The Miami HEAT have been a confounding team in recent weeks. They've struggled, even as Dwyane Wade looks as healthy as he has since 2011, as Ray Allen has seen his three-point shooting start to regress to his career 40% mark, and Chris Anderson looks like the player who is top 25 in the league in terms of Win Shares/48, Wins Produced/48, RAPM and the league high mark for Offensive rating.
The team dropped 7 of 11 contests before their extremely close win over the Portland Trail Blazers and frustrations have began to seep out as a solution, or even an explanation, has been difficult to find.
A lot of people have had theories as to what the root of Miami's struggles are. LeBron James' broken nose, apathy or an underlying strife between star players have all been offered as possible reasons the HEAT haven't looked the part of championship contender for the better part of a month.
But one of the few things that doesn't often get mentioned is perhaps the simplest, most understandable explanation.
The Miami HEAT have played a brutal schedule over the past few weeks.
While the quality of opponents has been high, and this is generally the root of schedule-based slumps, Miami's bigger problem has been the quantity of games and the time span in which they've been played. When the HEAT took to the floor Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers it was the second consecutive stretch of five contests in seven nights. Over their last 12 games, Miami has played four sets of backs-to-backs. None of those back-to-backs featured two home games. That's the kind of scheduling anomaly that can put any team in a funk.
Miami hasn't had more than one day off between games since a two-day break between road games at San Antonio and Chicago. The Spurs game was the third in four nights. At Chicago, while coming off two days rest, Miami was playing what was the last game of a four-games-in-six-nights stint while also being the first game of a second four-in-six run. Prior to this, Miami hadn't had more than one day off since defeating the Knicks on February 27th before playing against Orlando March 1st.
However you wanna do the counting, this has been a barrage of games that would stall any team. Add to all of this that the HEAT have played four teams that are already at 40+ wins and six teams that are currently seeded for the playoffs and this slide becomes a lot more understandable.
The scary thing for HEAT fans is that there is no end in sight. Miami will not have more than one day between games for the rest of the regular season. The next five days alone feature two teams with 45+ wins and a back-to-back to close out the three road games this week. At the end of the regular season, Miami will not have had two consecutive off-days at home in a month and a half. It could soon seem that this slide will not end and that Miami's problems are a systemic flaw.
The one light at the end of the tunnel for the HEAT is that there is usually about three days off between the end of the regular season and the first game of the playoffs. Miami has also on average received about 5 days rest between the first and second round in recent history. Also, let's not forget that there are thankfully no back-to-backs in the playoffs.
The HEAT are a prime candidate for the team that 'gets hot' in the playoffs simply by virtue of having fresh legs. This team is not long removed from looking dominant in winning 11 of 12, many of which came against West playoff teams.
Fatigue was always going to be an issue for a team that has averaged 100+ games a season for three and now a half years.
Fortunately for Miami these struggles are coming in March, where there is a chance to get a second wind, and not when running out of gas will doom you in May.