MIAMI – Just when it appeared the Miami Heat were emerging from a sluggish start to the season, they stumbled through yet another stunning loss to cap the week, this time to Boston on a Jeff Green 3-pointer at the buzzer.
While it's still way too soon to sound the panic alarm, the two-time defending champs are disturbingly inconsistent. As they carry a 4-3 record into the coming week's three-game slate against Milwaukee, Dallas and Charlotte, we examine five things we learned about the Heat over the past week that are worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
1. No defense for Heat's defensive doldrums
So exactly how do you shoot 58 percent overall from the field, 50 percent on 3-pointers, outscore the opponent 23-9 from the free throw line, get a combined 63 points, 18 assists and 18 rebounds from LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade -- and still lose?
Apparently, the answer is simple.
“We never got in any rhythm on defense,” Bosh said in the aftermath of Saturday's 111-110 loss to the Celtics. “We aren't playing really good defense right now through the whole season. We have to fix it. That's uncharacteristic of this team; just something we have to fight through.”
The Heat are yet again fighting that battle from the bottom third of the league standings in several defensive categories, including last in rebounding. Miami is also failing to generate very many transition points off turnovers, an area where it has been dominant in the past.
According to ESPN.com statistical research, the Heat rank first in the league in offensive efficiency, but are tied for 25th in defensive efficiency. They've set a franchise record by scoring at least 100 points through the first seven games, but are also giving up 100.9 points per game this season.
If the Heat spent the bulk of their training camp focused on defense, as players and coaches insisted, it's not showing. At least not yet. But Miami also started last season with these same issues, gradually corrected them and won a title.
2. LeBron shouldering load with ailing back
For the better part of James' past two seasons in Miami, he seemed nearly indestructible as he stormed through two title runs and an Olympics while collecting every MVP award and gold medal that was available. But now, as James battles recurring back soreness that has bothered him since training camp, we're reminded he's mortal after all.
While one can hardly tell by his overall numbers -- James has averaged 26 points, 8 assists and 6.3 rebounds his past three games -- the back has affected his agility.
“It's just not to a point where I feel like I can't be productive,” said James, who continues to get treatment daily on his back. “For me, if I'm able to go out and help our team win, then I'm going to be in uniform. That's always been the case with me. If I can hurt the team being out there, then I won't play. If I can help them, I will play.”
A slight break in the schedule this week could give James an opportunity to rest and focus on treatment. The Heat were off Sunday and resume practice Monday. After Tuesday's home game against Milwaukee, the Heat then have another two days off before Dallas visits Friday.
James has a regimen in place.
“Just treating it,” he said. “On off days, resting it -- the same thing I've been doing over the years. And I go from there.”
3. Ray regrets ex-Celtics' silent treatment
The season is only two weeks old, and Allen has already faced former teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, now with the Brooklyn Nets, and ex-coach Doc Rivers, who left Boston for the Los Angeles Clippers. Fittingly, the Celtics arrived in Miami on Saturday.
Allen took a moment before Saturday's game to greet several Boston staffers, but he said he regrets things have grown to the point where Garnett and Pierce are no longer on speaking terms with him, at least.
“They haven't said anything to me,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, every one of us made what we felt was the best decision for our careers and our families.”
Allen suggested that the only difference between his departure from Boston as a free agent in the summer of 2012 and the departures of Rivers, Garnett and Pierce in separate trades or compensation packages was that he accepted sooner that a breakup was inevitable in Boston.
“The bad thing probably for the team was that we played so long,” Allen said, referring to a five-year run that included a title in 2008 and two Finals appearances. “If you look at what was being told to me and what wasn't being told, all signs pointed to somewhat of a breakup at some point. Me being here, I put myself in the best situation I thought.”
4. Beasley bound for rotation breakthrough
Michael Beasley is doing his best to make it extremely difficult for coach Erik Spoelstra to keep him on the bench and out of the Heat's primary playing rotation.
For the second time in three games, Beasley entered the game and provided instant offense. After hitting a pair of 3-pointers in a four-minute stint Tuesday in Toronto, Beasley finished with 10 points in eight minutes against the Celtics.
In both instances, Beasley took advantage of a frontcourt starter sitting out. Bosh missed Tuesday's game in Toronto following the birth of his daughter, and Udonis Haslem sat out Saturday with back spasms. Spoelstra has typically used 10 players in his rotation this season. When everyone has been available, the coach has preferred to use Rashard Lewis essentially as the 10th man ahead of Beasley.
“I'm just trying to wait my turn, and do my job when my number is called,” Beasley said. “It's not like I'm playing behind some rookies or young guys. I'm playing behind established guys and future Hall of Famers.”
Saturday represented a big step for Beasley, whose stint came alongside James and Wade as both Heat stars deferred to Beasley's hot hand on offense. However, offense hasn't been the Heat's problem this season.
5. Juicy free-agency speculation -- not
With Savannah James soon opening a juice bar business in Miami, there's already wishful thinking in South Florida that her venture will influence her husband to stay with the Heat when he can become a free agent next summer.
But the newlywed couple insist their business matters are completely separate. LeBron James also owns a fashion and gadget boutique in a Miami-area mall. The juice bar is simply Savannah's latest philanthropic and business project to occupy her time while her husband plays basketball. Two seasons ago, she was busy helping the family adjust to the move from Ohio to Miami. Last season, she spent significant time planning the couple's September wedding. But the juice business had always been on the back burner.
“That's all her,” LeBron James said. “I don't want to take nothing away from her. It's great that she's living a healthy lifestyle. I think it started when we got down here. She wanted to be more active and fit, and that's part of it.”