It didn’t take long for the Miami Heat to be humbled to the point of their four-time MVP dropping an expletive when asked about his team’s defensive effort.
“It’s simple. These first seven games, we’re playing like shit defensively. It’s that simple. We’re not a sugarcoat team. We came in and got right down to it. We’re terrible on defense, and we’ve got to change that.”
The tirade came on the heels of a last-second 111-110 loss to a Boston Celtics team that had been ranked 28th in the league in offensive efficiency (per Hollinger) heading into the contest. Miami had its chances to pull away, but wasn’t able to limit Boston from shooting 51 percent for the game.
It’s also not the first time Miami has given up a large number of points to an inferior opponent in the early season. They also yielded 114 points to the lottery-destined Philadelphia 76ers, nearly allowing rookie Michael Carter-Williams to record a quadruple-double in his first-ever game.
My favorite aspect of this Heat team has always been their resilience and their ability to learn from their mistakes. They don’t enjoy losing and they’re willing to endure film sessions of their lowest moments in order to come out a better prepared and rightfully humbled team.
Still, the Heat have had their moments on defense. They put Derrick Rose and Chris Paul in straightjackets, and kept solid offenses in Washington and Toronto below 100 points. They also showcased their devastating ability to convert defense into offense in their recent blowout win over Milwaukee.
This alley-oop from Mario Chalmers to James was a perfect representation of the Heat’s high-octane offense. A deflection off a pass, an outlet pass up the court, and a monumental throwdown that shook the rafters of the American Airlines Arena.
That’s what we’ve become accustomed to over the past three years. What we also should have been accustomed to was this Heat team not displaying maximum effort on the defensive end in the early portion of the regular season.
In case you don’t recall, the 66-16 Heat from last year didn’t exactly set themselves apart from the rest of the pack until mid-February. Before then, they were an average defensive team that ranked in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency and were fighting with the New York Knicks for a No. 1 seed they would eventually win by 12 games.
Even after their big win over Milwaukee where they forced 18 turnovers and held the Bucks to 42 percent shooting, the Heat still rank 24th in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up 103.3 points per 100 possessions. They’re also allowing 0.91 points per possession, ranking 27th in the league.
On top of those deplorable numbers, Miami also ranks 24th in field goal percentage allowed, 18th in three-point percentage, and 25th in three-pointers made. Not exactly the numbers you expect from a back-to-back champion that has prided itself on creating turnovers and scoring in the open court.
Neither is the 5-3 start. But don’t look too much into that record, especially once you realize those three losses have come by a combined six points, two of them by a single point.
In fact, akin to the defensive effort, this is certainly not the first time Miami has gotten off to a slow start. We all recall the struggles of the 9-8 start in their first season together, but does anyone remember the 8-4 start the next season? Or the 6-3 start from last year?
The Heat responded with a significant run following each slow start. They ran off a 12-game winning streak in 2011, had a nine-game winning streak in 2012, and, as we all remember, the famed 27-game winning streak from last year that separated themselves from the rest of the league.