Dec 18, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) both chase a loose ball during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Late Season Struggle: Examining the Miami Heat, OKC Thunder and Indiana Pacers

(NOTE: This article was written prior to March 10)

 

Ever since the calendar flipped from February to March, three of the league’s top teams have been in a bit of a funk. Still proving they are the top teams, they have been struggling as of late. It’s hard to tell what could be causing this. The Thunder received their superstar point guard back from an injury, the Heat’s LeBron James went off for a career-high 61 points and the Pacers gained Evan Turner in a trade. It seems as though they should be shining, but for some reason they are having a little trouble in the month of March.

MIAMI HEAT

The Miami Heat went 9-1 in February, with their only loss coming against the Utah Jazz in a 5-point deficit. In the month of March, they lost three straight games from March 4-9, which was right after LeBron James went off against Charlotte for 61 points. Their first loss was against the Houston Rockets in a close 106-103 game. Their second loss marked their worst loss of the season, losing 111-87 to the San Antonio Spurs. It was an important game since it was a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals. Then, their third straight loss came to the Chicago Bulls in OT, where they lost 95-88 after being blown out in overtime.

In general, three straight losses isn’t exactly that bad. Unfortunately, for a team like the Miami Heat, expectations are a lot higher. With the playoffs right around the corner, you need all the wins you can get. Now is not the time to fall apart, especially since you have won the past two NBA Championships and the fear of losing your star player is creeping up.

The Miami Heat shouldn’t have too much to worry about. They are just in a bit of a funk lately. After scoring 61 points against Charlotte, LeBron has seemed a little different. He hasn’t been choosing his shots smart enough, causing him to miss frequently. In those three games, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have carried the scoring load. LeBron won’t stay in this funk for long. Sooner or later, he will snap out of it and the Miami Heat will be right back on track to the NBA Finals.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

The Oklahoma City Thunder lost their star point guard Russell Westbrook after their Christmas Day game against the Knicks. In his absence, Kevin Durant was incredible, both statistically and bringing them wins. They emerged as the best team in the league and held the best NBA record while he was gone. Russell finally made his return against Miami on February 20, their first game back from All-Star break. With the way Durant was playing, expectations rose for the Thunder.

Going back to January, when Westbrook was out, the Thunder went on a 10-game winning streak led by Durant. On February 1, the streak ended in a loss to Washington. Ever since then, they have seemed a little off. In the month of February, they went 6-5. In the month of March, they have gone 2-2. Overall, since Westbrook’s return, they have gone 3-5. That’s not really what they expected from a team that is one of the favorites to win the title.

It’s hard to tell what has caused this slide. Durant is still performing at a high level. Westbrook has been scoring, assisting and rebounding very well, although his shooting percentage is a little low. The only thing that has really seemed a little off is there defense. They have now lost two straight to the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers. In both games, they have allowed a player to reach 40 points (Gerald Green scored 41, Jodie Meeks scored 42). Also, they allowed 128 points to the Suns and 114 to the Lakers. Their offense seems fine, scoring over 110 points in the past five games. However, if you want to make it deep into the playoffs and eventually contend for the title, you need a balanced game between your offense AND defense. If they can’t figure that out, then they will have a tough time against other teams that will take that chance from underneath them.

INDIANA PACERS

On February 22, the Indiana Pacers began a five-game win streak. They were playing great defense and were pulling away from the Miami Heat in the standings. All seemed well for a team that has been a favorite for the Finals since game one of the season. Unfortunately, on March 2, that streak came to an end in a thriller against the Golden State Warriors. They lost by two points with a final score of 98-96. That loss began a four-game losing streak and possibly counting if they don’t recover soon. After the game against the Warriors, they lost to Charlotte, Houston and Dallas.

In a trade that moved Danny Granger to the Sixers and brought Evan Turner to Indiana, it seemed like the Pacers had the ultimate team. It seemed as though they would glide to the Finals and have no trouble the rest of the season. And at first, that was proving right. After they acquired him, they went on that five-game winning streak that was mentioned earlier. However, now their record since the trade has fell to 5-4 and Turner hasn’t really been a big part of those four losses. He scored 0 points against the Warriors, 22 against Charlotte, five against Houston and two against Dallas.

Indiana is finding themselves in a tough spot. They will still remain a top team in the playoffs, having already clinched a spot. However, much like the Thunder, if they don’t start to turn around now then they will find themselves in a rough place heading into the playoffs. In the last few months of the regular season, you need to start preparing and getting your team chemistry at an all-time high for the playoffs. Failure to do so will result in an early end to the season.

VERDICT

Out of these three teams, the team with the worst to worry about is the team with the most pressure. The Heat have proven two years in a row that they are the best team in the league. They have been here year after year and know what it takes to bounce back. It’s a habit to them at this point. The teams that need to start finding out what’s going wrong are the Pacers and the Thunder. Both teams have incredible depth and a talented roster. They definitely have what it takes to win a championship. They just need to start preparing and getting serious. A championship doesn’t come easy, so you need to put in the work and prove to the rest of the league that you belong in the playoffs.

Needless to say, all three teams will be in the playoffs. The Heat and Pacers have already clinched a spot and they will all be favorites for the ring.

 

 

Editor’s note: This was a guess post from Justin Becker of FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com. You can follow him on twitter at @NBAFantasyInfo, and can follow the Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues Google+ Page. For more NBA Basketball News visit FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com, a fantasy basketball blog.

 

Tags: Indiana Pacers Miami Heat NBA NBA Rumors Oklahoma City Thunder

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