what the Heat can take away from the game and what it all means going forward.
Concentration is an Issue
The Heat's lack of focus isn't particularly alarming because they're always regarded as a team that really gets going down the stretch and in the playoffs. But that doesn't mean the defensive lapses shouldn't be at least slightly worrisome.
Miami relinquished an 18-point lead on Wednesday (they led 22-4 to start the game), thanks to a particularly poor third-quarter performance in which they allowed 36 points (after surrendering 34 points in the second quarter).
Much of that can be attributed to poor perimeter defending (more on that later), but the defensive slip-ups are becoming more of a trend than an anomaly by now. In defense of the Heat, many point to Miami's penchant for "actually trying" during the playoffs. But Heat players still find value in regular season games, as they should
As Shane Battier said earlier this season, via SB Nation:
Obviously the playoffs are the best part of NBA basketball, and there's nothing that gets your juices flowing like NBA playoff basketball, but you have to try to find a way to take joy and take delight and fulfillment out of the grind of the regular season.
Ray Allen agrees, saying:
It's a crescendo that happens throughout the course of the season, when you play the good teams and you see how you fare, and then some of the biggest tests are the teams that are below .500. Those games are just as important.
Clearly, the defensive issues go beyond Wednesday's game, but the final result (112 Thunder points) further reinforces the Heat's need for a defensive boost in the season's second half.
Turnovers Reared Their Ugly Head, Again
For all his incredible strengths as a player, James could still use work in one part of his game in particular: turnovers. He's turning the ball over 3.5 times per game this season, fifth most in the NBA (excluding Kobe Bryant and his six games).
But the Heat as a whole suffer from that problem as well. According to NBA Stats, the Heat's turnover ratio (the number of times they turn the ball over per 100 possessions) is seventh-worst in the NBA.
That's an issue that goes along with a lack of concentration, and it's something that's easily correctable. It's also a factor that will make the difference in plenty of close games during the playoffs, and it was especially put on display on Wednesday. Indeed, the Heat allowed 25 points off their 21 team turnovers, which was perhaps the biggest difference-maker in the game.
Limiting turnovers is the name of the game—the Heat have struggled in that sense throughout the season.
LeBron Was Right...
...Durant is unguardable one-on-one.
LeBron James says he'll need help with the challenge of checking Kevin Durant. pic.twitter.com/f4lt98vtPo— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 29, 2014
Attempts to limit KD's production on Wednesday proved fruitless, as he hit 12 of his 23 shots for an 11th straight 30-plus-point performance. If you watch the video on Durant's impressive night, notice how good he is at creating shots for himself, whether it's in isolation or hustling down the floor for a wide-open basket.
It's a scary thought to ponder, but it's one that must seriously be considered: If LeBron can't stop Durant, who can?
Durant will see fewer looks when Russell Westbrook returns to the Thunder from injury, but for now, he's going on one of the best scoring runs in recent history, which makes Oklahoma City a serious contender, if not the favorite, for the NBA title.
Perimeter Defending Must Improve
Those issues were showcased perfectly on Wednesday, when the Thunder hit 16 of their 27 three-point attempts (59.3 percent).
Sure, part of that can be attributed to Durant's ridiculously hot, borderline-unguardable stroke, but he wasn't the only Thunder player who hurt Miami from downtown. Derek Fisher, connecting on 36.4 percent of his three-point attempts this year, was a perfect 5-of-5 beyond the arc. Jeremy Lamb, also at 36.4 percent, was 4-of-6.
In the video below, you'll notice particularly in the last minute-and-a-half or so that the defense, especially James, really sagged off around the arc, allowing for easy looks from deep.
One would think the Heat would be solid at defending the three, with their lack of rebounding prowess, but that's not the case. Even so, perimeter defense isn't as big of an issue as it seems because, while the Heat's aggressiveness might hurt them at times, three-point defense requires additional effort generally reserved for the playoffs.
The Non-Big Three Players Must Step Up
The Heat shot 51.4 percent from the floor, but that doesn't tell the whole tale. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to go 26-of-46 (.565) for 67 points, while everyone else was 11-of-26 (.423) for 28 points. The latter shooting percentage isn't terrible by any means, but when you take away Chris Andersen's 4-of-5 performance, the number plummets to .333.
The point is that the Big Three seem like they have to carry the team more than ever this year, which is terrible timing because Wade's fragile knees aren't in the best condition to help in that regard.
What is the Heat's biggest concern?
That means factors like Ray Allen's 34.2 three-point percentage and Mario Chalmers' lackluster 14.99 PER must improve. It probably wouldn't hurt to give Michael Beasley more than 16.2 minutes per game either, especially because of his career-high 14.4 rebound rate (percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds).
However, there is a positive to all these negatives: the problems are very solvable. That's because the main issue is a lack of concentration. Indeed, the Heat suffer from serious lapses in focus on defense, and they turn the ball over far too often. Those are correctable issues, instead of simply a lack of ability. It's up to Erik Spoelstra and the rest of the coaching staff to get the most out of their players, especially come playoff time.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise noted.