Heat Check: Examining the State of the Miami Heat During Their Losing Stretch
NBA as a whole:
We have just reached the midway point in the NBA season, and there are questions for just about every team in the league aside from the Warriors and Spurs. The East and West are in completely different states, which no one expected at the beginning of the year.
The Western Conference appears to already have been decided. Unless the Thunder or Clippers can somehow beat the Warriors or Spurs in a 7-game series, one of those two teams will be in the NBA Finals. To display how dominant they’ve both been, think about this: this is the first time in NBA history that two teams have won at least 36 of their first 42 games. What’s even more shocking is that they are in the same conference.
While the West seems all but settled up until the Conference Finals, the East is far from decided. Obviously the Cavaliers appear to be the favorites, but that is put to question after the Warriors absolutely dismantled them this past Monday. This game, in which the Cavs lost by 34 and was all but determined by halftime, exposed Cleveland’s true weaknesses. As far as the other teams in the East, everything just seems like a tossup. The 2 and 13 seed are separated by a mere 9 games, and while there seems to be 5-6 legitimate contenders in the East, it’s tough to count any team out at this point besides the lowly Nets and 76ers.
What’s going on in Miami?
One of the 5-6 true contenders in the East is Miami, but numerous questions remain. Can their starting five finally get it together? Can they consistently win on the road and in the Eastern Conference? Can they stay healthy for once? Is it possible for their bench to score points? The only logical answer I can come up with to all of these is, who knows?
The Heat currently sit 7th in the East at 23-20. They have played mediocre basketball (at best) this season. Their defense is getting the job done on paper, giving up 95.7 points per game, which is third in the league. However, their offense is subpar to say the least. They only score 95.8 points per game, which ranks 28th in the league. They also have the lowest point differential (0.1) out of any Eastern Conference playoff team.
Miami has had a very tough time playing against Eastern Conference competition as well as playing on the road. They are 8-11 on the road and 11-14 in the East. This is extremely discouraging because come playoff time, they will be playing against teams from the East and on the road. The Heat do seem to dominate at American Airlines Arena either, winning just about two-thirds of their games. They have also had a very difficult time playing against the top eight teams in each conference. Miami is 15-8 against teams with a record below .500, but only 8-12 against teams above .500.
Should the Starting Lineup Change?Heading into the year, the strongest aspect of the Heat was the quality of their starting lineup. They were considered to have one of the stronger starting lineups in the league, but that couldn’t be further from the truth now. When the starting lineup of Wade, Bosh, Dragic, Deng, and Whiteside take the floor, they are actually playing very poorly. They have combined to shoot an abysmal 25.7% from the three-point arc, which ranks 217 out of the 250 total starting lineups that have been used in the NBA this season. For a starting unit deemed earlier to be one of the best in the Association, they clearly aren’t living up to their (or anyone’s) expectations.
Injuries on Injuries:
While the Heat started out the season in good health, that isn’t the case now. It seems like just about every Heat player is dealing with their own type of injury. Goran Dragic has missed the past five games with a calf strain, but is expected back within the next week. Dwyane Wade has been hindered by a shoulder issue for the past few weeks and has played sparingly. Dragic’s backup, Beno Udrih, has missed the past three games because of a sore neck. Chris Anderson and Josh McRoberts have been out with knee problems. On top of all of this, Gerald Green has been playing through knee tendinitis, while Hassan Whiteside (knee) and Tyler Johnson (shoulder) have been playing through their own injuries. The Heat were down to nine somewhat healthy bodies on Sunday against Oklahoma City.
The biggest loss for this team has undoubtedly been Goran Dragic. Even though he hasn’t been close to matching his All-NBA Third Team performance during the 2013-2014 season, he is still an integral part of this team. The Heat can’t seem to hang onto the ball with him out of the lineup, averaging 9.8 turnovers per half over the last three games. They had a season-high of 24 turnovers in Wednesday’s 14-point loss to the Clippers, which unfortunately was a game that our very own Max Himmelrich attended.
Note from Max Himmelrich: Yes, I wore a Dwyane Wade jersey. Yes, I was mocked by Clippers fans. Yes, I had found the perfect one word response for them.
Miami is currently in the middle of a road trip where they play 11 out of 12, and 14 out of 16 games away from South Beach. This was supposed to be a big test for the Heat because of their lackluster play on the road, but I don’t think it’s fair to criticize them because of all their injuries and the opponents they have faced. This isn’t me taking away from the fact that they’ve been atrocious lately. I just don’t think it’s fair to judge them based off this recent horrid stretch. Since the beginning of the road trip they have been 2-6, but three of the six losses came against the Warriors, Thunder, and Clippers. These three are all part of the top four teams in the West, and own a combined winning percentage of .764. The two wins came against the lowly Nuggets and Suns, both bottom five teams in the West. The Heat really need to show sparks of life soon before they find themselves out of the playoff picture. The next 10 games are going to be crucial for Pat Riley’s struggling program.