If you're looking for the most startling statistic of the Miami Heat's 2013-14 season, look no further than the first week of the year.
After making a statement on opening night by thumping the Chicago Bulls, the Heat got stunned by the Philadelphia 76ers the next evening. Two days later, the Brooklyn Nets sent Miami to consecutive losses for the first time since Jan. 8, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
From there, the Heat righted the ship by ripping off eight wins in their next nine games. Their only loss came at the hands of the Boston Celtics, thanks to a last-second three-pointer by Jeff Green.
Through the first seven games of the season, the Heat ranked 25th in the league in defensive efficiency, per Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin, allowing opponents to score 105.4 points per 100 possessions. The lackluster defensive start to the season caused LeBron James to lash out, saying the team was "playing like s--- defensively," per ESPN.com's Michael Wallace.
After allowing each of their first seven opponents to score at least 93 points, the Heat held three of their next five to 92 or fewer. They're currently 10th in the league in defensive efficiency (104.0), per Basketball Reference, only a shade off their 2012-13 regular-season rating (103.7).
So now that Miami has (at least temporarily) stamped out its defensive fires, what else qualifies as a statistical surprise from the first 12 games of the year? Four things come to mind.
12-25: The Combined Record of the Teams That Beat the Heat
That doesn't make the three teams that beat the Heat—the Sixers, the Nets and the Celtics—any less surprising.
Against the Sixers, the Heat were on the second night of a back-to-back, coming off an emotional opening-night victory over the Bulls. They can't be blamed for overlooking Philadelphia, a team that appeared to be in full-on "Riggin' for Wiggins" mode since the offseason.
Making matters worse for Miami, hardly any NBA tape existed of new Sixers coach Brett Brown or rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams, which made scouting that much more difficult. And really, who could have expected MCW to drop 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven assists in his regular-season debut?
The loss to the Nets also didn't set off alarms at the time, as Brooklyn was expected to be one of Miami's fiercest competitors in the Eastern Conference. Paul Pierce played his best game of the season (19 points, six assists, five rebounds and a block on 50.0 percent shooting), and he and Joe Johnson helped thwart a late Miami rally by each sinking a pair of free throws.
But the Nets proceeded to drop seven of their next nine games after beating Miami, making harder to process that loss. It's almost as if Brooklyn used up all of its good juju on that one game, proving more like a hare than a tortoise in the 82-game slog of the regular season.
The Celtics game is the easiest to explain away, as it's the one game the Heat had absolutely no business losing. They held a four-point lead in the waning seconds of the game, but a layup by Gerald Wallace and a missed free throw by Dwyane Wade opened the door for Green's buzzer-beating heroics.
Given how dominant the Indiana Pacers have appeared, Miami can't afford to give into temptation and play down to its competition. No one can blame the Heat for limiting D-Wade's early-season minutes, but, even sans Wade, they have no business losing to teams like Boston or Philadelphia.
60.1: LeBron's Field-Goal Percentage
A fun but absolutely terrifying fact: Since the 2006-07 season, LeBron has increased his field-goal percentage each and every year.
Fresh off shooting a career-high 56.5 percent from the floor in 2012-13, conventional wisdom dictated that he wouldn't continue that feat for an eighth straight season.
James isn't only surpassing what he accomplished last season; he's shattering it. Through 12 games, he's shooting 60.1 percent from the field, the fourth-best mark in the league.
Not so coincidentally, the three players above him in terms of field-goal percentage—Andre Drummond, Jordan Hill and DeAndre Jordan—are all low-usage frontcourt players. While they mostly feast on dunks and lobs from teammates, James must generate far more of his own offense.
As ESPN Insider Tom Haberstroh noted (subscription required), Shaquille O'Neal is the only "go-to" scorer from the past 30 years to match James' field-goal percentage through the first 10 games in a season.
Haberstroh crunched the numbers and discovered that with an effective field-goal percentage of 66.8 percent through the first 10 games, James owns the most efficient start to the season since 1985-86.
It's gotten to the point that it's legitimately surprising when James doesn't shoot at least 50 percent from the floor. He's only fallen below the .500 mark in four of Miami's first 12 games, despite attempting nearly 16 shots per game.
Basically, all your field goals are belong to LeBron.
6: How Many Starting Lineups Miami Has Tried Through 12 Games
Give Heat coach Erik Spoelstra credit. No matter whom he trots out in his starting lineup, his team finds a way to scratch, fight and claw its way to victory.
The Heat have already busted out six different starting lineups over the first 12 games of the season, per Wallace. The Mario Chalmers-Wade-James-Udonis Haslem-Chris Bosh quintet leads the way with four starts, followed by the Chalmers-Wade-James-Battier-Bosh lineup with three starts.
Bosh missed a game due to the birth of his second child, while Mario Chalmers was suspended for a game following a flagrant foul to Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. Haslem started the first six games, missed the next four due to back spasms and then played only 14 minutes combined against Atlanta on Nov. 19 and Orlando the next night.
Wade has missed three games due to soreness in his knees, per Wallace, as the Heat plan to be overly cautious early to preserve his body for their playoff run. Roger Mason Jr. started in the first game Wade missed (against Philadelphia), but James Jones started in Wade's two most recent missed games (Atlanta and Orlando).
James, unsurprisingly, is the only Heat player to start all 12 games this season.
Miami hasn't suffered from its lack of continuity just yet, but, as Wallace notes, at some point in the season, it will be critical for all five starters to reestablish their cohesion and chemistry." Until then, the Heat will continue relying upon LeBron to keep the squad afloat through the flux in the starting lineup.
66.8: Miami's Assist Rate
Fresh off back-to-back championships, what's one thing that can make the Heat even scarier?
Improving their already stellar ball movement.
Lo and behold, that's exactly what's happened through the first 12 games in 2013-14. The Heat have recorded 313 assists on 468 field goals, which translates to an assist-to-field-goal ratio of 66.8 percent.
As NBA.com's John Schuhmann reports, that ratio is by far Miami's highest since the Big Three era began four years ago. The team ranked 25th in assist rate in 2010-11 (54.1 percent), 24th in 2011-12 (53.8 percent) and 13th in 2012-13 (60.0 percent).
Through games played on Nov. 21, Miami currently sits second in assist-to-field-goal ratio, trailing only the Atlanta Hawks (66.9 percent), per Basketball Reference. The squad also leads the league in assists per game (26.1), according to ESPN.com.
|Miami's Assist Rate Since 2010|
|Assists||Field Goals Made||AST/FG Ratio||Rank|
|NBA.com's John Schuhmann, Basketball Reference|
"As good as the Heat are when James and Wade have the ball in their hands in isolation situations, they may be even more potent when the ball is moving," Schuhmann wrote. "And the early signs are the ball is moving more than ever in Miami."
That's great news for Heat fans but terrible news for the NBA's other 29 teams.