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This one key could unlock Miami reaching the playoffs this season

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The Miami Heat have been inconsistent this season, but one common ingredient often spells the difference between winning and losing: defense in the first half at home.

NBA: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat have a winning road record, yet can’t seem to hold their own at home. What is it about South Beach that makes the team chill out in the Florida sunshine, yet have opponents come into town and take care of business?

Overall the Heat’s vaulted Defensive Rating (DefRtg) of 105.0 lies at 8th of 15 Eastern Conference teams, sandwiched between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls. Because the Heat play at the slowest pace, 97.05, in the East, they allow and score less points then other teams. So while figures show the Heat’s defense allows fewer points in game than most teams, that’s because they play at a pace from the last century.

Their DefRtg difference between wins and losses tells another story: they have a 97.5 rating in wins and a 113.5 one in losses. Going further into home versus road stats, a DefRtg of 98.2 in home and 97.0 in road WINS, contrasts with a horrendous figure of 116.2 at home and 110.2 on the road in their LOSSES. The Heat play the worst defense of any Eastern Conference team at home, 116.2, when they lose. The lack of a detailed and meticulous plan on defense for EVERY HOME game, with no exceptions allowed, reveals the root cause of their problems this season.

Besides the lottery defense Miami sometimes plays at home, another overlooked stat highlights a failure to adjust after halftime to mount a comeback, in their home losses. By halftime they had an OffRtg of 109.3 and DefRtg of 118.0, for a modest average NetRtg deficit of -8.6. In the second half the team’s offense totally collapses when it’s losing: OffRtg 90.6 and DefRtg 114.5, for an East worst -23.9 NetRtg after halftime in front of the home fans.

What’s the key to reversing their losing record at home? In their home wins the Heat started games with the East’s third-best DefRtg at 94.8 in the first half. Strangely at home their DefRtg dropped to a fourth-worst 101.6 after intermission: even while winning Miami’s defense let’s up a bit. In their road wins the Heat had DefRtg of 96.3 in first half and 97.6 in second, i.e. a drop of just 1.3 on the road, versus the bigger 6.8 drop in defensive focus at home.

The Miami Heat have one of the best road records in the East, yet they go into home games unprepared to face an enemy ready to take advantage of any weakness. Home cooking may be too comfy when nobody dares to play the Devil’s Advocate after last season’s miraculous finish.

Being surrounded by friendly faces in Miami hasn’t unleashed the fire players need to protect loved ones at home. Perhaps the time has come for Heat players to see opponents for what they really are: guys whose only purpose is take away what Miami fans cherish most, going home feeling good about a win.

The absolute commitment to sending fans home with a winning experience begins by the Miami Heat playing the best 48-minute defense in the NBA at the American Airlines Arena, from start to finish.