It happened last night against the Los Angeles Lakers. It happened in both of the Miami Heat’s wins over the Utah Jazz. It happened in a Dec. 15 road win over the Philadelphia 76ers. It even happened in a New Year’s Eve game against the Houston Rockets.
The Heat build a huge lead, then squander it before doing enough to come away with a victory. In these games, opposing teams get hot from 3 and make Heat fans nervous about losing a game they’ve dominated for most of the night.
In an article earlier this month, Couper Moorhead said that, “The thing about those stretches is Miami’s defense doesn’t really change or get worse when they happen, they happen almost specifically because Miami’s defense doesn’t change.” The Heat construct their defense to bring help from the perimeter to close out driving lanes; that’s why the Heat surrender the highest 3-point attempt rate in the league.
Now, last night’s game was a bit different. Yes, Avery Bradley made some 3s. But the Lakers also stormed back with Russell Westbrook and LeBron James driving to the rim. Additionally, some of the Heat’s breakdowns were on offense — Miami didn’t run the crisp actions to simply score enough to maintain the lead. Having Kyle Lowry back should help that, as should a bucket-getter like Tyler Herro.
The good news, of course, is that the Heat have often still won these games. (In a Nov. 20 game at the Washington Wizards, Miami led by 16 in the third quarter and by 10 with 4:40 left before losing 103-100.) Although the Heat hold the top seed in the East, the fourth-place Milwaukee Bucks are only a game back. The sixth-place Sixers are just two-and-a-half games back. Holding off these furious rallies (and building big leads in the first place) have put the Heat at the top of their conference.
Teams work through issues during the regular season. Miami can work the rest of the season on avoiding these close calls so that the playoffs are different. And sometimes, the furious rally never comes — as when the Heat built a big lead over the Phoenix Suns Jan. 8 and never went into jeopardy of losing it. But Sunday’s win was a reminder that despite holding the top seed, the Heat still have work to do.