LeBron James and the Miami Heat are streaking in the wrong direction

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat lose three straight games while giving up 100-plus points in each for the first time in James' tenure.

The long-awaited return to basketball for Greg Oden was a wonderful morale boost for the Heat and NBA fans in general; for Miami, however, another black mark in the loss column was just the opposite.

Washington dropped the defending champs, 114-97, on Wednesday night, sending LeBron and Company to their third consecutive defeat, their longest such streak in more than two years. It also marked the third straight game in which Miami surrendered at least 100 points to its opponent, something that hasn't happened in a little over a year and an uncharacteristic occurrence from the pick-and-roll-blitzing Heat.

Furthermore, this is just the fifth three-game slide of the LeBron James era in Miami (with only one four-game and one five-game streak during his first season with the team being longer) but it's the first time in his South Beach tenure that the reigning MVP has experienced three straight losses while giving up 100 or more points in each game.

Bennett's struggles

The Heat have allowed 116.8 points per 100 possessions in these three losses and now boast only the 12th-best defensive-efficiency rating in the league, according to NBA.com/Stats. Miami finished with a 100.7 DRtg in James' first year with the club, the worst for a full season since joining the Heat. That number is currently at 102.4 at the halfway-mark of the NBA calendar.

To be fair, Miami wasn't much better defensively at this juncture last season. Less than a point per 100 possessions, in fact. We've seen these guys "coast" through the doldrums of the NBA winter before, and perhaps it's more of the same this time around. After all, the mileage piles up over the long haul, and January is not the time to be expending too much energy.

But the Heat have dropped four games back in the loss column of the first-place Pacers, a team that hasn't shown any signs of cooling its jets. There's essentially no danger of Miami falling any farther in the standings considering the burning cow patty that is the Eastern Conference, but a potential Game 7 in Indiana could swing the tide the Heat rode late in the playoffs last season.

The Oden silver lining is enough to cover up the warts at the moment, but we're getting close to gut-check time in Miami.

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