Dec. 1, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the first half against the Brooklyn Nets at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat's Problems Are More Mental Than Anything

Despite sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-5, not everything is happy-go-lucky with the defending NBA champions at the moment.

It’s hard to fathom a team like the Miami Heat (who currently own one of the best winning percentages in the league) could be fighting through a slump or a rough patch, especially considering their current success.

However, if you really nitpick at certain aspects of the team’s game, you will find some issues that certainly need to be addressed.

This poor mans “state of emergency” in South Beach began earlier in the week when Miami dropped a game in the nation’s capital to the leagues worst team (by far), the then 1-13 Washington Wizards by a score of 105-101.

The Heat allowed the worst shooting team in the NBA (41.2%) to go 48.1% from the field. Washington also went 22 for 29 from the charity stripe, compared to just 11 for 16 from Miami. The Wizards second-unit outscored the Heats bench 64 to 31 as well.

Things didn’t get any better two nights later as Miami lost to their rival New York Knicks by 20 points in a 112-92 thrashing at the AmericanAirlines arena.

What made this loss sting even more was that New York was playing without its leading scorer in Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks were absolutely pinpoint from behind the arc, nailing 18 of a whopping 44 three-point attempts. I suppose that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as the Heat entered this game leading the league in that department, allowing 25.6 attempts from three-point range to their opposition a game.

Miami didn’t make things any easier for themselves by shooting just 42% from the field and putting up 12 measly points in the final quarter.

Obviously, being the Miami Heat and all, when the team loses games by any nature to any team, it’s going to be analyzed much more thoroughly and vigorously than if say the Toronto Raptors were to lose to the Sacramento Kings.

However, with two games that were as winnable as those seemingly falling through their clutches, it begs the question…

What the heck is going on with the Miami Heat? 

Losing to the Washington Wizards is simply unacceptable for a team as talented as the Heat. The Wizards hadn’t scored 105 points against any of their opponents all season, yet they somehow managed to put that total up against the defending champions. I also don’t need to remind anyone that Washington had one stinking win the entire year going into that game. You can chalk it up to Washington’s players “elevating their game” in the moment, but that still shouldn’t have been enough to achieve victory on that night.

I suppose dropping a game to the New York Knicks (who find themselves ahead of Miami in the conference standings) isn’t as earth-shattering as I’m portraying it to be, but considering the Knicks leading-scorer Carmelo Anthony (who averages 26.4 points a game; 4th in the NBA) was on the sidelines with a lacerated finger, it almost seemed too perfect. New York was ripe for the picking, yet Miami didn’t take advantage of that golden opportunity. They didn’t defend the perimeter at all and allowed the Knicks shooters to have their way for 48 minutes.

The Heat’s defensive play hasn’t been blowing anyone out of the water just yet. The team ranks 7th from the bottom in points allowed (99.4) after allowing just 91.3 a game last season. They’ve also allowed opponents to reach 100 or more points 11 of a possible 18 times. That occurred just 16 times in last years shortened 66 game season.

Lebron James talked to the media during Friday’s practice about the teams current problems on the defensive end.

“There is a cloud over our team because we’re not defending like we know we’re capable of defending. We have some room for improvement. The good thing is we can be great. But right now, we’re not good. We’re not very good right now as a team and we’ve got to get to that point.”

Chris Bosh also chimed in his two cents on the matter.

“Never seen anything like this. And I’ve played on some bad defensive teams. We’re not one.”

It’s hard to explain why exactly the Heat are having such a difficult time playing defense. It’s uncharacteristic. It’s unfathomable to think of the Miami Heat as a bad defensive team.

It was a good sign to see Lebron stick around after the Knicks loss and participate in a late-night workout, still feeling the lingering effects of a rough night at the office for the team as a whole. It shows that he cares and won’t sit idly by and shrug it off as just another game.

Which brings me to my next point….

Is it fair to say that the troubles bewildering the Miami Heat are all in their head?

I originally thought that a majority of Miami’s problems could be perceived to be a series of mental lapses and (perhaps) bored play.

Maybe the team isn’t motivated, or as motivated as they need to be. It’s early in the regular season and an appearance in this years playoffs is as good a guarantee as any in this league.

James clearly shot down the notion of regular season games being irrelevant during Fridays practice.

“Not for me. It’s not for me. My motivation is well beyond hoisting one trophy. I’m not taking any shortcuts to get to that point, so I can’t allow my teammates to take shortcuts. We’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be better. It’s that simple.”

Head coach Erik Spoelstra was also asked if his team is looking too far down the road, rather than living in the moment and playing with a sense of urgency.

“If that is a reality, then that is a major problem. But we have an opportunity to correct it, you know, right now. If it goes too long, what it becomes is a tendency. Goes longer than that, it becomes a habit. If it continues, by the time you get to the playoffs, that’s who you are. So that’s what we’re going to change right now.”

Late-game heroics have been the norm so far this season, as Miami has six victories in its pocket that came via a comeback late in the fourth quarter of games. Based on sheer talent alone, the Heat are in every single game they compete in.

How much longer can the team rely on its stars to bail them out of a jam in situations like that?

The solution is easy.

The Miami Heat need to become a mentally stronger basketball team.

This isn’t a dilemma that needs to be solved by making roster changes, or firing the coach. The onus is on the players to look inside themselves and play with the pride and passion that secured them that league championship last season.

It’s going to be hard. Those mental lapses are going to happen from time to time. It’s natural. Whether this team wants to admit it or not, some of these games in November, December and January are completely useless in the grand scheme of things. If the Heat secure the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference or the eighth (unlikely), they will still be heavy favourites no matter who they’re matched up with.

For those fans who believe that nothing is wrong with this basketball team and that two back-to-back losses in December is no reason to push the panic button, just take a look at what the players are saying and you’ll see that there is a problem.

Miami is still one of the best teams going in the association today, but trust me, they are far from perfect. It’s evident to everyone.

The defense is lacking and the effort is inconsistent.

A championship in 2011/12 will not get any scrutiny and criticism by fans and the media off of their backs. If anything, we have collectively risen the bar for this team and expect much, much more.

Christopher Walder is the Lead Editor here at Sir Charles in Charge. You can follow him on Twitter @WalderSports


Tags: Chris Bosh Dwayne Wade LeBron James Miami Heat

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