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Miami Heat surge in Power Rankings after quickening their pace

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Power rankings by ESPN and Washington Post give the Miami Heat newfound respect as title contenders.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Both ESPN and the Washington Post bumped the Miami Heat up in their power rankings. Marc Stein raised the Heat one spot to the eighth, while Tim Bontemps at the Washington Post placed the Heat third in his rankings. Both attributed the improved play to the team's increased offensive punch.

SportsVu tracking numbers back up gut feelings about the recent uptick in scoring of the Miami Heat. Lead by Goran Dragic and the youthful infusion of energy by rooks 1 and 2, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, the Heat's pace has noticeably increased, as verified by SportsVu statistics .

Average Speed Overall Offense Defense Off-Def % Diff
Goran Dragic 4.37 4.87 3.86 1.01 20.74%
Josh Richardson 4.34 4.49 4.16 0.33 7.35%
Tyler Johnson 4.25 4.57 3.92 0.65 14.22%
Luol Deng 4.24 4.53 3.94 0.59 13.02%
Gerald Green 4.17 4.40 3.95 0.45 10.23%
Justise Winslow 4.16 4.35 3.97 0.38 8.74%
Josh McRoberts 4.10 4.63 3.56 1.07 23.11%
Joe Johnson 4.10 4.52 3.66 0.86 19.03%
Dwyane Wade 4.02 4.36 3.65 0.71 16.28%
Amar'e Stoudemire 3.95 4.10 3.79 0.31 7.56%
Hassan Whiteside 3.86 4.03 3.70 0.33 8.19%
Udonis Haslem 3.79 4.02 3.54 0.48 11.94%
Chris Bosh 3.75 4.04 3.47 0.57 14.11%
Average 4.08 4.38 3.78 0.60 13.60%

The speediest player on defense is Richardson, followed by Winslow, Green, Deng and T. Johnson. Surprisingly Bosh is the slowest to get back, followed by Haslem, McRoberts, Wade and J. Johnson.

On offense SportsVu speed numbers shows Dragic is a jackrabbit, with McRoberts, T. Johnson, Deng and J. Johnson next in line. The slowest members offensively are Bosh, Haslem, Whiteside and Stoudemire, which is usually the case for big men on a team.

An ultra-fast small-ball lineup would feature McRoberts at the 5, which he played with the Pacers, along with Deng, Richardson, J. Johnson and Dragic. This untested combination might work against teams who base their defense on stopping the Whiteside/Stoudemire combo.

Because coach Erik Spoelstra emphasizes the Heat's defensive identity, the difference between the offense and defense speed numbers hints why McRoberts hasn't seen much floor time recently. His defensive effort (speed) lags way behind his speed on offense (23%), although McRoberts has displayed many talents over the years, from dunking to assisting.

The speed numbers confirm that the Heat do, in fact, play faster without Bosh on the court. Most people claim Wade also loves a slow half-court game, yet a recent highlight dunk demonstrates he can sprint and adapt to a faster game when called upon.

Speed alone doesn't win games, because the two fastest teams in the NBA are the lowly Magic and 76ers. Surprisingly the Spurs are third speediest team, while the Warriors are in the middle of the pack at number thirteen. But on the defensive side the Warriors are dead last in the NBA with a speed of 3.69 mph: they are not fast in getting back on defense.

An explanation for the Warriors success might be that basketballs move faster than players. Instead of them moving around a lot, they let the ball do the traveling for them. The key to success in that scheme is limiting turnovers and pick-sixes. In theory, ball movement sounds wonderful, but mindless passes and brick hands lead to easy points for the other team.

Numbers tell the story of the Heat's increased offensive punch playing small without Bosh after the All-Star break. Picking up Joe Johnson helped tremendously, with the team off to a perfect 5-0 with him. If not for contributions, the results may not have been as impressive.

Rebounding is another important ingredient in the team's current success, although Bosh was one of their top rebounders. Amazingly the team is able make up for his lost numbers with an enhanced collective effort among the healthy players.

The team already matched last season's dismal win total with 19 games to go. Now the question remains whether fatigue sets in, or if there is enough juice left in tank for a successful end to the season.