How Miami Heat Can Avoid Becoming Own Worst Enemy in Playoffs

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IApril 25, 2013

Pau Gasol capped a 12-5 run by nailing an open jump shot.
Pau Gasol capped a 12-5 run by nailing an open jump shot.Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

If there has ever been a team with the potential to defeat the Miami Heat, it's usually been the team wearing the same exact uniform.

When you look at the Miami Heat's regular season schedule and take a look at those 16 losses, you'll come to the revelation that this team was entirely capable of beating the Chicago Bulls' 72-10 record.

Look back to their lackadaisical effort in an early-season loss to the Washington Wizards, the poor execution in the final minutes in losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors, and both losses to the Chicago Bulls, facilitated by a deficiency of energy on the boards and succumbing to elite shooting from non-elite shooters.

Those losses were an indictment on Miami's outlook on the regular season.

Although it's believed the Heat were capable of breaking the Bulls' 72-10 record or the Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game winning streak, there was always the belief that the Heat simply didn't care enough to achieve feats that had no relation to the postseason.

However, judging by the first two games of the postseason, the Heat appear to be shaking off the cobwebs of the first season.

A combined 33 turnovers, 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc and below-average play from seemingly every player on the floor, Miami still hasn't turned on that proverbial switch everyone speaks of when discussing the Heat in playoff form.

Alas, the Heat are up 2-0 and have done it with ease. Even though the Bucks were within single-digits late into the third quarter of Game 1 and going into the fourth quarter in Game 2, the game was never in doubt; the Heat recognize that it only takes one two-minute run to put away a team like Milwaukee.

Take Game 2 for instance. A sluggish third quarter by Miami led to a mere three-point margin going into the fourth, offering the seemingly unfathomable possibility of the Bucks possibly stealing a game on the Heat's own court.

It wasn't too far-fetched of an idea. Although it was in the regular season, Milwaukee played Miami to the final seconds in the Heat's 113-106 overtime win in their first meeting.

Plus, with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis struggling with their shot over the first 36 minutes, perhaps there was the chance they could get hot over the final 12 and go into the Bradley Center for two games brimming with confidence and smelling upset.

Miami went into the fourth quarter up 68-65. The game was over two minutes, twenty seconds later as the Heat held an insurmountable 80-65 lead.

The lineup that enabled the run had only one member of the 'Big Three' on the floor in LeBron James. The scariest part of the run was James only contributing two points. Norris Cole and Chris Andersen (seriously) contributed ten points in the critical 12-0 run, capped off by Cole's three-pointer.

The Bucks never got it back within single-digits and Miami's lead would reach as high as 19.

Miami knows they're better than Milwaukee, which is why it only took a two minute stretch of basketball to convert the Bucks' hopes into desperation heading into Games 3 and 4.

Oh, the Heat are absolutely guilty of continuing to play regular season basketball.

The defense gave up only 86 points in Game 2, but still allowed it to be done with the Bucks hitting half of their shots. Meanwhile, Miami managed only 45 percent shooting and saw 13 of their 19 three-point attempts clang off the rim.

The Heat have improved their defensive rebounding and are performing an excellent job at chasing the Bucks off the three-point line (shooting 27 and 22 percent, respectively, in their first two games), but there is still much to be desired from a Miami team that has been guilty in the past of easing off the gas pedal, even if they're in the playoffs.

Back in 2011, the Heat saw dreams of a sweep diminish after failing to close out the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4, capped off by Jrue Holiday and Louis Williams' three-pointers. Game 2 against Dallas may be the greatest example, as Miami completely ditched the execution that was beating the Mavericks and replaced it with one-dimensional, isolation plays.

There's no doubt the Heat are going to end up winning at least two of the next five games from Milwaukee. They've lost four games since the beginning of February and have more wins in that stretch than the Bucks won all season.

However, there is always the possibility Miami comes slow out of the gate, Milwaukee ends up feeding off their upset-driven crowd, and, suddenly, we're in a close game in the waning minutes.

Those are not the type of moments you want to give to a young team that has nothing to lose. With teams like these, they need to have their spirits broken and confidence taken away from them.

Miami can do that to teams like Indiana and Oklahoma City, but are the sub-500 Bucks worth the same amount of time and effort the Heat will possibly end up devoting to teams like the Pacers or Thunder?

Look, Miami hasn't played good basketball this postseason thus far. While the Bucks have done a fair job at disrupting the Heat's offense, Miami is still up 2-0 with an average margin of victory of nearly 18.

This, despite LeBron James struggling for 18 points on 14 shots and Chris Bosh scoring only 10 in a 12-point Game 2 victory. Also, a combined 5-of-25 shooting from Ray Allen and Shane Battier, the Heat's two best spot-up shooters, according to SynergySports.

I have long said that the only team that can beat the Heat is the Heat themselves. That includes the 2011 NBA Finals, where LeBron took an early vacation and the team flat-out refused to increase Chris Bosh's role in the offense despite James' on-the-court absence.

Give credit to Dallas in that series for bothering LeBron to the point of the worst basketball of his life, but it would be tough to believe that LeBron's brain wasn't his greatest competition that series.

The Heat have made it to the NBA Finals with Eddie House as one of the top bench contributors and have won an NBA title with their second and third best players both dealing with injuries. If Miami fails to win the title this year with overwhelmingly the best roster they've had in the 'Big Three' era, it's going to end up falling entirely on them.

But if we use the evidence that is the past two Miami Heat postseasons, then they're going to play as a championship team when need be. Even when short-handed, they have found ways to adjust and overcome. There is no quit in this team, not even in the most dire of situations.

To see the Heat continuing to play as they have in the first two playoff games in later rounds would be new to the world. This is the season they signed up for, and it reflects in every member of the Heat rotation "resting" two weeks in advance of the start of the playoffs.

The three All-Stars didn't leave cities that were enamored with them, millions of dollars and being primary options just to win a title and be satisfied. Each member of the team recognizes who and what is surrounding them, and they recognize they are in the midst of creating something that may have never been witnessed before in the modern era of the NBA.

This team has squandered opportunities and knows about it, too. Don't think so? LeBron James completely reinvented his game after losing to Dallas. Is it any coincidence LeBron has had the two highest shooting-percentages of his career since then?

The entire Heat franchise was humbled by that loss, which is why losing the 2011 NBA Finals may have been the most significant and necessary event in order to create Pat Riley's vision of a dynasty.

To be humbled is to feel mortal, vulnerable even. It's Icarus getting too close to the sun. It's hubris, containing too much pride and failing to realize that you, too, are still as human as the rest of us.

Miami has felt this pain worse than any other team, once you consider the pedestal the Heat were placed upon in the months leading up to their loss. They flew too close to the sun (celebrating with eight minutes left in an NBA Finals game) when they knew they weren't supposed to and they met their fate through a fall to earth. 

The Heat are aware of who and what they are, and they have their darkest hours to thank for it. To see Miami lack the same type of intensity and ambition they had in last year's championship run would be the cause of a lack of memory.

There are quite a few players on this team who are aware they should have either their second or third rings. They want to make sure they don't leave with that same feeling of vacancy and humility.


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