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Monday, December 6, 2010
Heat struggle against good teams. So what?

By Tom Haberstroh

The Heat's poor record against good teams has been a common criticism early this season. But is it all that surprising? The great Tom Ziller of SBNation.com broke down the Heat schedule so far and noted that other elite teams exhibit a similar split:
As the Miami Heat slaughtered another mediocre team in the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, the team has moved its record against squads with losing marks to 10-1. Miami has famously had trouble against teams at .500 or better, going just 2-7 to date.

But as the Lakers have shown this week, it's not a unique problem. The Lakers are now 11-2 against teams under .500 and 2-4 against teams at or above .500. This is not surprising. It's completely logical that most good or great teams will do better against bad opponents than good or great ones. Yet for Miami, it has become a specific dig, that the Heat will beat up on lesser foes (see: the Cleveland game, and the ones against Detroit and Washington before that) and crumble at the feet of its peers.

Have any of the NBA's contenders done especially well against the league's best? San Antonio is 7-2 against good teams, and 8-1 against bad teams. The Celtics are 6-2 against good teams and 8-2 against the bad. The Magic are 5-3 against good teams and 9-1 against the bad. The Hornets are 4-4 against good teams and 9-1 against bad teams. The Mavericks are 6-3 against good teams and 8-1 against the bad. The Jazz are 7-4 against good teams and 8-1 against the bad.

TV broadcasts love to show graphics that show win-loss splits for teams and players. But the implication seems almost insultingly obvious: good teams do better against bad teams and do worse against good teams. And the same goes for players. Duh.

But aside from the discrepancies in talent, the biggest difference between good teams and bad teams is continuity. And that matters. Good teams rarely overhaul their rosters in the offseason and thus, don't have to spend the first half of the season integrating the new additions into the team. The Heat are the exception.

Most elite teams have maintained their strong core from last season. The Lakers still have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom. The Spurs still have Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan. The Magic still have Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, and Jameer Nelson. The Celtics still have Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. The Hornets still have Chris Paul, David West, and Emeka Okafor. The Mavericks still have Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry. The Thunder still have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green.

You get the point.

So, calling attention to the Heat's struggles against good teams oversimplifies the issue. The majority of winning teams already have a long history of playing together and understand their roles on the team. That's a valuable and absent ingredient with this Heat team in the early going.  The Heat need time to brew their chemistry but that excuse won't last long. If their record against quality opponents does not improve as the season goes on, then we can start worrying. But it's too early now.

And a little clarification about that record. Ziller is not the only writer to cite the Heat's 2-7 record against teams .500 or better, but we should clear it up that the Heat have, in fact, three victories against winning teams, not two. The Heat have beaten the Magic (15-5), the Suns (11-9), and most recently, the Hawks (13-8). While everyone started ripping the Heat about their 1-7 record against winning teams late last week, the Suns have won three straight since Thursday to push themselves two games above .500. Admittedly, it's something I didn't notice until this morning.