The defending NBA champion Miami Heat are 22-8 and the top team in the Eastern Conference. They’re second in the league in offensive efficiency, trailing only the super-hot Oklahoma City Thunder, and they possess not one, not two, but three players that can score 30 points on any given night (remember that asinine meme?). Not only that, but they have one of the best basketball players in the last 20 years and certainly the most dominant player in the game today with LeBron James.
But, there are still plenty of holes in their team. Their title repeat isn’t written in stone, and the inherent difficulty of repeating as NBA champions when everyone is gunning for you is exacerbated by the way the Heat play. Last season was a lockout-shortened sprint, but this season is back to the 82 game regular season grind.
Here are three reasons why the Heat could fail in their bid to repeat. But keep in mind, they’re still the best odds to win the title, and we don’t think Vegas is wrong, either. We just feel these are the three possible foibles in their bid to defend their crown, at least through the season’s first 30 games.
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We all should have seen this coming when coach Erik Spoelstra realized midway through the Indiana Pacers series, in last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinal, that LeBron and Dwyane Wade necessitated some outside the box thinking. Who says you need a starting center and a traditional power forward to team with LeBron in the small forward spot? Currently, the 5-man unit the Heat have used the most this season (via 82games.com), features Mario Chalmers and Wade in the backcourt, Shane Battier at the small forward, LeBron James at the power forward slot and Chris Bosh as a center who spends most of his time on the wing. There isn’t a seven-footer among that group, and only LeBron’s 8.6 boards a game are in the league’s top 35. That is a problem, especially when you consider how much the Heat fly around the court on defense, switching just about everything and turning everyone into a 5-position defender.
The Heat’s defense pulls Bosh and James away from the rim, and allows opponents to get easier rebounds. Because of all those factors, they struggle to rebound, and it’s a continuing problem they tried to address over the last few weeks. Their 48.65 rebounding percentage ranks them 23rd in the league this season, via Hoopdata. Of the seven teams that trail the Heat in overall rebounding percentage, only the Knicks have a winning record. The Heat have also been particularly terrible getting offensive rebounds, ranking second-to-last in the league (with only the Celtics worse) at grabbing offensive rebounds. They snag a paltry 21.30 percent of their offensive rebounds, per Hoopdata. They are a team of shooters, with LeBron and Wade freelancing, and because Bosh spends a lot of his time setting screens – sometimes as far out as the top of the arc – he’s not in a position to rebound when an early Heat shot goes up.
It’s a pretty common assumption that the team who wins the rebounding battle wins the game, at least over the course of the season. But that hasn’t been the case with the Heat so far this season. They’ve been out-rebounded by 15, 17, 19 and 29 boards this season and gone 4-0 in those games. So rebounding isn’t everything, but over the long haul, and especially come spring, it might mean the difference in a tight playoff series.
The Heat can score in bunches, but their feisty defense from last year’s playoff run has been a bit lacking this season. Currently, they’re right in the middle of the pack, giving up 102.5 points per 100 possessions, good for 15th in the league, via Hoopdata. Basketball-reference has them ranked 19th for points allowed and 18th in overall defensive rating. They’re having a hard time rotating as fast and as smart as last season, and for an undersized defense like Miami’s, where any sort of serious post defender has to be doubled (unless LeBron or Joel Anthony is matched up against them), they have to get back to their shooters in time.