The Dallas Mavericks snapped the Heat’s 12-game win streak with an 98-96 victory in Miami. Still alive however, is the basketball media’s streak of not panicking after a Heat loss, which it last did Nov. 27, when Miami last lost at Dallas and dropped to 9-8.LeBron, Wade, and Co. can now treat losses the way the other 29 teams do: by moving on and trying to win the next one. The winning streak affords them that opportunity, as few doubt they’ll be anywhere but the top of their division come playoff time.
But the loss does raise doubt about the Heat’s ability to compete for a championship. Not a big concern – it’s only December – but a concern, nonetheless. Its much-hyped 12-game win streak came against just four winning teams, and only one team that can truly be considered elite – the Utah Jazz.
Meanwhile, the Heat has lost to Dallas and Boston, two of the league’s three best teams thus far, a total of four times.
Those losses expose Miami’s biggest weakness: their fluid offence becomes stagnant against teams that play lockdown defence. The Mavericks and Celtics are both top-5 in defensive efficiency, and even the Heat’s unexpected loss to the Pacers is more predictable when you consider Indiana is sixth best in that metric.
(defence efficiency measures points allower per 100 possessions, so that pace isn’t a factor when qualifying defence. Here are the rankings. Also worth noting: just two of the Heat’s nine losses came against teams ranked outside the top-6 in defensive efficiency, and they came by a combined four points to top-15 defensive teams.)
Those opponents made quick rotations, defiantly went over picks, and tirelessly pursued cutters, to reduce the Heat’s offence to Wade and LeBron standing around trading possessions.
When that happens, those images in your mind (and on the web) of the pair running the break, setting each other up with crisp passing, and rotating the ball to open teammates, are replaced with spotting up for jump shots and taking a defence one-on-five.
As Miami’s blowout win in New York showed, no team can out-run or outscore them. But quite a few teams can shut them down.
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