These are all headlines for stories written in the last few days, throughout the Heat's newest giant accomplishment-a 5 game winning streak. Everyone's excited, fans and reporters around the country are beginning to wonder if they've finally figured it out. Has the "King" finally built himself some sort of respectable kingdom in South Beach?
As one looks at the chatter around the web regarding the Heat you read quotes like:
"It was just a matter of time for the Heat..."
"Don't look now but the Miami Heat are good."
"Miami Heat have won five straight games."
These are quotes from real people around the web, or headlines from real articles around the web as well. All of this inspires me to ask one simple question:
WHAT AM I MISSING HERE?
Kindly allow me to be your "Heat Reality Check" for the next several paragraphs please. First of all, the Heat are not a 72-win team, this is obvious right now, however I'll go even further. The Heat are not a 60-win team either. In fact, the Heat are barely a 50-win team.
After all, how many bad teams can you play in a season? 50? This Miami Heat team has done nothing, it's been far less than impressive, and with injuries piling up they should be thanking God the Eastern Conference is so bad, otherwise they might have ended up getting swept by someone like the Celtics in the first round as a low seed. Let me show you what I'm talking about by taking a deeper look at the Heat.
First of all, this ridiculous five-game winning streak they're on? Between Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, Milwaukee and Atlanta there's only one legitimate playoff team in there—Atlanta—and they lost their superstar to injury prior to the Heat game—there's hardly any honor in beating a broken team. The combined record of these five teams is 41-61, 20 games under .500. If you take the Hawks out of that equation (they're not really a 14-8 team without Johnson is my guess) then you're talking about a 27-53 combined record. People aren't really talking about this five-game streak like it means anything are they?
The thing is, this five-game streak is actually the perfect representative of the Heat, that will continue to be true after they lose to the Jazz in Utah tomorrow night. The Heat really haven't beaten anyone all season. They have a grand total of three wins against teams over the .500 mark; the Hawks (already went over that one), the Magic early on, and the Suns (a team only two games over .500 with no sort of interior defense that Bosh took advantage of).
In fact the quality of the competition the Heat have beaten has been so poor it's hard to put into words, so I'll put it into numbers instead: 111-176. That is the combined record of all the teams the Heat have beaten. Precisely 65 games under .500. Sure they have the most 20+ point wins, as was revealed recently on ESPN, but have they beaten anyone they might see in the postseason? Not really.
The story goes deeper than that even, as if we're not deep enough in mediocrity already. Many times you'll see in sports—particularly football—a team that is the beneficiary of playing a very poor schedule. Teams that haven't faced anyone yet are teams you can't really get a measure on how good they are because they've only played very bad teams. The Miami Heat are not one of those teams, because beginning on opening night in Boston, and running all the way through Wednesday night they've played good teams, they just haven't really stood a chance against them.
For all their numbers, whether it be the 14 wins, or the second-rated defense in the league—allowing only 91.7 ppg, first in the league in turnovers with just over 12 per game, or outscoring opponents by an average of 8.6 points per game—we've seen almost none of that when they've played winning teams.
In the games the Heat have lost this year, the Heat are giving up 101.5 points per game, and they're losing by an average of seven points per game. They rank 16th in the league in rebounding, and 28th in the league in offensive rebounds. They also can't work together, ranking 22nd in thee league in assists per game with only 20. So to sum it all up: the Heat can't beat good teams, but they can beat up on bad teams. They can't rebound, and they don't pass. They play great defense against poor teams, but when you challenge them they back down and give up more than 100 points per game, while only scoring 93 or so of their own points.
It's not all doom and gloom. This Heat team is going to be good, they just won't be good this year. The Heat are missing a lot of things: a center, a point guard, a coach that knows anything about offense, a gameplan, the list goes on. I do believe they will fix this though, I just don't think it will happen until they can add a few legit pieces—and no, I don't count Eric Dampier as being a legit answer at center.
In looking at the free agent market in the upcoming summer you can see several potential options as guys that might want to come in and play at either position in an effort to win a championship (and not mind taking a team-friendly deal of course). Players like Jason Williams (Orlando), Leandro Barbosa (Toronto), and Mo Williams (Cleveland) are guys that might look good at the one in a Heat uniform and are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. To fill the five-spot you might see Pat Riley look at players like Kendrick Perkins (Boston), Tyson Chandler (Dallas), or even Yao Ming (Houston) who are all also scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Beyond personnel, either Eric Spoelstra needs a serious change of gameplan, or the Heat need to bring someone else in. Can anyone tell me what has changed in terms of offensive philosophy for the Heat this year, or what has changed from Mike Brown's philosophy when coaching LeBron over the past few years? Wasn't his plan "give LeBron the ball and watch what happens"? Wasn't that the same plan for D-Wade the last few years in Miami? How do you not get that this doesn't work?
Watch the Heat and then watch the Lakers, the Magic or the Celtics and you'll notice a significant difference on offense—those three teams actually run plays! You'll notice a great deal of movement off the ball, you'll see screens being set, players working to get open, and actual real, set plays being run.
When you watch the Heat it's as if you're watching the most talented playground team in the world. Can someone please tell me what Spoelstra actually does for this team? It's clear he doesn't call plays. He doesn't direct the offense in any way. Does he just flip the coin to determine who is going to get the ball this quarter, Wade or LeBron? You can have all the talent in the world, but until it works together it doesn't really matter too much does it?
At some point I expect the Heat to get these concepts. These players understand defense wins games, so they don't need someone to call them out on that, what they need is a coach to help put them in positions where they can win the game. A coach for whom standing around watching the other drive the ball isn't satisfactory. A coach who can get down to business with the clipboard and draw up some plays to run every now and then.
The Heat need this more than anything, because no matter who you add to the roster, whether it's two of the top five players in the game, or 12 great role players you just aren't going to contend with the top teams in this league until you start playing like a team on both ends of the court, all game long, against every team in the league, not just the bad ones.