Miami Heat Index: 3-on-3

James/PierceJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce and the Nets have a perfect record against the Heat this season.
After sweeping the Miami Heat during the regular season, do the Brooklyn Nets have an edge as the two teams prepare to battle in the second round of the playoffs? Our panel goes 3-on-3:

1. Fact or Fiction: The Heat's 0-4 record against the Nets this season is a cause for concern.

Israel Gutierrez: Fiction. It's not only that three wins were by a point and the other win was in double overtime, but also that the Heat, while playing well in short segments, weren't playing well consistently. Miami tends to play more consistently during the playoffs. And based on the Toronto series, the Nets will show their age at times, which Miami can take advantage of by running far better than the Raptors did.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. Here's how the margin at the end of regulation looked in the four games: Brooklyn plus-one, Brooklyn plus-one, tied, Brooklyn plus-one. If the Heat were getting blown out of every game, then it would be a concern. They picked heads four times, came up tails.

Michael Wallace: Fact. There were no fluke performances among the four games. There were three one-point games and another decided in overtime. The Heat have some real matchup issues with the combination of length, skill and experience. If the Nets can dictate their pace and protect the ball, they can cause Miami some real problems.

2. Fact or Fiction: When the ball is tipped in Game 1, the Heat will have the three best players on the floor.

Gutierrez: Fiction. At least not based on production. The Nets can claim either Deron Williams or Joe Johnson as better than either Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade in any given game, especially if you're going by final stat lines. Johnson and/or Williams will be required to be at their best for the Nets to have a chance in this series, so if Miami proves to have the three best players, it'll be a short series.

Haberstroh: Fact. But the Nets probably have four through 12, which may not matter as much in the playoffs. Dwyane Wade hasn't played much, but when he does, he's still a top player in the league. Joe Johnson bludgeoned Toronto's wings, but I don't see that happening against Miami.

Wallace: Fiction. Paul Pierce may not be close to what he was in his prime, but he's found a way to turn back the clock against the Heat. I'm sure Joe Johnson would object to this premise as well. This series will be determined as much by the next three in the respective rotations as much as by the best three on either side.

3. Fact or Fiction: The Heat wrap this series up in 5 games or fewer.

Gutierrez: Fact. I've got it ending in five, in part because the Heat were able to rest and probably had the Nets in mind the entire time they were waiting. Once the Heat adjust to Brooklyn's size on the wing and their paint-protecting defense, Miami will have a relatively easy time.

Haberstroh: Fiction. The Dwyane Wade factor looms large, but I don't think the Heat put on the gentleman's sweep. Wade, timely rest and a motivated LeBron James will make the regular-season sweep a mirage, but it will take six games to do so.

Wallace: Fiction. I'm taking the over, with this being settled in six or seven games. Pierce and Kevin Garnett have a reputation for making things drag out when facing LeBron and the Heat. Different team, same drama.
The Heat end the regular season Wednesday night at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. Our panel goes 3-on-3:

1. What has been the most encouraging part of Miami’s season?

Israel Gutierrez: Dwyane Wade's play when he's healthy. And assuming his hamstring is healed and his conditioning gets caught up quickly, he'll be healthy for this playoff run. And considering he was at about 70 percent during last season's title run, that's quite an encouraging prospect.

Tom Haberstroh: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh enter the playoffs healthier than they were this time a year ago. Really, the regular season was just an 82-game preseason for the Heat and little mattered outside of the trainer’s room. The maintenance program for Wade, as taxing as it was for Bosh and James, seemed to work. For now.

Brian Windhorst: The playoffs are starting and all 15 players on the roster are available and reasonably healthy. LeBron and Bosh will go in with at least a week off and Wade certainly hasn't been overworked. They have won a road game in all 12 series they've played in the past three years, so not having home court has a limited disadvantage.

2. What has been the most disappointing part of Miami’s season?

Gutierrez: The inconsistency all around. From the defensive play to the shooting of Ray Allen and Shane Battier to the appearances from Wade. All of it has translated into a level of play that has created more questions than the Heat have faced at this time over the past three seasons.

Haberstroh: The supporting cast. The Michael Beasley experiment has come up empty. Ray Allen has finally shown he’s not immune to age. Greg Oden may be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Norris Cole has not developed. Shane Battier for months looked like a shell of himself. If it weren’t for Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem’s recent revival, this would be a disaster.

Windhorst: This is the least imposing team of the past four seasons. Some of that is because of depth, some is because of in-season injuries, some is because of fatigue and motivation issues. Instead of ramping up for the playoffs like last year (which the Spurs are doing this year), the Heat have gone into the postseason in a relative tailspin.

3. What is the biggest threat to Miami’s quest to three-peat?

Gutierrez: Well, there are any number of things, including health, lack of size now that it appears Greg Oden might not be a factor, or the loss of home court against either the Pacers or any number of Western Conference teams. But if I'm picking one "threat" to the Heat three-peating, it's the same threat that nearly cost them last year's title: the Spurs.

Haberstroh: Their bodies. That has always been the case. They have more than enough talent to go around, but they will only go as far as their aging bodies take them. The only key players under 30 years old are LeBron James (who turns 30 in December) and Mario Chalmers. Do they have another championship run in them?

Windhorst: Over the past two seasons, they have had to win three Game 7s to win their titles. All three were at home. The Heat will enter the postseason with the fifth-best record, and that means if they play any of the four teams ahead of them, they will have to play Game 7 on the road. The Spurs are itching for a chance to take advantage of that this year.
The Heat look to avoid a season sweep Tuesday at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, who have won the previous three meetings between the two teams. Our panel goes 3-on-3:

1. Fact or Fiction: Brooklyn is Miami's biggest potential East threat in playoffs.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. Folks, there's still plenty of room left on the Toronto Raptors bandwagon. Hop on. As far as the East goes, the Heat and the Raptors have been in a class by themselves since Rudy Gay got traded in early December. There are two East teams with a point differential over 4.0 and it's the Raptors (plus-4.9) and the Heat (plus-6.6). I'm not convinced Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko will be healthy in a month.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. Despite how horrible they've been these past couple of weeks, I still believe in the Indiana Pacers and what their track record has revealed over the long haul. Silly me. But their combination of stingy defense, coupled with the nightmare matchup that is Roy Hibbert and the Lance Stephenson wildcard, the Pacers are still the team that causes the Heat more concerns over a seven-game series.

Brian Windhorst: Fiction. I still think it's the Pacers, though I admit my case is not strong. The Nets are a team that is built for a playoff setting but I'm not assuming they're getting past the Bulls if that series ends up taking shape.

2. Fact or Fiction: Dwyane Wade should sit out the rest of the regular season.

Haberstroh: Fiction. I'd probably get him a game or two just to get his timing and in-game conditioning calibrated. We're learning rest is critical to success so I would still hold him out for the majority of the games down the stretch, but a month off seems drastic.

Wallace: Fact. I totally don't subscribe to this theory under normal circumstances, considering it's been obvious the past few weeks that Wade's teammates want to get in at least a couple of games with him on the court before the playoffs. But the bottom line is that the Heat could essentially use a likely first-round matchup against either the Bobcats or the Hawks to work off the rust. If taking another week off gets Wade even 10-percent healthier, then it's worth the risk at this point, all things considered.

Windhorst: Fact, if that hamstring isn't right. Do you know how often the phrase "I made a mistake coming back too early from that hamstring" has been uttered in NBA history? Well, it's a lot. The whole season has been aimed to keep Wade from being banged up. That said, it does seem like he's making progress and he could be back before the postseason.

3. Fact or Fiction: LeBron will score at least 34 for a third consecutive game.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Paul Pierce never takes it easy on James. I see the reigning MVP regressing to the mean and racking up points closer to his scoring average. Last time out, James scored just 19 points against his arch rival so I'll split the difference and say he scores 27 on Tuesday.

Wallace: Fact. If Wade isn't available, LeBron won't have any problem picking up the slack. He's scored 34 and 38 points, respectively, in his past two games. If he pours in at least 34 against Brooklyn, it would be the first time this season he's reached that total in three straight contests. LeBron certainly has been more aggressive of late, having launched at least 20 field goal attempts and 10 free throws in three of the past four games. It seems as if he's totally adjusted to the heavier burden and now thrives on it.

Windhorst: Fiction. LeBron's averaged 27 points, roughly his career average, against the Nets this season (though he did have a 36-point game). So I'll play the averages and predict about that total for him. Also, the Nets defense and especially Paul Pierce -- Google Pierceitis -- have been performing well at that end.

The Raptors, one of the biggest surprises in the league with a record of 42-31, are in Miami to take on the Heat (50-22). Our 3-on-3 crew weighs in.

1. Fact or Fiction: Miami will overtake Indiana for the East's No.1 seed.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. Indiana can't score, but they'll hold onto that No. 1 seed as long as teams can't score against them either. They're still the NBA's top defense since Jan. 1 and a top-five defense this month. The Heat will rest their stars down the stretch so the No. 1 seed will be tough to grab.

Michael Wallace: Fact. It's become disturbingly apparent that the Pacers just can't handle any bit of prosperity when it comes to securing the top seed in the East. This is something Indiana should have essentially locked up after last Wednesday's win against the Heat. With a home-friendly stretch to close out the season, including an April 11 date with the Pacers, the question now is how badly do the Heat want to push for this prize?

Brian Windhorst: Fact. I truly thought last week the Pacers had virtually clinched it, taking essentially a three-game lead with 10 to go. But they have lost all of their mojo and the benefits of that victory are already gone. They have the much tougher schedule the rest of the way and they've blown their cushion.

2. Fact or Fiction: Toronto is the biggest surprise team in the East.

Haberstroh: Fact. If we're talking positive surprises and not negative ones (hello Knicks!), then I'll go with the Raptors. Since trading Rudy Gay in early December, Toronto has been a half-game behind the Heat for the best record in the East over that span. Yes, better than Indiana. Surprise, surprise.

Wallace: Fiction. Having uncluttered their roster to create room to operate for some younger developing players, the Raptors have been one of the best stories of the NBA season. And I give their new front office plenty of credit for pushing for a strong season instead of selling off all assets to tank for the lottery. That said, the biggest stunner is how flat traditional pillars such as the Knicks and Celtics have fallen in the same year.

Windhorst: Fact. The Raptors were getting ready to fire Dwane Casey in December and they salary dumped their highest-paid player. Now, their playoff drought is over and they're going to have home court in the first round -- remarkable turnaround.

3. Fact or Fiction: Miami should no longer consider starting Greg Oden.

Haberstroh: Fiction. I don't see why not. The Roy Hibbert experiment did not go well, but I actually think Hibbert hit some really tough shots. They need every opportunity to see what they have in Oden and there's still plenty of time to do that in the regular season. But they should keep an eye on his workload.

Wallace: Fiction. If the Heat completely punt on Oden right now after a poor outing against Roy Hibbert last week, then there was never much hope from the start that he could be a valuable piece in the middle. It seems wrong to evaluate the entire Oden experiment off one six-minute stint against Indiana. Back spasms have kept Oden out of the past two games. But if he is going to be any sort of factor for Miami, he needs to get back on the court ASAP and string together two or three promising performances to build himself up for another shot at Hibbert and the Pacers on April 11.

Windhorst: Fact. Udonis Haslem has the spot, as he has for the past two titles. Oden has been an defensive problem spot. But it's unwise to think he's done. The playoffs are long, many things can happen. Both he and Michael Beasley will get a chance for a moment in the sun.


3-on-3: Heat vs. Blazers

March, 24, 2014
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Greg Oden is expected to start for the Heat on Monday night when Miami plays Portland -- Oden's former team. Our 3-on-3 crew weighs in on the game.

1. What's the source of LeBron James' biggest frustration?

Tom Haberstroh: A little bit of everything. He turned his ankle in a loss to a team that was 12 games under .500 in a game that Dwyane Wade did not play. Those three details -- the ankle turn, the loss and the Wade absence -- provided some fertile ground for vented frustration.

Michael Wallace: There's no politically correct way to put it, but LeBron has been uncomfortable all season with the Dwyane Wade maintenance plan. He has talked about how Wade being in and out of the lineup has disrupted his comfort level and has affected the team's chemistry. Getting Wade healthy for the playoffs is the ultimate priority, but it has been a painfully frustrating process at times for LeBron. He's no longer hiding it. Considering the load he has carried, LeBron could use a night or two off for physical and psychological rest. It's clear his patience has been wearing thin in recent weeks.

Brian Windhorst: Losing. In the past six seasons, this is one of the worst streaks he has been a part of (remember, he won 60-plus games his final two seasons in Cleveland). After that 9-8 start in 2010 -- which everyone on the Heat speaks of as if it were childbirth -- this has been the toughest regular-season stretch in years. So he's not used to this and he's not used to him and his teammates not responding. There are individual details that are bugging him, but overall, it's about the losing.

2. Is Portland or Miami coming off the more disappointing loss?

Haberstroh: Portland. In the great scheme of things, Saturday's Heat loss did little for Miami's playoff positioning, but the Blazers not only got blasted by a sub.-500 team, they also failed to create a more comfy cushion ahead of Golden State, which is a game and a half back for the 5-seed. That hurts.

Wallace: It's Portland, and not just because a 30-point blowout on the road is worse than the 10-point loss Miami suffered in New Orleans. The Blazers are in a true identity crisis right now as they fight for playoff position. It's been a tale of two halves of the season for Portland. A strong case can be made they lost to a Charlotte team headed for the playoffs and Miami's loss was to the lottery-bound Pelicans. The difference is the Heat have a longstanding track record of what they are. We're still trying to figure out exactly what these Blazers are all about.

Windhorst: The Blazers are having a miserable month because their fairy tale season has hit the skids with uneven play, bad defense, and after months of near-perfect health, some derailing injuries. That 30-point loss to the Bobcats to start a five-game road trip was perhaps a low point of the season. The Heat are not in a good place right now, but they didn't get beat by 30.

3. From 1 to 10, what is the level of concern for the Heat right now?

Haberstroh: 5. No major injuries, and they'll still finish with just under 60 wins. Things could look a whole lot worse. The Pacers have been a mess as well, so Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley may lose some sleep, but we haven't nearly reached DEFCON 1/2011 levels.

Wallace: 7. The Heat have treated this season like an 82-game exhibition slate. Between the injury and rest issues with Wade to the uncertainty surrounding Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, this team has been shuffling and reshuffling all season and never really settled into a sustained offensive rhythm. They're not as good as they were the past two title seasons defensively. The supporting cast consists of guys in their mid-30s and they just don't seem to have the same matchup advantages against stiffer competition they once did. The league has closed the gap on Miami. That said, they are not likely to be pushed to the brink until the conference finals at the earliest.

Windhorst: 4. Completely agree with Chris Bosh's assessment Saturday when he described the situation as "not troubling but upsetting." In general, the Heat have their health, and that is what is most important. They have the ability to get themselves together -- everyone knows and believes this. The fact their defense has been lagging is a concern because defense is a habit, and that's the only reason I have a "4" up there. After everything the Heat have been through, seriously, right now this ranks low on the scale.
LeBron James and the Heat are in Cleveland to take on the Kyrie Irvingless Cavs tonight at 7 ET. Our 3-on-3 crew checks in.

1. Fact or Fiction: The Cavaliers will ultimately retire LeBron's jersey?

Tom Haberstroh: Fact. We're already seeing the icy feelings thaw, and last time out, we heard a smattering of cheers come from the rafters at the Q, even though he's in the midst of a three-peat quest with another team. This much is true: Time heals all wounds.

Michael Wallace: Fact. Some will never forgive or forget the way LeBron dumped the Cavaliers in 2010 free agency. But there is no denying that he's the greatest player in franchise history. For credibility's sake, LeBron's jersey deserves a place in the rafters. It might not happen anytime soon after he's initially done playing, but it'll eventually happen. Maybe not even under the current ownership, but it will happen. Spite won't last forever.

Brian Windhorst: Fact. And if he comes back and plays for them someday, even if it's at the end of his career, they may even build him a statue. They do that in Cleveland; the Jim Thome statue is being unveiled soon and Thome didn't win two MVPs.

2. Fact or Fiction: Greg Oden should remain a starter for now?

Haberstroh: Fact. Erik Spoelstra is experimenting with lineups, and this is the time to do it. His team is as healthy as its ever been and may ever be, so it makes sense to get into the lab and see what they have. If it doesn't work, they still have a month to get back to the original plan. Consider this the Heat's 82-game preseason.

Wallace: Fact. I've suggested for weeks now that the best way to ensure Oden has any sort of regular role is to start him in short stints in the first and third quarters. The Heat need to find out relatively soon exactly what they have in Oden. He's still very, very rusty and foul-prone. And it's obvious that Indiana already has a comfort level with where Andrew Bynum stands. Meanwhile, there remains some guess work and wishful thinking with Oden. Let him start for a week and see where he truly stands right now.

Windhorst: Fact. The Heat won doing it, even though he had no impact, and Shane Battier said there's some benefits for him coming off the bench. Anything to try to jump start Oden, whose progress has flatlined.

3. Fact or Fiction: LeBron's fourth-quarter production remains a problem?

Haberstroh: Fiction. It's not there yet, but if it lingers for another couple of weeks, it'll dip into "problem" territory. It's been awhile since LeBron played next to a fully healthy and fully confident Dwyane Wade, so this is a transition for him. It's probably shaken up the Heat's ecosystem, but LeBron is too good to let Wade's aggressiveness throw him off long term.

Wallace: Fiction. Not as long as Wade is healthy and productive, and role specialists such as Ray Allen can knock down shots down the stretch. LeBron has seen a major dip in his scoring and responsibilities in the fourth quarter as of late. But as long as he's willing to attack and facilitate as opposed to standing idly by, this will only be a passing phase forgotten about by the time the playoffs get going.

Windhorst: Fiction. I don't believe it's a problem, I believe it's a snag in the season, and he and the team will work it out. Their track record in this area is rather strong.
LeBron JamesAP Photo/Frank Franklin IIKing James and the defending champs have hit a rough patch recently. Is it time to be concerned?
Here are 25 takes on the Miami Heat, who have lost four of their past five games:

1. What's Miami's biggest issue right now?

Israel Gutierrez, The "other" guys just aren't in rhythm. The combination of Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Norris Cole shot a combined 33.7 percent in the Heat's four recent losses, with Battier's 15 percent shooting (2-of-13) being the worst of the group. That tells you they're not getting the same opportunities as usual, or at least not regularly enough to find a rhythm. That's resulted in the league's most efficient offense shooting 47.5, 43, 40.5 and 48.5 percent in those losses.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: The Heat are getting nothing from the supporting cast outside of Chris Andersen. Ray Allen and Shane Battier have both shown their age, and Michael Beasley hasn't been the same since they guaranteed his contract back in early January. Besides that, they've faced some tough defenses, so I'm not sure the slide is indicative of any major issues.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Ray Allen, legendary shooter and hero of Game 6. He's a glaring defensive minus, and he's missing shots that he typically hit in the past. It sounds crazy to say it, but in 2014, you trust Chris Bosh (.386 from deep this season) more to hit an open 3-pointer than Allen (.361 from deep this season). Miami already lost a great shooter when it amnestied Mike Miller; the Heat want Allen to return to form in the playoffs.

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Supporting cast inconsistency. Early in the season, Ray Allen said this had the potential to be the deepest and most talented collection of role players of any team he's been with over 18 seasons. With 20 games left in the season, we're still waiting for that potential to translate into consistent production. Allen, Shane Battier and Norris Cole have been in prolonged slumps, Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley have been hit or miss all season, and Greg Oden appears no closer to being playoff ready than when he first saw action before the All-Star break.

Brian Windhorst, Heat Index: Execution, specifically late-game execution. Three of these four recent losses were the result of the Heat not being able to execute in the final moments of regulation. When they won 66 games last season, it seemed like they almost always sealed the deal at the end, for various reasons they have not been getting it done lately.

2. Fact or Fiction: LeBron has lost his MVP momentum.

Gutierrez: Fact. A hard crack to the nose will do that sometimes. Since the 61, LeBron has shot more than 50 percent just once in five tries. And it's no coincidence he shot zero free throws in back-to-back games after ditching his mask against the Spurs. Also, his team's struggles are now on the forefront, so the attention has drifted from MVP candidacy anyway.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Are we sure he had any momentum to begin with? I subscribe to Hall of Fame baseball manager Earl Weaver's ethos that "momentum is the next day's starting pitcher." It feels like there is no momentum in this MVP race, as every game seems to be a referendum on Durant's and LeBron's careers. I will say that for a guy who has shot 43 percent from downtown over his last 10 games, it's odd to hear that James has suddenly lost his jumper.

Strauss: Fact. LeBron's mortal stretch contributed to this Heat slump. He looked like a lesser player after ditching the mask, failing to reach the free throw line in consecutive games. LeBron could have taken the award if he and the Heat were customarily excellent as OKC struggled, but that window appears to have closed.

Wallace: Fact. The two strongest arguments in Kevin Durant's case have been that he's been more consistent with his elite-level production and that he's done it in a much stronger Western Conference. Since that career-high, 61-point night two weeks ago, LeBron has hit a relative wall. There's still time for LeBron to make another push, but Durant seems to have regained control of the MVP race.

Windhorst: Fact. He's played probably his four most "blah" games of the season since he put up his 61 points. It's a combination of things -- he's slumped a bit shooting, and he's also not been as aggressive as his plunging free throws and zero fourth-quarter shots in the loss to the Nets show.

3. Fact or Fiction: Brooklyn is Miami's second-biggest threat in East.

Gutierrez: Fiction. As much as a 3-0 record against Miami would suggest otherwise, the Nets aren't dominant in any particular area against Miami. The Bulls, on the other hand, can dominate both on the boards and defensively when playing the Heat. The Nets' specialty is simply interchangeable perimeter defenders and veteran-savvy scorers. But neither team has really emerged as a true threat to the Heat in a seven-game series.

Haberstroh: Fiction. The Chicago Bulls are still that team for me. Even after all these years, the Heat haven't cracked the Tom Thibodeau defense yet. The Heat have defended well enough against the Bulls' feeble offense that they've gotten by. The Nets have done an impressive job against the Heat, but if Bosh makes that pass to LeBron at the end, we aren't even asking this question.

Strauss: Fiction. Regular-season records mean little as far as playoff outcomes go, in most instances. I don't buy that Brooklyn has some magic quality that, say, Toronto lacks. Also, I'd hazard that Chicago's a bigger threat on account of having a defense that makes LeBron less efficient.

Wallace: Fact. The Heat have had regular-season struggles against Chicago, Boston and even New York in the past, only to beat up on those foes in the postseason. But these difficulties with Brooklyn feel different. The Nets have shown during a 3-0 mark against Miami that they can create serious, sustainable matchup problems for the Heat because of their combination of length, skill, perimeter shooting, balance and experience. If healthy, Brooklyn can almost rival Indiana as a potential postseason headache for Miami.

Windhorst: Fact. But this has been the case for a while now, even before they got hot. The Nets have a team that is built for the playoffs because they play at their best when the game is slow, and have postseason experience. However, there's a good chance the Nets will be on the other side of the bracket if the Heat stay in the No. 2 seed, because Toronto has a far easier schedule than the Nets and currently has the No. 3 seed.

4. Fact or Fiction: Three-peat fatigue is a legit concern for Miami.

Gutierrez: Fact, at least currently. It won't continue into the playoffs, but it's real right now and being acknowledged. Perhaps this losing stretch is enough to shake them out of it.

Haberstroh: Fiction. The Heat's last six opponents all rank in the top-10 in defense with the exception of the Nets, who have been a top-5 defense since the new year. OK, and the Wizards rank 11th. Still, I'm blaming the schedule more than fatigue. If Wade, LeBron and Bosh don't get some rest down the stretch run, let's revisit this question.

Strauss: Fiction. Actual, literal fatigue might be a problem for older veterans such as Ray Allen and Shane Battier (and yes, Dwyane Wade), but I don't buy the notion that they're tired of the title-winning process. This seems more like a preemptive excuse than an explanation for why failure might occur.

Wallace: Faction. It's fact in the sense that three straight years of reaching the Finals has been an emotional and psychological grind that LeBron and Chris Bosh are now acknowledging publicly after tough losses. But it's fiction in the sense that you never hear that excuse -- or logical explanation -- used after big wins. There's a burden that comes with being a two-time defending champion. And there's a reason why only three franchises have won three titles in a row.

Windhorst: Fiction. It's really hard to win three consecutive playoff series and reach the Finals -- you need skill, strategy and luck. Doing it four years in a row hasn't happened in 25 years for a reason, because you need those things to align. But the reason the Heat are struggling a little right now has nothing to do with how they'll perform in the postseason, they know what they're doing.

5. Fact or Fiction: Wade's recent play has eased concerns about his health.

Gutierrez: Fact. He looked great Wednesday while the rest of his team was somewhat lethargic, which compounded his frustrations that night. And he played in a Sunday-Monday back-to-back set without any setbacks. At this point it appears if he can avoid a freakish injury, he'll be able to maintain this level of play the rest of the season.

Haberstroh: Fact. Eased is the right word. But there is still some concern because, well, there's three months of basketball before the Finals come around. A lot can happen between now and then, but Wade's strong play as of late -- especially getting to the line -- has given the Heat much validation for their maintenance program.

Strauss: Fact. I say "fact," because wouldn't we all be worried if he was playing badly? Those health concerns will persist, but his stellar recent play has certainly eased some worries.

Wallace: Fact. The steady progress Wade has shown with his game and his knee rehab since the All-Star break has been the most encouraging aspect of the past month for Miami. Despite four losses in the past five games, the silver lining has been Wade's steady and reliable play heading down the stretch as the Heat gear up for the playoffs. One key measure of Miami's success in the regular season was whether the team could get Wade to this point feeling relatively healthy and confident. So far, so good.

Windhorst: Fact. Wade's entire season has been a smashing success. The issue, however, is that Wade seems to have setbacks that last days or weeks without warning and without regard to how careful the team is with him. There hasn't been one since January, but it's hard to know if that's good or bad news since the setbacks have been unforeseen in the past.
The Heat and Magic play tonight at 7:30 ET in Miami for Florida bragging rights. Our 3-on-3 crew weighs in.

1. LeBron's mask is ...

Israel Gutierrez: But a memory. With the league requesting LeBron go to a clear mask, and LeBron knowing that nose protection isn't worth fighting the league over, it seems the black mask will be a one-game deal. As long as his light, clear version of the mask is available to him, he'll wear the less-cool version. Who knows, maybe that black mask becomes something of a collector's item.

Tom Haberstroh: A Halloween best-seller for NBA fans next October. Part of me wants him to go Rip Hamilton style and make that a permanent thing, but I also understand a black jersey makes it all work. Maybe Space Jam II wasn't meant to be and The Mask II is really his calling. Of course, Jamie Kennedy has to ruin everything.

Brian Windhorst: A great side distraction to break up the monotony of the season. Sure the fans loved it but so did his teammates. A team in a long season needs such relief. Sort of like what the dunk show in Phoenix a few weeks ago provided.

2. Dwyane Wade's recent play reveals ...

Gutierrez: That Wade's and the Heat's season-long plan to keep him as healthy as possible is working. Last year at this time, Wade was playing at a similar level. It wasn't until a knee bruise late in the 27-game win streak that Wade's play dropped off. This year, the idea is to keep him at this level. It's still possible he could get hurt again this year, but clearly the plan remains on a positive track.

Haberstroh: Not much. We already knew that when he's healthy, he's still Dwyane Wade. I still don't think it matters too much in the long run. Really, will we remember this hot stretch for Wade come May or June? Doubtful.

Windhorst: He's still a top-flight player, one of the best guards in the league. But we already knew that. What no one, including Wade, knows is how his body will be in the late rounds of the playoffs. And that is really all that matters.

3. The Heat's approach to the No 1 seed should be ...

Gutierrez: Exactly as it is now: Nabbing it would be a benefit of playing playoff-level basketball. The Heat aren't playing for the top seed, per se, but know they very well could secure it if they continue to play at this level. And if that happens, Miami will know they've dented the Pacers' confidence. That would be an additional reward for the Heat.

Haberstroh: If it happens in the context of ensuring Wade's healthy, it's icing on the cake. Otherwise, the smart play is to give Wade rest even if it means a couple games lost in the standings. The potential reward of a healthy Wade come playoff time is far worth more than the off chance that they play a Game 7 in Miami.

Windhorst: Get it. They can downplay it all they want, but there's no doubt about its value. Not just in the East but against the West leaders, too. They have closed the gap from their relatively sluggish start to the season and the top overall seed is for the taking. It's not more important than health but it's a close second.
The Pistons are in town to take on the Heat. Our 3-on-3 crew previews the action.

1. Fact or Fiction: Miami's big lineup is now its best lineup.

Tom Haberstroh: Fact. Key word: now. Until they are fully dedicated to playing small and making up for their size with speed, they'll need to lean on their "big" lineup. Two years ago, when Bosh wasn't a 3-point shooter, it made less sense. Now, with Bungee Bosh stretching the floor, it doesn't compromise the spacing with another big out there.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. As much as I'm a basketball traditionalist, the Heat's most productive lineup is one that has Shane Battier shooting well at the power forward spot and Bosh creating matchup nightmares at center. This was the curveball adjustment that won Miami two titles. Eventually, it'll prove to be Miami's money lineup down the stretch again.

Brian Windhorst: Fiction. I'm not ready to come to conclusions. The small lineup looked great when Shane Battier was defending Carmelo Anthony well and actually hitting shots. But you can see Erik Spoelstra working on that big lineup because Bosh is so much more comfortable at power forward. It will continue to be tested, ask me this again in a month.

2. Fact or Fiction: Detroit is the East's biggest underachiever.

Haberstroh: Fiction. I'll go with the Nets here, who admittedly have played much better over the last month. They were supposed to be competing for the top seed in the East and they're five games under .500 in February. Detroit has been a miserable disappointment, but no one was expecting them to realistically challenge for the East crown.

Wallace: Fiction. Any team that hinges their hopes of a major breakthrough on Mo Cheeks as coach and Josh Smith as a franchise-altering, free-agency acquisition is asking for disappointment. But for as much as the Pistons have stumbled from the gate, either team from the Big Apple would qualify for this distinction.

Windhorst: Fiction. Only if you believed Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith worked together. I never did. I thought it was a bad idea from the start and its looking that way. These are two of the lowest efficiency players of this generation, giving them huge contracts is one gamble. Putting them together made little sense to me. I expected this type of result: a few flashes of brilliance and a lot of leaving people wanting more. Isn't that how you could sum up their careers?

3. Fact or Fiction: LeBron will score 30 for a third straight game.

Haberstroh: Fiction. He hasn't the last six times he's gone against Josh Smith so I'll bet that trend continues. Also, there's a good chance that LeBron will be an observer in the fourth quarter, considering the opponent. I'm taking the under.

Wallace: Fact. Perhaps overlooked in his matchups this season with Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony has been the fact that LeBron has outscored both in three total meetings with the Thunder and Knicks. LeBron is at the start of one of those stretches when he's in a great offensive rhythm again, and he'll hang another 30 on Detroit. Easy.

Windhorst: Fiction. The Heat are feeling good about themselves. They'll play well as a team and LeBron won't need to push it to the finish line.


The Miami Heat visit the New York Knicks for a Super Bowl eve showdown. Our 3-on-3 crew sets the table.

1. Fact or Fiction: Small-ball is no longer a clear Heat advantage

Israel Gutierrez: Faction. Just depends on who the opposition is. You couldn't say it was a clear advantage last year against the Pacers, but the Heat found just enough to make it work. But, yes, after three-plus years of Miami's success in this system, others around the league have found better ways to defend it and mimic it. Miami is not alone.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. It's almost impossible to survive playing small-ball when you're putting in 50 percent effort defensively. I'm guessing this is a temporary lull. I do worry about Shane Battier and Ray Allen's battle with Father Time, but I suspect that they'll come around in the playoffs. The clear advantage may not surface until May.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. Although a select group of versatile, athletic teams are capable of matching up well when Miami goes small, the Heat still will usually have at least two of the most dynamic players on the court in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. But as Bosh said after the loss to Oklahoma City, the Heat got a taste of what other opponents go through when they face Miami.

2. Fact or Fiction: Carmelo is a tougher cover than Durant

Gutierrez: Fiction. Carmelo Anthony's not as tall, which obviously gives Kevin Durant an advantage. He's stronger than Durant, but doesn't use that strength to his advantage often enough. And he doesn't have all the shots Durant has, including some of those floaters and the one-legged action. Plus, Melo's a bit easier to lock into, because he's less willing to give it up.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Carmelo is stronger and more of a bully around the rim, but right now, no one's tougher than the Slim Reaper who finished January with a 36.7 PER. That's only topped by LeBron's February last season. But you knew that already since you're a regular viewer of the BIG Number, right?

Wallace: Fiction. Durant's combination of length at nearly 7-feet tall and his vision as a willing facilitator allows him to beat a defender with incredible passing as much as prolific scoring. That's double trouble for any foe. Carmelo has one aim -- and it's right at the rim. Still, there's a reason why LeBron said these two are his most difficult matchups in the league.

3. Fact or Fiction: Defending the 3-ball is a major concern for Miami

Gutierrez: Fact, until it isn't anymore. Wade mentioned the Heat tinkered with their rotations to prepare for Oklahoma City, which likely led to a handful of those open threes. But historically, the Heat cut off the 3-pointers when absolutely necessary. Just look at Danny Green's shooting numbers after setting the Finals record and putting Miami's 2012-13 season on the brink (2 of 11 from three in Games 6 and 7).

Haberstroh: Fiction. Not a major one. This is an anthill, not a mountain, of a problem. The real key is that they have to cause turnovers. They've had similar 3-point issues in the past around this time and they patch it up for the playoffs. This team is almost impossible to judge in the winter since so much of their success depends on all-out effort. Which isn't required right now.

Wallace: Fact. Late defensive rotations and poor closeouts have been consistent problems for the Heat. Expect the Knicks to try to pick up where the Thunder left off the other night when they torched Miami's defense for 16 3-pointers. If you've got floor-spacing shooters and an efficient, attacking facilitator, you've got a shot at a great night against the Heat.
The Heat visit the Hawks for a Southeast showdown. Our 3-on-3 crew sets the table.

1. Fact or Fiction: LeBron is legitimately inspired by Kevin Durant.

Kevin Arnovitz: Fact, though I'm not sure he's inspired so much as pushed or motivated. Basketball is a hypercompetitive business, and LeBron James doesn't want to lose the distinction of being the best player on the planet any more than any other top dog wants to lose standing in his or her field.

Israel Gutierrez: Fact. Durant is the only real threat to LeBron's throne, and once Durant is able to surpass LeBron for either MVPs or championships, good luck getting it back from him. LeBron can be motivated by championships and wanting to be the G.O.A.T. But if that ever seems too far in the distance, all he has to do is look at what Durant's doing and try to do better.

Michael Wallace: Fact. Only because he's searching for something, anything, to fire a spark into a season that's been physically and mentally draining already for the four-time MVP and two-time defending champions. All the true greats reach for motivation at times, whether it's legitimate or imagined. Michael Jordan used perceived slights. Magic Johnson used Larry Bird's stats from the previous night's game to drive him.

2. Fact or Fiction: Ray Allen's struggles are a real concern.

Arnovitz: Faction. They're a real concern, sure, because the Heat need production from that position, especially with Dwyane Wade's sitting approximately every fourth game. But I'm not ready to say this is the beginning of the end for Allen. It's probably not a coincidence that his worst shooting week as a member of the Heat came while playing more minutes than he has in recent memory.

Gutierrez: Fiction. If it appeared Allen's legs were shot, then there should be concern because his shot relies so much on lift. But Allen has been dunking more than he has in years and doing so with apparent ease. I would call this a midseason slump that any shooter can go through. Even Kyle Korver is just 14-of-43 (32.6 percent) from 3 in his last eight games (46.3 percent for the season).

Wallace: Fiction. Sure, it's a slump, perhaps one of the worst Allen has been in during the month of January. The reason why the concern is minimized a bit is because he's not hesitating to keep firing them off. And he's still getting decent looks. But the fact that the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history has had only a handful fall this month is stunning in itself.

3. Fact or Fiction: Greg Oden should be in the nightly rotation right now.

Arnovitz: Fact, for two reasons. One, Chris Andersen's knees, back and whatever else need as much relief as possible before the postseason. Two, Oden's confidence and conditioning need to be bolstered as much as possible before the playoffs, since he's an important insurance policy. Since the Heat look increasingly like they're locked into the No. 2 seed in the East, why not give Oden a go?

Gutierrez: Fiction. At least based on what we know. The only people who can say for certain he should be in the rotation are the ones with in-depth knowledge of his knee situation. If he were capable, he'd be in. Otherwise, there remains plenty of time to get him acclimated to regular minutes. If March rolls around and he's still not in there often, then there should be some concerns.

Wallace: Fiction. Not at least until his troublesome knees can prove over the course of a couple of weeks that the swelling will be at a minimum. Oden, however, should get a handful of minutes each game against teams that have low-post centers, just so he could get some conditioning and regain his confidence and rhythm in small doses at a time.

The defending champions visit the Magic tonight in a battle of Florida squads. Our 3-on-3 crew weighs in.

1. Fact or Fiction: 3-point D bigger Heat issue than boards.

Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. Both require playoff levels of effort with their controlled-chaos defensive schemes. That's unrealistic right now with this team and the Finals about 60 games away. But they'll need to bring their rebounding A-game, not their 3-point defense, if they want to get past Indiana.

Michael Wallace: Fact. It's almost as if the Heat have accepted that they are and will be one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. They've found a way to work around that and play to other strengths. Miami is ranked 25th in the league in 3-point defensive percentage entering the weekend. Perimeter defense is supposed to be a strength for the Heat. But their over-aggressiveness can be exploited against great shooting teams, especially in the playoffs.

Brian Windhorst: Fiction. I know the Heat's defense has slipped a little over the last month but we also know that they have an energy-based defense that usually doesn't hit its stride until the second half of the season and the playoffs. Teams will be able to get 3-pointers off against the Heat because they can pass the ball through their rotations, the Heat's system is designed with the belief that the percentages will prove them correct. The Heat can overcome rebounding but it still is a weak spot and always will be.

2. Fact or Fiction: LeBron will shoot at least 60 percent against Orlando.

Haberstroh: Fact. Betting against his efficiency feels like a bad gamble these days. I don't see Orlando's defense sans Nik Vucevic giving him problems.

Wallace: Fiction. LeBron has had relative struggles against the Magic, considering he's shot only 50 percent in his two previous games against Orlando this season. Recent turnovers aside, LeBron has been dialed in of late offensively despite the battle with a groin strain.

Windhorst: Fact. First, LeBron is basically a 60 percent shooter this season, so we're looking for an average game. Second, Nik Vucevic is questionable with an ankle injury and if he doesn't play then the Magic won't have their best rim protector.

3. Fact or Fiction: Final time Miami plays Jameer Nelson in a Magic uniform.

Haberstroh: Fact. With the lack of point guard depth at the top of the West, I see Nelson finding an NBA home outside of Orlando for the first time in his career. Golden State could make some sense if they can't get Andre Miller. Not sure if OKC or the Clippers would give up assets for Nelson but they both could use an extra body at point.

Wallace: Fiction. The Magic seem to covet their additional cap space that could make them serious players in summer free agency once Nelson comes off the books after the season. He's spent his entire career in Orlando and insists he wants to ride this out. But considering the team's youth movement, Nelson's time with the Magic appears numbered one way or the other.

Windhorst: Fiction. At $8 million, it's not an easy contract to move even if it's not guaranteed after this season. The Magic will want a first-round pick or a young asset in return and won't be that willing to take on money. That is not a recipe for a likely trade.

The Warriors, who have emerged as a contender in the West, are in town to take on Ray Allen and the Heat.

1. The Heat's top priority in 2014 should be ...

Tom Haberstroh: Winning the championship. And that means putting health above all else. Although the Pacers are gunning for that No. 1 seed for home-court advantage, the Heat shouldn't feel compelled to go all-out. Most conference finals never get to a Game 7. Better to rest Dwyane Wade and float into the No. 2 seed.

Michael Wallace: Three-peat. Winning a championship should be first and foremost on the Heat's to-do list. Of course, there's that other small issue of keeping LeBron James in tow as he considers whether to opt out of his contract at the end of the season to either test free agency outright or to sign a long-term extension with Miami. But the Heat, as a team, have no control over that right now. What they can control is maximizing the moments from now through the Finals in June.

Brian Windhorst: Health, particularly Dwyane Wade's. I will continue to reinforce my feeling that this is the most important facet of the season, ahead of achieving the top seed and developing the Greg Oden experiment. Playing a Game 7 on the road would be tough, but if the Heat have to do it without Wade because of knee problems, I simply don't like their chances.

2. Fact or Fiction: Stephen Curry is the best point guard in the West.

Haberstroh: Fiction. I'll take Chris Paul even though Curry's assists have skyrocketed this season. Paul is the better defender and still keeps his turnovers to a minimum, unlike Curry. The PER gap -- 27.4 for Paul and 23.0 for Curry -- is just too much to overlook. Curry's No. 2 in my book, though.

Wallace: Fiction. But Curry makes a much tougher argument than I initially thought on the surface. Chris Paul still gets the nod as the best point guard in the West. But when you size up their production this season, Curry is only slightly behind at this stage. Counting points and assists, Paul accounts for an estimated 44 points per game; Curry is right at 43. Paul is a better defender because of his ability to disrupt passing lanes, but Curry's overall package has him firmly at the No. 2 spot.

Windhorst: Fiction. Let me say it this way: Fiction! Curry is the best shooter in the West, probably one of the best pure shooters of all time. But Chris Paul is the best point guard in the game as long as LeBron continues to refute that he often essentially plays point guard.

3. Over/Under 11.5: Heat's January win total (won 12 last month).

Haberstroh: Over. Of their 14 games, the Heat have just four games against teams above .500, and one of them is against the Horford-less Hawks. The other three are at home against OKC, San Antonio and Golden State. My fake crystal ball sees a 12-2 January record.

Wallace: Under. Slightly under. The three back-to-back sets (Knicks-Nets, 76ers-Bobcats, Hawks-Celtics) will be tougher than they appear. In addition, the Heat are in a stretch where they will have played 11 of 14 on the road by Jan. 21. And the month ends with home games against San Antonio and Oklahoma City. It will be a tremendous challenge to match December's 11-win total, but an 11-3 month puts them right beneath the "under" and, overall, there's really no shame in that.

Windhorst: Under. They have 14 games this month and more importantly, they have four back-to-backs. That means at least four games without Wade. They also have a six-game Eastern road trip. They have had one home loss per month, so I predict they'll drop one at home, especially with several strong West teams coming in. They're 4-4 when Wade sits the entire game, so figure that in. Unless there's any drama, I see a 10-4 or 11-3 month.

The Heat continue their road trip by visiting the Sacramento Kings, who lost in Miami one week ago. Our 3-on-3 crew previews the rematch.

1. How will LeBron and Dwyane's next lob dunk go down?

Tom Haberstroh: Off the expressway, over the river, off the billboard, through the window, off the wall, nothing but net.

Michael Wallace: There isn't much these two can do to top the lob-and-lefty-finish-off-the-backboard stunt they pulled Christmas Day in L.A. But I totally see something along the lines of Wade attempting to catch a poorly thrown lob from Mario Chalmers, then deflecting the ball in midair to a streaking LeBron for the finishing flush. A double lob throwdown.

Brian Windhorst: Their best dunks to me have always been the touchdown pass variety rather than the 2-on-1 break versions. At some point, Wade is going to leak out on a missed jumper or free throw and LeBron is going to throw him a 90-foot alley-oop. They've been close. But I'm talking backboard-to-backboard pass and slam.

2. Fact or Fiction: DeMarcus Cousins is the third-best player in Friday's game.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Until Cousins learns to play defense, I'm still going with Chris Bosh on this one. And if you don't think Bosh is an above-average defender, you're not paying attention. If Cousins dedicates himself to that end of the floor as much as he does to pouting, then he'll be top 3 in this game.

Wallace: Fiction. But it depends on whether Wade plays or opts to sit out the first game of the back-to-back set with Portland on deck Saturday. If Wade sits, a strong case can be made that Cousins would only take a backseat to LeBron in terms of raw talent, athleticism and overall skill set. Consistency and attitude remain Cousins' biggest challenges.

Windhorst: Fiction. I'm going to use this pulpit to explain that Chris Bosh is, at this moment, a Hall of Fame player. This is a statement that tends to rile people up. It is not a commentary on Bosh's magnificence as much as it is who gets in the Hall of Fame. He's about to make his ninth All-Star team, he has two rings, a gold medal and he's not even 30. Check your history; there are many Hall of Famers without such a résumé. Also, he's one of the best shooting bigs in this era. Sorry, DMC.

3. Over/under: The Heat will score at least 60 points in the paint.

Haberstroh: Over, if Dwyane Wade plays. Under, if he doesn't. Considering this is the first game of a back-to-back and the Heat are playing at Portland on the second night, I'd assume Wade kicks up his feet for this one. If that's the case, it's tough to imagine the Heat getting into the paint as much without him. But anything is possible against the Swiss cheese that is the Sacramento defense.

Wallace: Under. Although the Heat scored a season-high 70 points in the paint when these teams met last week in Miami, these teams tend to get into strange shootouts in Sacramento. Last season saw Chalmers tie a franchise record for made treys. And Kings guard Isaiah Thomas nearly matched him shot-for-shot. This is more likely a game for Miami's 3-point specialists to get on track.

Windhorst: Under. This is not a tip of the cap to the Kings' defense but because Wade, the highest scoring guard in the paint this season, may not play. If I were the Heat, I'd want him playing in Portland tomorrow.

The Hawks (15-12, third in the East), are in Miami to take on the defending champs. Our 3-on-3 crew previews the action.

1. Fact or fiction: Dwyane Wade is having the most impressive homestand of any Heat player.

Tom Haberstroh: Fact. Wade is shooting an amazing 60 percent on the Heat's 4-0 homestand, which would draw more attention if it weren't for LeBron James. Basketball scholars will one day refer to this as the Wade Trade-off.

Michael Wallace: Fiction. Wade certainly makes a great case, considering he has averaged more than 25 points while shooting better than 60 percent from the field the past four games. He’s in a remarkable rhythm. When Wade is healthy, you sort of expect close to those numbers. Just as you expect LeBron to roll out of bed and flirt with a triple-double every game. But Chris Bosh’s play has been the most impressive development. He’s scoring 20.5 points and grabbing 8.5 boards -- a big man consistently playing like a big man. Finally.

Brian Windhorst: Fact. It obviously has been his best four-game run of the season. He looks healthy. He has been moving well. His scoring average is almost back to 20. And, of course, he got engaged.

2. Fact or fiction: Jeff Teague and Al Horford are the best point guard-center starting tandem in the East.

Haberstroh: Fiction. I'm going to go with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Wait, never mind. Hold on, I've got one: Deron Williams and Brook Lopez! Wait. Ugh. Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett! OK, three strikes and I'm out. Let's just go with Jeff Teague and Al Horford. "Fact," I guess. This East is depressing.

Wallace: Fact. As hard as that might seem to believe on the surface, Teague and Horford are about as consistently productive as they come. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are a great tandem, but neither can stay healthy. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah come to mind quickly, but Rose can’t stay on the court, either. John Wall and Nene are legit as well. But Horford is as versatile a center as there is in the NBA, and Teague has become one of the league’s best playmakers now that he’s consistently playing under control.

Windhorst: Fiction. This is a tricky one because there are quite a few point guards and centers who are hurt plus there's some big men who are technically put in positions when they actually aren't. Right now, for example, Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett are a PG/C tandem. Teague and Horford have been good but on any night Nene and John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum and Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond can be dominant.

3. Fact or fiction: The Heat’s early season chemistry/cohesion issues are behind them.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Only because there weren't any chemistry issues to begin with. The early season losses were probably just a mixture of good ol' randomness and November defensive apathy.

Wallace: Fiction. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although Miami has been playing at a high level and has clicked throughout the roster in recent outings, there will be another challenging adjustment to be made once Michael Beasley returns from a hamstring injury that has kept him out most of this month. The Heat's shooters still have work to do to collectively emerge from that recent slump. But LeBron, Wade and Bosh appear to be on top of their respective game right now. And that’s all that ultimately matters.

Windhorst: Fiction. The Heat's issues are never fully behind them. An in-huddle mini-blowup is always just a bad rotation away. This team is used to starting and putting out fires. The only thing they are guaranteed is nothing will be smooth sailing, whether they've won 10 in a row or whether they're behind and in trouble in a playoff series. Both have happened a bunch.