I watched the Miami HEAT jump out to a quick 18-5 lead on an OKC Thunder team that allegedly had players partying at club Liv until 5 am the day before. The South Beach bug seemed to be aiding an aggressive HEAT team that attacked the paint early on and demonstrated a business like attitude as they tried to wrap up at least a 6th seed for the playoffs.
They held the lead until the fourth quarter when the Thunder’s talent advantage started to take over. The HEAT tried hard and did not lack effort, but they were simply not able to overcome a more aggressive Oklahoma City defense, that ended up winning the 4th quarter 39-12 and routing a HEAT team by a score of 115-93, after trailing by 18 points in the first half.
After watching the HEAT struggle to create offense in the 4th quarter, it became clear that the HEAT’s lack of star power was a detriment in this game and will be an issue as they begin the playoffs. This year’s HEAT roster is a continuation of last year’s “strength in numbers” roster that went 30-11 in the second half and missed the playoffs by one game. The “strength in numbers” approach has worked again this year with the addition of Kelly Olynyk and Wade’s surprise return, but the approach may only net them the 8th seed in the playoffs. So it begs the question if this type of roster construction is viable in a league that is built on “big twos” and “big threes?”
The HEAT do have an All-Star caliber player in Goran Dragic that has exceeded expectations during his time in Miami, but he’s not the type of player that can go out and get 40 plus points during a playoff game. Dwyane Wade used to be able to muster those types of performances when needed, but not this version of Wade. In the playoffs, things change. Rotations get shorter. The pace slows down. The defense played gets more intense. Often times it comes down to better offense beating good defense with shot creation, and Wade can’t do that consistently anymore.
This season was arguably one of Spoelstra’s best coaching jobs as he clinched a playoff berth with what I consider a very unconventional roster. However, winning in the playoffs will prove difficult for a team without a single player that has scored 40 points in a game this year. Both Russell Westbrook and Paul George have scored 40 in games this year for OKC, which gives them a punchers chance in the playoffs. The Miami HEAT, on the other hand, will need to play perfect team basketball to succeed beyond the first round.
Back to back 20 plus point losses at the end of a season could be an aberration that means nothing or signs of a team that has reached its ceiling. The problem for the HEAT is that NBA playoff history shows that teams with at least one superstar win a lot of playoff games and Miami currently doesn’t have one.