Everyone who’s anyone knows about the Miami Heat. LeBron, his decision and the somewhat shady circumstances surrounding the formation of Miami Thrice (sign-and-trades to preempt a tampering investigation, anyone?) have rightfully dominated conversations surrounding the NBA, mostly about how awesome they’re going to be offensively. But what if we’re wrong?
If the Heat proved anything so far, it’s that what we thought about them could not have been more off-target. Rather than being a free-wheeling, run-and-shoot team with LeBron acting as a mutant Magic Johnson-Dominique Wilkins hybrid, the Heat have made their bones as a slow-it-down, defensively dominant juggernaut. The Heat are a middle-of-the-road offensive team (they’re tied with San Antonio for 10th in offensive efficiency with 103.8 points per 100 possessions) with a defense so suffocating that not even our governor would be able to get the people some air. They rank first in defensive efficiency, allowing 86.8 points per 100 possessions. Some perspective: The difference between them and third-ranked Orlando (93.2) is slightly less than the difference between Orlando and 13th-ranked Toronto. Some more perspective: The league leaders last year (Charlotte and Orlando) finished with 100.2 in the defensive efficiency column. Yeah, they’re that good.
Now, it’s still early in the season. I doubt anyone really thinks that Dallas will continue to hold serve as the second-best defensive team in the NBA, or that Miami will continue to be quite this dominant on the defensive end. Sooner or later, your schedule includes the Suns and Hawks (quietly an amazing offensive team, adjusted for pace) of the world and that number starts slipping, but when you limit the Orlando Magic to 70 points despite concerns about your ability to handle quality big men, you’re working with something special.
When you think about their performance, we shouldn’t be surprised. LeBron and Wade are two of the world’s best wing defenders. Paired with the shot blocking presence of Joel Anthony and the steady hand of Erik Spoelstra, it’s perfectly logical that this team would be awesome on D. Add in the upcoming presence of Mario Chalmers at the point replacing Carlos Arroyo in the starting role, and you have the genesis of what could be the best defensive team in the league this season.
Another thing that we shouldn’t be surprised about is the snail’s-pace offense of the Heat, which is second-slowest in the league trailing only the Bobcats. Spoelstra led the Heat to the third-lowest mark in the league last season and seems to be instilling the same type of ethic in this year’s bunch. Spoelstra is a better coach than people realize. He spent the past two years teaming with Wade to drag the Heat into respectability despite featuring Dwyane and four expiring contracts in the starting lineup.
Those of us looking for the greatest show on hardwood have up to this point been severely disappointed, but there’s no reason to give up on the Heat’s greatness. They will be great, just not in the way we expected. Those of us expecting fireworks have instead been treated to a gang more interested in anaconda-style defense and counting on the attrition of their two all-world stars (and Chris Bosh!) to grind the opposition into submission. Who knew that pleasing those curmudgeons of defense-first basketball would mean pairing two of the top-five offensive talents in the league? If defense wins championships, then the Heat seem to be more than ready.
Daily Nexus Artsweek Editor Michael Hafford knows his shit. Don’t let the title “Artsweek Editor” fool you (It fooled us).