Miami Heat's Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses in Playoffs so Far
Following Monday night’s 102-96 win over the Brooklyn Nets, the twice-defending champions are 7-1 in postseason play and have downed both the Nets and the Charlotte Bobcats with a perfunctory ease and unconcern. Miami's postseason has been such a breeze that it's prompted some to question whether they’re working hard enough in these games, getting the tune-up it needs to fire on all cylinders in the finals, should it come to that.
So, yes, the Heat have demonstrated some strengths during these playoffs—promisingly, in several areas that frustrated and thwarted Miami during the 82 games that preceded the dance.
But even in victory, weaknesses and liabilities have come to the fore as well. This is not a perfect basketball team. The Heat ran off a 54-28 record in 2012-13—a 12-game drop from what they accomplished the season before—in part because they paced themselves in preparation for this time of year, but also due to legitimate flaws in the group. Some of these—including issues with rebounding and defense—have persisted through the early part of the second season.
Below, from offensive rebounding to a fairly shocking turnaround in protecting the basketball, we survey the strengths and weaknesses of the Miami Heat. Sometimes you have to squint a little to see the weaknesses, but they’re there. The strengths, on the other hand, are a bit more apparent.
Strength: Taking Care of the Basketball
During the regular season, Miami was downright lackadaisical with the rock.
The Heat placed 26th in the NBA in turnover ratio, according to NBA.com, handing the basketball back to their opponents 15.8 times for every 100 possessions. This was somewhat unusual for the Heat, who in the previous two seasons were more thoughtful stewards; placing 22nd and ninth in the Association by this measure.
In the playoffs, however, Miami has been much smarter. Out of the 16 teams who made the dance, according to NBA.com, the Heat are first in turnover ratio, with 11.3 per 100 possessions. This marks nearly a 30 percent decrease in turnover rate from the regular season.
This has been a team effort. Each member of the Heat rotation, save Ray Allen, has cut their turnovers per game in the playoffs’ first eight contests. Dwyane Wade, with a meager 2.4 a night, actually leads the team in turnovers during the postseason.
Here’s a simple equation to bear in mind when considering this trend. Fewer turnovers equals more scoring opportunities. And with the clip at which these Heat put the ball in the basket, this could very well be a championship formula.
Possession is 9/10ths of the law. It’s also pretty important in the playoffs.
But while Miami has remedied one half of its possession problems, the Heat are still struggling on the glass.
According to NBA.com, Miami is second-to-last in the playoffs in rebound percentage and dead last, by more than a five percentage point margin, on the offensive glass. This mirrors the issues the Heat had in the regular season, during which Miami, according to NBA.com, placed 27th in total rebounding percentage and second-to-last to the woeful Los Angeles Lakers on the offensive glass.
Some of this is, of course, by design. The Heat don’t allocate many resources toward the offensive glass, preferring, instead, to race back to the other end to defend. While the wisdom of this approach is debatable, the fact that the Heat eagerly employ it isn’t. Though Miami’s personnel isn’t ideal—the Heat love to play small—it could probably be a middle-of-the-pack offensive rebounding team with a slight philosophical shift.
In a weakness-on-weakness battle this round, Miami has faced a Brooklyn Nets team that finished 29th in the NBA in rebound rate during the regular season, the only playoff team that fared worse than the Heat on the boards.
The results have not been encouraging. Though Miami leads the series 3-1 after Monday night’s win, the Heat have been out-rebounded in three of four games and 158-134 overall.
In the crucible of the playoffs, where each and every possession counts, the Heat are putting themselves at a decided disadvantage with their continued struggles on the glass.
Strength: LeBron James
LeBron was tremendous during the regular season, failing to win his third-consecutive MVP and fifth in six seasons merely because Kevin Durant submitted a year for the ages.
In 2013-14, James posted ludicrous 27.1 point/6.9 rebound/6.3 assist averages and set a career high with a gaudy 64.9 true shooting percentage, per Basketball-Reference.
And in the playoffs, he’s been even better. After Monday night’s 49-point outburst against the Nets, LeBron is averaging 27.5 points in the postseason with a 67.8 true shooting percentage and, according to Basketball-Reference, an NBA-leading .343 win shares per 48 minutes. If it holds, it would be the fourth-consecutive season James led the playoffs in win shares.
LeBron James, MVP results notwithstanding, is the best basketball player on the planet. Turns out, winning gets a lot easier when he plays like it.
Weakness: Where's the Extra Defensive Gear?
A cursory glance at the stats makes it appear as though Miami has played stalwart defense thus far in the postseason.
After allowing 97.4 points per game in the regular season—prompting speculation that the Heat no longer had the extra defensive gear that was the foundation of its title runs—Miami apparently clamped down in the first eight games of its three-peat bid. The Heat are allowing just 92 per game so far in the second season.
But this improvement is illusory, entirely a function of the slowed pace of play. While the Heat have allowed more than five fewer points per game in the playoffs than they did in the regular season, their defensive efficiency—the number of points they allow per 100 possessions—has actually increased by .5 points.
Now, there are a few ways to spin this total. While the Miami defense has been considerably more generous in the 2014 postseason than it was in 2012 or 2013—where, according to NBA.com, it allowed 98.5 and 99.8 points per 100 possessions en route to titles—it’s also fifth among playoff teams in defensive efficiency at the moment. That’s not terrible.
But nor is it suggestive of the sort of defensive turnaround many were convinced the Heat needed to win a third-straight title.
Strength: Putting the Ball in the Bucket
Here’s the converse of the Heat defensive problems: While a quick glance at the numbers makes it seem, to the untrained eye, as though the powerful Miami O has taken a step backward, this is also purely a matter of the snail’s pace the team has been playing at during the dance.
The Miami offense is scoring 113.1 points per 100 postseason possessions through Tuesday, according to NBA.com, which leads the NBA and actually marks an improvement over the 109 points per 100 the Heat scored during the season, second in the Association to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Heat, as a team, had a true shooting percentage of 59 percent during the season, which they’ve upped to 59.6 thus far in the playoffs. To put those remarkable figures in context: According to Basketball-Reference, during his career with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan posted a true shooting percentage of 58.
So, when the 2013-14 Heat shoot the basketball—and this is the entire team we’re talking about here, including Norris Cole—they do so more efficiently than the greatest player of all-time did during his prime.
Next time you find yourself in an argument about the relative title chances of the Heat, you might want to roll out that chestnut.
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