For lack of a better phrase, the Miami Heat are playing like crap lately.
The two-time defending champs are just 6-5 in their last 11 contests, have lost four of their last seven and are enduring their worst “lull” of the season after a 22-6 start that was the best 28-game start in franchise history.
The Heat had their longest losing streak (3) since 2012 last week, when they lost by an average margin of 12 points per game to three sub .500 squads.
Moreover, the defense has looked atrocious recently. During Miami’s three-game skid, they allowed 116.8 points per 100 possessions, and are on the brink of slipping out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency at 102.1 points per 100 possessions.
The defensive issues came to a head when the Heat gave up 71 points in the first half in a 121-114 loss to Atlanta earlier this week.
All that being said, it’s time to start bringing out the panic meter and claim the Heat’s championship days are behind them, right?
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The vast media scrutiny and knee-jerk reactions that the Heat receive on a weekly basis is ridiculous. Everything from a LeBron James birthday wish to a three-game losing streak is overblown in the world of the Heatles.
What can this recent slump really be attributed to?
Quite simply, boredom.
The fact is the NBA just hit its midseason mark in a long, grueling 82-game campaign, and the Heat stand at a healthy 30-12. They currently own the NBA’s fifth best record and are sitting in 2nd place in a weak Eastern Conference, where they’re 7.5 games ahead of 3rd place Atlanta.
Sure, Miami isn’t wowing us with 27-game win streaks and aren’t on pace to have the best record in the league like they were last year. But, it’s because they don’t need to, and they have already shown they can beat the elite teams.
The Heat possess an 11-4 record against teams above .500 and have victories against the Pacers, Blazers and Clippers, three teams who are in the top 6 in the standings.
That 11-4 record against plus .500 teams is No. 1 in the league.
Compare that to defending Western Conference Champion San Antonio, who is 3-9 against the combination of Portland, Golden State, Oklahoma City, Houston, Indiana and Los Angeles.
Six of Indiana’s eight losses have come against teams with winning records, half of the 33-10 Thunder’s blemishes have been against above .500 teams, while the Heat are 11-4 against plus. 500 teams compared to 19-8 against sub. 500 squads.
The point is that it is clearly boredom and a lack of focus that is plaguing the Heat, and not an issue of coaching, execution or personnel. They play up to top level competition and down to the bottom feeders.
The fact is the Heat are lethargic at times; They are physically and mentally drained from three consecutive Finals appearances. The team has added a lot of extra miles to their odometer in the past three seasons, playing in a combined 297 games including playoffs (67 postseason, 230 regular season).
The Heat appear to be going through the motions at times and clearly suffer from a lack of motivation. They don’t always try their hardest defensively and usually find themselves playing catch up in second half of games.
Quite frankly, the reigning champs really have nothing left to prove in the regular season.
Miami has had the second longest winning streak in NBA history, the best overall record and dominated in the regular season over the past three season. So, there is really nothing for them to gain by giving it their all in what is essentially an 82-game preseason for them.
It’s hard to stay motivated when they can maintain a top record with minimal effort and reside in a conference where just five of 15 teams have an above .500 record.
More importantly, Miami has shown they can win critical postseason road games and don’t need the first overall seed to win it all. When it comes to boasting a strong record, the only one the Heat will care about is their 11-1 mark in playoff series since the Big Three joined forces.
Right now, the Heat’s primary concern is staying healthy for the likely extra two months they will be playing in after the regular season ends. They are keeping Dwyane Wade on a rigid maintenance plan to preserve the 32-year-old’s knees and managing the minutes of James, Ray Allen and Shane Battier.
The fire isn’t there for Miami and they don’t bring it every night. However, the Heat are a veteran team with a proven track record. They are two-time champions and looking to become the first team since the 1984-87 Celtics to make a fourth straight Finals appearance.
So, excuse them if they are uninterested with the regular season.
Come playoff time, that boredom will disappear and the fire will return. And when that happens, it will be very difficult to topple the two-time defending champs from their throne.
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