The substandard defense the Heat were providing to start the 2012-13 was a strange development. Since before the "big three" era and during it, Miami has usually been one of the better defenses in the NBA.
There was a sentiment that this unusual lack of defense was only a post championship slumber and not a sign of decline in any way. I happened to think part of it was the Heat's commitment to the wrinkles in the offense they built since last postseason, which inadvertently may have caused some lack of focus to the defensive side of the ball.
I wrote about this after a loss at Washington on Dec. 4 here. Diego Quezada added some more thoughts a few days later here.
After a Dec. 7 blowout at the hands of the New York Knicks, Miami's defense was ranked in the 20's in Defensive Rating, a metric that rates how many points a team allows per 100 possessions.
But since then? We have seen Miami's defense clamp down considerably, including the team's beating of Dallas 110-95 last night.
HEAT DEFENSE BY THE NUMBERS
Since allowing over 100 points to opponents in 11 of the team's first 17 games, the Heat haven't allowed a 100-point game in six contests. In games against the Hornets, Wizards, Warriors, Hawks, Timberwolves and Mavericks, the Heat held opponents to 42 percent shooting (206-of-488). If that were the Heat's Opponent Field Goal Percentage on the season, they would be on the heels of the Pacers for the league lead in the category.
Aside from the last two games, team's are still letting it fly and converting 3-pointers at a high rate against the Heat, but that has always been a symptom the the style of team defense the Heat play. The team overcame the window they allow shooters to have by packing the paint and swallowing easy shot opportunities for people and owning the glass.
They're still working on getting the rebounding back to their championship levels, but encouraging more misses from the opponent is the first step.
Miami's defense is now ranked 14th in Defensive Rating on the season, and Miami's 43.9 Opponent Field Goal Percentage is 9th in the league.
An early season issue is in the process of regressing to the mean, an expected relief for the Heat moving forward.
Wondering why this is happening?
The moving of Joel Anthony to the front court rotation instead of Rashard Lewis is part of it. So is Norris Cole's development into a defensive critter than savages opposing point guards.
But all along, this hasn't been a system or a coaching issue. These players are familiar with the system and have defended at a high level before as a unit, and you don't need a visual breakdown to know that they lacked intensity in their rotations when they struggled, and simply weren't discouraging penetration or closing out as hard as they have in the past. You hate to say a team can rely on 'turning it on,' but this team has kind of 'turned it on' here.
And It may be off and on until the playoffs at times. But it should mostly be on going forward.