The Heat have rolled off seven wins in a row and have joined the Boston Celtics atop of the Eastern Conference standings.
All seems well in Miami. But alas, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra isn't completely content with his team's play over their streak. He has sprinkled his mantra "greatness is consistency" more often in his pre- and post-game press conferences these days and it's easy to see why.
The Heat have made a habit of digging themselves a hole early and then clawing their way back. As Couper Moorhead of Heat.com shows us in his latest installment of Prized Possession, the defense is to blame.
First quarters, in particular, have been problematic. Though slow first periods are hardly uncommon during the pre-All Star break portion of the winter schedule, the HEAT allowing 106.4 points per 100 possessions in those quarters is still noteworthy – even if that mark would still be above league average if stretched out for an entire game.
Against Orlando and Charlotte, it was preventing opposing players from running freely through the paint. Against Indiana, it was preventing dribble-penetration and finishing defensive possessions. Against Oklahoma City, it was a little bit of everything as they gave up 38 points. Rarely were there complete breakdowns, but it’s become commonplace for Erik Spoelstra to mention dissatisfaction with early defense in his post-game comments.
But the key here is that in each of these games, wins, the problems have been fixed. Even including Orlando’s comeback bid in the final five minutes of that contest, the HEAT have held opponents under 20 points in five of their last seven fourth quarters with a defensive efficiency of 93.5 – a mark that would far and away lead the league stretched out to an entire game.
Moorhead demonstrates the Heat's defensive adjustments by taking us through a fourth quarter Pacers possession that ended in a shot clock violation. The Heat clamped down on Darren Collison at the top of the key on a high pick-and-roll and the backside rotations successfully cut off his passing lanes. Then, Bosh muffled Tyler Hansbrough's attempt at an one-on-one move from the perimeter. Turnover.
But they need to exhibit that heightened discipline and effort from the outset. The Heat have won three close games against the Pistons, Thunder and Pacers which is a good sign for a team that struggled earlier this season to pull out victories down the stretch. But if the Heat came out to play defense in the first quarter, late-game heroics may not be necessary.
On Sunday, the Heat's readiness will be tested. Boston jumped out to early double-digit leads in each of the Celtics' two wins against the Heat. Can the Heat reverse the trend?