After 5 easy ones, breaking down all 82

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
2:51
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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After beating the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night, the Miami Heat wrapped up their easiest stretch of the season so far. Four of their previous five opponents currently have a win percentage of 35 percent or lower. They won all five games by double-digits.

So I was curious: was their most recent cupcake stretch the easiest the Heat will face all season?

To find out, I calculated the average win percentage of their every 5 and 10-game stretch on a rolling basis. I then color coded the chart to make it easier to digest and more fun to read. For reference, the color reflects the strength of schedule (blue=easy, red=difficult). You’ll see below that the recent stretch had a .391 average win percentage over the trailing 5 games, the lowest of the season.


On the flipside, we see that the Heat didn’t fare well on their most difficult 10-game stretch of the season, culminating in their 106-95 loss to the Mavericks. The Heat lost six games during their rough slate at the end of November during which the average win percentage of their opponents was .556.


So what lies ahead? Let’s take a look.

The Heat should be thankful that their first stint on the West coast includes Golden State and Sacramento, two of the bottom feeders in the conference. Otherwise, it could have been a grueling cross-country trip for the Heat.

But just in time to show their holiday spirit, we see a string of red surrounding Christmas as the Heat face the Mavericks, Suns, Lakers, and Knicks in a span of eight days. How tough that stretch actually is ultimately hinges on the legitimacy of the Knicks. Right now, armed with a 13-9 record, the Knicks look like stiff competition. But if they hit a rough patch and fall below .500, they would kick off the Heat's easy street through the New Year which potentially could have the Heat playing eight straight games against losing teams. As of today, it stands at seven games, with the last five on the road.

What's also interesting is that the Heat not only face the Bucks in consecutive games in early January, but those games also come at a time when Miami has a picnic schedule -- just like we just saw. The Heat's strength of schedule dips to a new 5-game low-point (.357) in Los Angeles when they face off against the 5-17 Clippers on January 12. But after that, the Heat can't coast anymore.

This above section of the Heat schedule takes the Heat to the All-Star break. What’s notable about it? The alternating competition. Unless some weaker opponents improve dramatically, the Heat won’t face a winning team in consecutive games until after All-Star weekend.


Amazingly, the Heat have five back-to-backs and they follow the same sequence of Good Team then Bad Team. Knicks then Pistons. Thunder then Cavs. Magic then Bobcats. Pacers then Raptors. Bulls then Wizards. No, there's no conspiracy to pamper the Heat but that's an incredibly fortuitous chain of back-to-backs for Miami.

Any suspicions of rigged scheduling will quickly be squashed by what follows:


The Big 3 would be wise to keep the All-Star parties to a minimum if they want to save themselves from a potentially mean hangover after the break. What a stretch. It's unlikely, but certainly possible, that the Heat have ten straight games against winning teams to begin March -- that's if Portland and Memphis pick it up. Nonetheless, we'll learn a lot about the team's championship credentials in March. Fortunately for the Heat, all but two of the deathmatches will be played at their home court. And given the crowds at AmericanAirlines Arena, that should only push the needle slightly in the Heat's favor.

After hosting the Nuggets on March 19, the Heat will welcome the easiest stretch of their season. Of their last 12 games of the season, only Boston and Atlanta currently have records above .400 so the Heat could plausibly finish the season on a 12-game win streak. And judging from the gauntlet they face in early March, they'll probably need to go on a big run.

Ultimately, the Heat's recent five-game stretch ranks as one of their easiest of the season but certainly not the cakewalk they'll experience at the tale end of the season. One thing is clear: the Heat's season will be a rollercoaster. Strap yourselves in.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dwyane Wade
PTS AST STL MIN
21.6 5.5 1.1 32.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsC. Bosh 7.6
AssistsD. Wade 5.5
StealsM. Chalmers 1.6
BlocksH. Whiteside 2.0