Heat defense has a couple soft spots

“They are somewhat of an inconsistent basketball team. Their footspeed on the perimeter is in trouble … I’m worried that they don’t win with the defensive intensity that they’ve normally brought to the table.”

-- ESPN analyst George Karl on the Miami Heat defense (SportsCenter, Feb. 6).

The Heat continue their six-game road trip against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday and it will be worth checking out a few things with regards to Karl’s recent observations.

Since the three-point line was adopted (1979-80 season), none of the 267 teams that have allowed an effective field goal percentage (an adjustment to shooting percentage that takes into account the value of 3-pointers) of 50 percent or higher has gone on to win the title that season.

Miami Defense in Big-3 Era
Since 2010-11

The Heat’s opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 51.5 percent this season and are scoring 103 points per 100 possessions. Both of those would be the best for Heat opponents during the Big-3 era (since 2010-11) if sustained for a full season.

Perhaps now is when the Heat will turn things up a notch. There is precedent for this.

After 49 games last season, the Heat’s defensive efficiency ranked 11th in the NBA (102 points allowed per 100 possessions). Their defensive efficiency improved to 98.8 points per 100 possessions for the rest of the season, helping drive a 27-game winning streak.

Why is the defense struggling?

The Heat are allowing their opponents to get to the basket easily, as 32 percent of their opponents' possessions end with a shot, foul drawn or turnover within 10 feet of the basket, the third-highest percentage in the NBA.

Heat Defense At The Rim
This Season

They are allowing the most points per game and highest field goal percentage at the rim since the beginning of the 2010-11 season. When the Heat do close down the lanes to the basket, they have struggled to close out the shooters consistently.

Teams are averaging 23.4 points per game off of catch-and-shoot opportunities (sixth-highest in the NBA) and nearly half of those points (11.1) come from players who took what were classified as open shots, the eighth-highest total in the NBA.

That’s a stat to watch out for Tuesday. The Suns average 1.13 points per catch-and-shoot opportunity, the second-highest success rate in the league, trailing only the Atlanta Hawks.