What we failed to realize, and what history should have told us, is that three All-Stars, no matter their influence or talent, was not going to be enough to win a title or create the dynasty we envisioned.
That’s why it wasn’t until the 2013-14 season, after two championships and three Finals appearances, when the Heat have come closest to their greatest potential.
They head into their Wednesday night contest with Washington possessing a 27-10 record that has gone largely unnoticed because of their indifferent approach to nearly every game they played this season. With the exception of their two contests against the Indiana Pacers, winning one in Miami and losing the other in Indiana, the Heat have largely kept any sight of their famed playoff-level defense under wraps.
They currently rank tenth in the league in defensive efficiency, which pales in comparison to any of their defensive efforts in previous seasons with the Big Three. They ranked fifth in their first year together, fourth in their first championship season, and seventh last year, never allowing more than 100.7 points per 100 possessions by season’s end.
They’re giving up 101.9 points per 100 possessions this year. They recently gave up 123 points to the league’s 12th ranked offense in Golden State, and rank 26th in three-point percentage allowed. They’re also allowing opponents to convert nearly nine three-pointers per game, ranking 28th in the league. The 40.6 points in the paint per game they’re giving up this year is up from 39.8 points last year.
And yet, this is the best Heat team I’ve seen in the Big Three era. It’s not the wins against the likes of Indiana or Portland, sans LeBron, that’s convinced me, either. It’s the entire approach they’ve taken and how well they’ve executed, despite treating the regular season thus far as nothing more than an extension of the preseason.
Defense has never been a problem for the Heat and that still applies to this year. Their style of defense is dependent purely on the effort that goes into the double teams and constant rotations that force turnovers that lead to fast-break points. If one rotation is off, they’re giving up an open three-pointer or an open layup.
Nevertheless, of the otherwise sleepy approach they take on the defensive end, the Heat still lead the league in turnovers forced per contest, making their opponent cough up the ball 17 times a game.
If it hasn’t been apparent enough from observations of the game alone, then here’s one key stat of the Heat’s defensive effort thus far: they’re giving up 103.9 points per 100 possessions when LeBron James is on the court. In comparison to last year, the Heat were allowing only 99.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court.
In fact, as if this season hasn’t been strange enough, the Heat are actually significantly better defensively when LeBron hasn’t been on the floor this year, giving up only 95.3 points per 100 possessions; that’s actually the lowest defensive rating of any Heat player when they’re off the court.
So much for that Defensive Player of the Year push, even though James is holding his assignments to a PER below 13, per 82games.com.
Don’t get too worried, though, because the Heat are still a better team on the offensive end with LeBron on the court. The team only goes as far as LeBron takes them. If he’s playing subpar defense, then it’s likely his teammates on the floor are following suit.