The Miami Heat killed everything that moved in the first two months of the season, sprinting to a 27-7 start that culminated in a comprehensive drubbing of Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks on February 23rd.But after sleeping through two-straight nationally televised blowouts (against Oklahoma City and Boston), people are getting all up in arms about Miami not giving a crap about the rest of the regular season.
The stats before and after destroying Lin are pretty staggering:
- The Heat are 10-7 since March 1. They were 27-7 before that.
- They have four double-digits losses since March 1. They had two double-digit losses in the 34 games before that.
- Their defence has fallen off. They’ve allowed their opponents to shoot at least 45% in 10 of their last 17 games (they only allowed >45% in 9 of their first 34 games).
- They’ve been out-rebounded 21 times this year, 10 of those games have come since March 1.
- They had six “big” games on the road against playoff teams since March 1 (Lakers, Magic, Bulls, Thunder, Pacers, Celtics), and lost them all.
Translation: The Heat are playing lax defence and getting killed on the boards, and they aren’t “turning it on” in games against the league’s best teams. Considering the stats, no one can argue that the Heat have taken things down a notch since the All-Star Break.
What you can argue about is if whether any of this matters.
From a basketball point of view, it probably doesn’t. Miami had a similar lull last year, losing 7 of 11 games in early March, but they still turned it on in the playoffs and stormed through the East. Some teams have an extra gear that they can shift into at any moment, and the Heat are certainly one of those teams. Case in point: the way they eviscerated Lin in February.
But this seeming indifference to the regular season matters a lot off the court. Sunday games on ABC and ESPN are the only NBA games most casual fans watch. Yesterday’s Heat-Celtics game could be the first and only game a lot of people see all year. How does it affect the league when its most visible franchise openly sleep-walks when the bright lights are on?
It’s not as simple as saying, “It’s an utter disgrace that the Heat aren’t trying all that hard.”
In fact, it makes complete sense for the Heat to put themselves in cruise control right now. The condensed schedule has made this season a war of attrition — the Knicks, Bulls, Hawks, T’wolves, and Lakers have all suffered injuries to big stars.
Miami is guaranteed to get either the one or two seed in the Eastern Conference. They can probably play sub-.500 ball for the rest of the season and still be fine. Effectively, they have nothing to play for until May.
So why risk injury or burnout right now?
It stinks that the Heat are just going through the motions, because they have the potential to be a historically great team. Plus they’re awesome to watch when they’re playing well.
But the lapse might be a smart move in the end, on the court at least.
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