Regular season matchups are terrible predictors of post-season series. Last year the Celtics had taken three of four regular season games from the Heat but fell in the playoffs. The season before the Lakers had taken two of three late in the season from the Mavericks only to get swept out of the playoffs. And there are many, many more examples from just recent seasons.
So in that sense, the way the Miami Heat easily tossed aside the Indiana Pacers on Sunday — a team I think may be the most difficult matchup out of the East for Miami on paper — still isn’t really a statement. The Pacers had beat the Heat a couple times already this season but that didn’t mean anything Sunday and will not mean anything come May.
This one game wasn’t any more of a statement than the previous 17 Heat games. We can try to read too much into one game when those games rarely are the full picture in and of themselves.
The statement is the 18 wins in a row.
The statement is simply that when the Heat are focused — particularly focused on the defensive end — it really doesn’t matter who they play.
Don’t expect the Heat to sweep through the playoffs, but the statement the 18 games makes is good luck beating them four out of seven.
It’s not one game or one win. But of the eight teams that have won 18 in a row or more in the regular season, five went on to win the title. That’s the statement.
Defensive pressure — to hold the other team in check and create turnovers leading to easy transition baskets — is at the heart of the Heat scheme. With the athleticism of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, with the quickness of Mario Chalmers, the smart play of Shane Battier and the energy of Chris Andersen off the bench, the Heat have the potential to overwhelm an offense. But Miami doesn’t always bring that needed eff0rt, which is why they looked beatable early in the season. With their style of play, if the Heat don’t bring the needed energy consistently their defense is pretty good but not great. On the season, they are giving up 101.2 points per 100 possessions, ninth best in the league.
But in the last 10 games that is down to 99 points allowed per 100 possessions, In the last five down to 94 per 100, fifth best in the league for that stretch. All the while their offense scores at a rate of around 110 points per 100 (they are second best in the NBA on the season).
When the defensive focus is there, the Heat do overwhelm teams.
Miami’s streak could go on a while if they maintain their focus. Tuesday night they get a Hawks team that has some size inside but may struggle on the perimeter against the Heat. After that comes a five-game road trip that includes a Bucks team with a few shooters capable of getting hot (hello Monta Ellis), and a Celtics team that also defends well (and Boston gets Miami on the second night of a back-to-back). Plus, on the road teams like the Raptors have a way of rising up and playing their best.
It’s also really easy to see the streak reaching 29, when they would face the Spurs in San Antonio. The Spurs are at team with the ability to handle pressure on the perimeter and expose aggressive defenses because they move the ball and move off the ball well — it’s hard to recover on them.
And that game still will be meaningless if the Heat and Spurs were to meet in the NBA finals.
The message would already have been sent. It would still simply be about the streak and what it means to the rest of the league.