Miami Heat Defense: The Real Key to Grabbing Third Straight NBA Title

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IApril 3, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 26: Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers brings the ball up court against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat during a game on March 26, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Miami Heat's chances of three-peating are looking awfully bright right now.

They're starting to pick up their play after a rough stretch at the start of March and currently find themselves with the best record in the Eastern Conference, while the Indiana Pacers, their biggest threat, are collapsing. 

But for all to ultimately be well in South Beach, for Miami to take advantage of this great opportunity and win another championship, the Heat's defense will have to be a lot better in the playoffs than it has been in the regular season.

Many would probably say that, other than Miami, the favorites to win this year's title are the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and (maybe) the Los Angeles Clippers. Each of those teams ranks in the top-eight in defensive rating (points allowed per possession). The Heat currently rank just outside the top 10.

Not since the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers has a team that finished the regular season without a defense that ranks top-10 in efficiency won an NBA title. Just to reiterate: that's 13 champions ago!

The 2000-01 Lakers were the last non-elite defensive team in the regular season to win a title.
The 2000-01 Lakers were the last non-elite defensive team in the regular season to win a title.Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

The cliche may be primarily associated with football, but "defense wins championships" holds truer in basketball these days. 

The good news for Heat fans is that there's plenty of reason to believe Miami will see a big jump in defensive performance once the postseason gets underway.

The Big Three Heat are well known for having an easily controllable on/off switch, and never before has that switch been flipped "off" as many times as it has this season, explaining the lack of defense being played.

Miami spent much of the year coasting, focusing more on health and maintaining energy for yet another deep playoff run instead of winning regular season games. The remarkable defensive intensity that has swallowed up ball-handlers the past few years hasn't been around so much, and opponents are taking advantage of the Heat's trapping style more than ever before.

However, history tell us Miami's defensive woes will come to a halt come playoff time. When the Heat need to break out the manic-like defense to perfection, they can. Miami held the Pacers to 76 points in Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals and the Spurs to 85 points in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. 

Although Miami's conserving that type of play for the postseason, they still have put forth more effort on the defensive end lately and are seeing results, which is further proof they can get back to their previous elite ways.   

The Heat haven't allowed an opponent to top 85 points in each of its past five games, which is a first of the Big Three era. 

LeBron James spoke of Miami's recent defensive play to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, "As far as the rhythm of our defense, we look like our old selves once again.

While it's generally not smart to disagree (albeit just slightly) with the Chosen One, Miami's not all the way there yet. The Heat are clearly playing better, but some of these recent stout defensive performances are partially due to the quality of the offensive opponent (the struggling Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks twice).

The Heat truly need to become their "old selves" on the defensive end (bringing incredible pressure and forcing gobs of turnovers).

There are the elite offensive teams like the Spurs and Thunder that can absolutely dismantle defensive shortcomings. There's also a team like the Pacers that bother the Heat's offense so much that Miami's forced to match that level of play on the other side of the ball to come out ahead.

If Miami can do what's been done in the past and smother teams on the defensive end once postseason play begins, then expect another championship parade in Florida this June.