The Miami Heat have come to a crossroads in their 2013-2014 NBA season. While they jumped out of the gate after the All-Star break, the Heat have lost five of their last six games and are slowly falling behind the Indiana Pacers in the chase for first place in the East.
Miami's troubles start on the defensive end of the floor. In their five most recent losses, they have allowed no fewer than seven three-pointers to their opponents on an alarming average of 38.4 percent shooting. It certainly doesn't help that the Heat are getting dismantled on the boards, failing to out-rebound any opponent during that stretch and allowing tons of extra opportunities.
Rotationally, the Heat have suffered as teams have come prepared for their pick-and-roll defense, which often involves doubling the ball handler in an effort to force turnovers. But with their strategy known, teams have started to gameplan for counteracting Miami's defense by slipping screens and sending more than two players to set ball screens.
Miami hasn't been able to keep teams from moving the ball, with every opponent in their last five losses finishing with more assists than the Heat. Without the ability to keep teams off the glass and from creating open passes off the pick-and-roll, the Heat defense isn't playing well enough to make up for their inequities when it comes to offense.
Although the Heat have the best effective field goal percentage in the NBA, they haven't shot the ball well on the road -- particularly from beyond the arc. Since the All-Star break, Miami is shooting just 30.8 percent on three-pointers away from American Airlines Arena. They have drawn even with their opponents in field goal percentage in their last five losses, but have dropped those games by an average of 7.8 points.
That is due in part to their rebounding and their issues securing the basketball. The Heat are averaging an alarming 17 turnovers per-game in losses, up from 14.9 before the break. Teams are taking advantage of sloppy passing as they try to press Miami's off-ball players on defense.
Just finished Nugs-Heat. Miami just looks out of sync on both ends. Denver's speed gave them a ton of problems -- on both ends.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) March 15, 2014
All this has culminated in a bit of a slide for the boys from South Beach. It is true that Miami's recent struggles have come against upper-tier competition, with losses to the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets. However, the Heat are hoping for a three-peat come June and struggling against the league's best isn't the way to get a third ring in as many years.
While it's true the regular season is already won for Miami, the trend of teams being able to dominate them by exploiting their holes isn't a positive indicator for the playoffs, where teams have time to strategize for up to seven games. The Heat need to be able to adapt to teams applying pressure on their offense as they try to run off screens and cuts in an effort to limit turnovers. Even further, their defense has to find a happy medium between forcing turnovers and allowing teams to dominate them in assists, offensive rebounds and three-point shooting.