Can the Miami Heat's Elite Defense Keep Them Competitive in the Eastern Conference?

by Team Del Genio

The Miami Heat went into the final day of January with a 28-23 record. That was good for first place in the Southeast Division, three games above the disappointing Atlanta Hawks. Yet the Heat only had the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference, with some serious concerns about the quality of their roster this season.

Miami is only averaging 108.6 points per game on 45.3% shooting. That is the lowest-scoring average in the NBA, and that number is not simply a product of their 97.09 possession-per-game average. The Heat's 110.9 offensive rating this season is the fourth-lowest in the league in terms of efficiency. 

Only Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin are making 37% or more of their shots from 3-point land. None of the other players on the squad are shooting even 34% of their 3-pointers. As a team, the Heat went into Monday night with a 33.4% shooting percentage from 3-point land, the fourth-lowest mark in the NBA. 

Yet the Heat continue to excel on defense for head coach Erik Spoelstra. Miami ranked fifth in the NBA in defensive rating, and they led the league in defensive efficiency this month going into their game in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. 

We thought the Heat's consistent play on defense would help them be a live underdog tonight. Miami had been on a three-game winning streak before getting upset on the road in Charlotte on Saturday, 122-117, as a 6-point favorite. The Heat should respond by playing well in this Eastern Conference showdown with the Cavaliers. Miami had covered the point spread in seven of their last nine games after getting upset by a Southeast Division opponent. They had covered the point spread in twenty of their last twenty-eight games on the road after losing their previous game. Jimmy Butler had been dealing with a quad injury yet he had been upgraded to probable to play in this game. 

The Heat have a big challenge against the Cavaliers team that has a 21-5 record on their home court, yet their strong play on defense should keep them in this game. Their outstanding defense had helped them cover the point spread in four of their last five games on the road against teams winning 60% or more of their games at home. The Heat had covered the point spread in six of their last eight games against winning teams, and they had covered the point spread in seventeen of their last twenty-four games when the oddsmakers installed them as an underdog getting 3.5 to 9.5 points. 

Miami got embarrassed the last time they played the Cavaliers. That contest was in Cleveland on November 20th when the Heat lost, 113-87. Miami had covered the point spread in five of their last seven games when they were playing with revenge from a loss on the road to their current opponent. 

The Heat's defense did, in fact, lead the way for them in this game. Cleveland entered the game with a 48.9% field goal percentage, and that shooting clip improved to 49.4% when playing at home. Yet the Cavaliers were 48% from the field Monday night while missing 29 of their 40 shots from 3-point land. Their 28.0% shooting percentage from the 3-point line was far below the 38.1% shooting percentage from the 3-point land at home going into this game. 

Miami pulled the upset, 100-97, as a 5.5-point underdog, and the Team won their NBA Game of the Month for January. We closed out the month on a 49-23 (68%) NBA winning streak.

Good luck - Team Del Genio.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2023 Al McMordie's All Rights Reserved.