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Repeat Champions? 5 early takeaways for Miami Heat

1) The Heat’s offense has morphed into the basketball version of the Kraken. The waters are calm until a curious shadow appears, which grows and grows and boom! Welcome to your 2012-13 Miami Heat. They lead the league in offensive efficiency (tied at 110.3 with the Knicks), in Offensive Rating (112.3), 3P% and FG% and Points Per Game. In fact, 13 games into the season, it would appear that the Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis additions have galvanized the Heat into the league’s best 3-pt shooting team by far.

The Heat are shooting at a 43% clip from beyond the arc, a whole 7 percentage points better than their 36% from last season, when they were 8th in the league in Offensive Rating. The uptick in FG% is probably a product of Bosh and Bron’s terrific shooting %s from mid to long range. Bosh is shooting an eye-popping 67% from between 16-23 feet on 4.7 attempts per game. When the Heat are in rhythm, there isn’t a team on the planet that can stop them, and that’s a fact.

2) Unfortunately for the Heat, despite the giddy levels of offensive efficiency their lineups have achieved, they are a far cry from the gritty defensive teams the Heat culture is known to produce. Some of it is consequent to the new run-and-gun system implemented by Spoelstra this season, but a lot of it has to do with commitment (or lack thereof) on the defensive end.

In the fountain of their youth, Allen and Shard were average players at best, and their offensive outputs have been neutralized by the points the Heat haemorrhage while those two are on the floor. The Heat lose games because they do not close-out well enough on three point shooters. It’s as simple as that, really. The Heat have given up 115 3-pointers this season on 36% shooting, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. The real story, however, emerges from the 3 crosses in the loss column. In their three losses (against MEM, LAC and NYK), the Heat have given up a whopping 43 three-pointers on 53% shooting (at an average of 14.3 per game). Apart from those three games, the Heat have given up 72/233 3-pointers (30% shooting) which would qualify for the best defensive 3P% in the NBA. Of those three teams, only the Knicks are a great distance shooting outfit as such. The Heat were beaten by LAC and MEM because they tried to wall off the paint and didn’t rotate to the outside shooters fast enough.

3) The blowout loss to the Clippers brought out the biggest chink in the Heat’s armor. We saw it in the 2011 Finals against Dallas, when J. J. Barea bullied the Heat at will, and we saw it again against the Clips. Chris Paul took over the game late in the third, and the Heat were helpless, as against lightning quick point guard Eric Bledsoe. The Heat simply do not have the players to stay in front of opposing point guards. Mario Chalmers, after a terrific year last season, is playing average ball on both sides of the court and Norris Cole is too undersized to be a serious defensive deterrent. The Heat should really be looking at defensive options at PG in the free agent market or on the trading block. Since Terrel Harris has not got any burn this season, figure on seeing the Heat explore options for a 3rd string PG at the trade or waiver deadline.

4) The Big question. As the season progresses, games are going to be grind-me-outs as opposed to the current freewheeling brand of basketball the Heat play. The Heat are not equipped to deal with legitimate big men. Even for their so-called “positionless” lineup, what’s the harm in picking up at least one big body to play against the Marc Gasols and DeAndre Jordans of the NBA, if just for 10-15 minutes per game? Udonis Haslem – bless his Warrior heart – is not the ultimate solution, nor is Joel Anthony.

The Heat had a shot at Andray Blatche in the off-season and passed (Blatche is having his moments with the Brooklyn Nets). From the look of it, perhaps even Hasheem Thabeet might have provided some good minutes for the Heat. The Heat played most of the game without a legitimate shotblocker on the floor. This results in opposing point guards (who seem to blow by Chalmers and Cole with ease) driving into the lane and either scoring (when there is little to no help in defense) or kicking the ball out to a 3-pt shooter if the help comes. Look for the Heat to play Joel Anthony (the only legitimate shot-blocking presence on the Heat) a little more as the season progresses.

5) When will the Heat shut down their superstars? Look, the regular season is a bit of a joke for the Heat. Sure, they have to shore up their defense, and develop the right habits on that end once again, but that said, the Heat should not play Wade more than 55-60 games this season. Already Wade has suffered an assortment of ailments – migraine, ankle issues, knee issues – and playing Wade in four games through five nights is a terrible idea. Wade is the best shooting guard in the NBA when he wants to be. He’s not going to bring “it” every night, nor should he, given the circus-style play he is famous for.

Wade’s not going to bring “it” every night, nor should he

LeBron, superman though he is, needs a break. He’s played basketball non-stop throughout he year – season, playoffs, Olympics, training camp, new season – and the human body – even if it is slightly  way more resistant than average – cannot handle that degree of wear and tear. Yes, the fans deserve to watch Bron and Wade every game night, seeing how that’s what they’re paying for; but the games that truly matter will be played next May-June. The Heat culture is generally not known for “time off” and shutting down players. But prudence dictates it must happen sometime. This is a special team and that calls for special measures.

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