Defense and board work pace Heat again

Dwyane WadeAP Photo/J Pat Carter

The Heat's game formula is becoming familiar: play strong defense and maintain the lead.

MIAMI -- All of the Miami Heat’s games are starting to look the same.

Not in the way that the league can sink into the winter doldrums between the holidays and the All-Star break, though that malaise could come at some point too.

It is fair to say that simply winning in December can be fleeting and quickly forgotten by spring. But the Heat are dispatching opponents with a monotonous brand of mastery.

The latest victim was the New York Knicks, who put up a quality fight with an aggressive fourth quarter, but ultimately lost to the Heat on Tuesday night, 106-98. That makes it 15 wins in the past 16 games for Miami, a streak that seems hard to track because few of the wins are truly distinctive.

The Heat have developed some productive and effective habits, beyond just getting consistent and strong play from Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Although, those three did it again in this one.

Bosh had 10 of his 18 points in the third quarter and finished with 10 rebounds. James had eight points, five rebounds and four assists in the fourth quarter to complete a well-rounded night with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Wade took the lead this time, scoring 15 of his season-high 40 points in an explosive final quarter that saw the Knicks trim what was once a 22-point lead down to three.

For the most part, those details will probably fade in the coming days. The victory over the Knicks will likely endure as just one of a team-record 14 wins in December. What seems to be more impressive is the repetitive way the Heat are piling up these victories. They seem now to have adopted a predictable style.

The Knicks, the second highest-scoring team in the league coming into the night, failed to crack 100 points. They tried, putting together a 33-point fourth quarter that frustrated the Heat. But like in the 15 games before, the Knicks still couldn’t do it.

The streak of 16 performances -- the one loss was by two points to the strong Dallas Mavericks last week -- has coincided with the Heat's routinely clamping down on defense and playing the game at a pace they’re clearly comfortable with.

They’ve now done it twice to the Knicks in that span, holding them to 42 percent shooting this time. During the Heat’s current three-game win streak they have held three of the top six offenses in the league -- the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and now Knicks -- under that key threshold.

In the past three games the Heat have trailed for a total of two minutes in the final three quarters of the games, another trend that illustrates the kind of routine they’ve developed.

It is a little early to be issuing congratulations. There’s a lot of season left, but these achievements are something.

“I’m sure with a little more time I’ll probably have better perspective on it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“Right now all I can think about is the 33 points we gave up in the fourth. Overall, that has been our identity and to keep that many teams under 100 in this league, with the rules and the talent level and offensive mentality of so many teams, it probably is notable.”

Indeed, it may seem like just a nice factoid, but it actually does seem to carry some meaning. The Heat are 1-4 this season when they allow 100 points and are now 23-5 when they don’t.

It isn’t just the consistency of the defense. During the 16-game spell, the Heat have been outrebounded only twice and that has all been without leading rebounder Udonis Haslem. Tuesday against the smaller Knicks, the Heat won the rebound battle by a 50-32 count.

That run has gotten the Heat to fifth in the league in rebounding differential, not something that was expected with a team without Haslem, using a varied rotation of aging centers.

But again, the Heat expect this every night, no matter the opponent.

“The most important thing with our style of play is we want to dictate how the game is played at both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “I think the best teams in the league are multi-dimensional.”

The Heat can stake claim to that label during their strong month of play and are getting it done with more than just the big three.

James Jones has drawn 18 charges. Carlos Arroyo is fourth in the league in 3-point shooting. Joel Anthony is one of the league leaders in blocks for players that come off the bench. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier have traded off having impacts on games. On Tuesday, Ilgauskas had 14 points and 10 rebounds in just 14 minutes.

Pile it all together and the Heat continue to look like a team that is going to be there near the end.

“I think we did our job, I think we did what we’re supposed to do,” Wade said Tuesday in a comment that could be applied to most of the games of the past month. “We’re getting total efforts.”