March 28, 2014

Are the Miami Heat being plagued by their own "March Madness?"

The month of March has not been great to the defending NBA champions. Their record in the month is currently 7-8, and Wednesday night they suffered a gut-wrenching loss to their bitter rivals, the Indiana Pacers. Is Miami vulnerable? Are their lackluster performances the product of mental and physical fatigue that is sure to come in the pursuit of a third straight NBA championship? Or, is Miami simply saving what they have left in the tank to blitz through the eastern conference when playoff time rolls around? If they have to roll through Indiana in the playoffs, that forceful blitz may be transformed into a humble stagger, because as of right now the battle for eastern conference supremacy would go through Indiana and the deranged Pacers crowd.

What's the reasoning behind Miami's seemingly lackadaisical play? One could accredit injuries as the reason they have been faltering as of late. LeBron James has complained of issues with his back and ankle. Dwyane Wade's availability has been sporadic due to lingering issues with his knees, and has recently been nagged by an Achilles issue. It's tough to sustain health throughout a full 82 game season, but where Miami can succeed is sharpness mentally. The best teams may go through stretches where they are hammered by ticky-tack injuries, but they never feel a chink in the armor mentally. That's what propels them to success. The greatest teams never folly in terms of execution, game planning or focus. It's possible the Heat are being crippled by a sense of boredom, or, they aren't the same team they were last year.

Whatever lull MIA is going through, it's evident through statistics that it's impacting
their record significantly. In the month of March, the Heat are allowing their opponents to shoot 46.1% from the field, 36.6% from three, and are giving up 11.3 offensive rebounds per game. They have given up 170 offensive rebounds through their 15 games in March. In this month,  Miami has allowed teams to score 100+ points on 7 different occasions. In the month of February, the Heat only allowed the opposition to score 100+ 3 times. In Miami's 8 March losses, they are allowing the
opposition to snag down 41 RPG, and allowing the opposition to shoot 40.8% from the three point line. Miami's defensive rotations have been off. The crispiness and fierceness that their defense usually plays with has been absent and teams are starting to figure out how to combat their blitzing scheme. Is this as vulnerable as we have seen the Miami Heat? Is the cloak of invincibility finally being stripped away? If they plan to recapture the magic that makes them such a fearing foe, it extends further than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh's brilliance. They need help from the role players that make their offense and defense so fluent and ripe.

In March, Miami's role players have been playing horrific basketball. With the exception of Ray Allen, who has upped his PPG and shooting percentages in the month of March (11.9 PPG, 46.7% FG, 41.1% 3PT) Miami's "other guys" have been extremely unreliable. Shane Battier, known for his defensive prowess, sharp basketball mind, and ability to make important plays has been abysmal this month. Battier is averaging 2 PPG on 25% from the field and 22.2% from behind the arc. When mentioning Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole it doesn't get much more promising. Chalmers is averaging 8.2 PPG on 38.3% from the field, and Cole is providing Miami with 4.5 PPG on 35.6% from the field and 32.1% from downtown. If Miami wants to sustain the fluency that makes them such a potent offensive and defensive force, these guys must step up. With each ache of James' back. With each tweak of Wade's knee, these guys must provide Miami with some type of production to alleviate the heavy pressure that Wade and LeBron are under to play a near perfect basketball game.

The Miami Heat aren't concerned about home court advantage in the playoffs. The eons of experience they have, the focus they possess won't waver due to the experiences they have gone through since the establishment of the "Big Three." There isn't a stipulation they haven't faced: wild crowds on the road, a flurry of boos, an immense amount of hatred are all things the Heat have not only become accustomed to, but have utilized to further motivate them in their championship pursuit. They are capable of winning on the road in the most hostile environment. For Indiana, the story is completely different. Indiana hopes to be the ones representing the eastern conference in the championship round in June, and while this thought is feasible without the assurance of home court, it becomes even more realistic knowing things go through Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana is younger and plays with a plethora of emotion, but outbursts such as the one Lance Stephenson had last night won't be tolerated on the road. At home, Indiana can play loosely, with a lot more freedom and higher spirits. Home court reinforces a bevy of positive notions for Indiana, allowing them possibly to reconstruct the way we view who is truly the powerhouse in the eastern conference. Although both teams are sluggish right now, a matchup in the ECF seems inevitable. Hopefully for Miami, this "March Madness" they are enduring right now, turns into "May Misery" for the Indiana Pacers as MIA hopes to waltz to their 4th straight NBA Finals as they attempt to claim a 3rd straight championship.

Is Miami's lackadaisical play a legitimate concern? Or are they just saving their energy for the deep playoff push they hope to have? Hit me on Twitter with your thoughts and comments (@wcboyer24) and as always, continue to support The Basketball Society.

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