There's a lot more to the Miami Heat than just LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.... is something I might write if the statement were remotely true. It's not, of course. The Heat comprise the Big Three and then a remainder bin of guys who would have difficulty cracking the Lakers' second unit. No quite knows whether it's an equation that solves for an NBA championship, but after a wobbly start the Heat are making an impressive go of it. Before Monday night's narrow loss to the scorching Dallas Mavericks, the Heat had won 12 in a row. When they arrive at Staples Center on Christmas Day, they'll do so with something like the NBA's fifth-best record and its top per-game point differential.
Digging a little deeper, here's a primer on the team that, despite never having actually faced the purple and gold, Laker fans nonetheless love to hate.
How would you describe their style of play? Deliberate and a bit drudgerous. The Heat deploy two of the most electric transition players ever in Wade and James, but they stick to halfcourt sets and don't care whether you or I approve. Their refusal to push the rock more aggressively has annoyed many a commentator, but it doesn't appear that Erik Spoelstra has any intention of changing things up.
What does their offense do well? Make long jump shots. Over a third of the Heat's field-goal attempts come between 16 and 23 feet from the basket (thanks, Hoopdata), by far the highest percentage in the league. That's usually a great way to build a horrible offense, but in this case they're making it work. Miami is seventh in the league in two-point accuracy and second in three-point accuracy. For all the deficiencies in the supporting cast, guys like Carlos Arroyo, James Jones and Zydrunas Ilgauskas can and will knock down open shots. Combine that complementary skill with the individual playmaking talents of the Big Three, and it makes sense that the Heat have risen to fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency.
What does their offense do poorly? Generate second-chance points. The Heat rank just 22nd in offensive rebounding rate (ORR), and though not many people expected them to be dominant on the offensive boards, it's surprising that they've been this impotent. Bosh has been a disappointment on the glass, especially at the offensive end. His personal ORR of 5.4% -- meaning, that's the percentage of Miami's missed shots that he rebounds -- is worse than the ORR's of every Laker frontcourt player save Luke Walton.
What does their defense do well? Force you to miss that shot you're taking. With league-best rankings in opponents' three-point, effective field-goal and true-shooting percentages, no team does a better job of preventing shot attempts from turning into actual points. The Heat are also sound on the defensive glass. Big Z and Bosh clean up plenty of misses, and the bigs get good help on the defensive boards from James and Wade. Though the Miami offense took some time to find its stride, the D has been there from the outset. Their defensive efficiency of 100.1 is second only to Boston.
What does their defense do poorly? Not much, but if you had to pick nits you'd look at their rate of forced turnovers, which falls in the bottom third of the league. Wade's and Arroyo's steals are down, and accomplished ballhawk Mario Chalmers has seen his minutes drop this season. The way the Heat have locked opponents down, you can't call this a weakness, exactly. Often when excellent defensive teams have low turnover rates, it's a matter of tactical choice, an election to play solid positional D instead of gambling for turnovers. But at least opponents know when they're bringing the ball up the court that they're likely to get some kind of look at the hoop, if perhaps not a terribly good one.