How the Heat Can Get Back on Track in March
After a rocky February, the Miami Heat enter March looking to secure a top-four seed in the East and homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. The Heat have already started the month off right with impressive wins over the world-beating Milwaukee Bucks and in-state rival Orlando Magic.
Still, there are 12 games to go in March and the Heat have a few areas they need to shore up to make this a winning month.
It’s no secret the famous Miami Heat defense has been largely absent this season. Currently 14th in defensive rating, the Heat have spent most of the season as below league-average defense. After posting a 105.0 defensive rating in November, Miami has slipped considerably. The team had a 113.7 defensive rating in February.
Part of the regression has been the injury bug, as well as the departure of Justice Winslow. Another issue is how much Miami has relied on rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, both of whom are still inexperienced as the NBA level.
The trade deadline acquisition of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala was done in part to help improve the defense. As those two get acclimated with Miami’s system, and with Nunn and Herro gaining more experience, Miami can hopefully get its defense back up to standards. The Heat have been winning games through offensive might, but need to regain its defense-first mentality.
Another not-so secret area Miami has struggled is playing on the road. While Miami is a dominant home team (27-4 record), the team is a below .500 team while away (13-18 record).
The Heat offensive and defensive ratings are 116.9 and 107.9 at home, respectively. On the road, those numbers slip to 108.2 and 111.3, with a ghastly -3.1 net rating away.
Like with defense, a big problem for the Heat is their reliance on young players like Nunn, Herro, and Duncan Robinson. Young players typically perform better at home and worse on the road compared to older, more experienced players. Robinson, for example, is shooting a solid 38.0 percent from three on the road, but an absurd 51.4 percent at home. That kind of swing can decide a game - or a series.
That all said, there’s no easy solution to this beyond executing on the road like they do at home. This one will be the hardest for Miami to fix.
Last on the Heat’s checklist for the month: Get healthy and used to the Heat’s system. Crowder and Iguodala have been playing heavy minutes for Miami since the trade deadline, but still need to better learn Miami’s system. As veteran players, there shouldn’t be much worry about their ability to adjust, but it will take time.
Herro and starter Meyers Leonard have missed almost a month each with injuries. Getting those two healthy will make the Heat that much more dangerous to play against. Though rotations tighten in the playoffs, having a deep rotation helps tremendously in winning regular season games.
March looms as a critical month for the Heat’s goal to have homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. Between defense, performance on the road, and deepening their rotation, the Heat have several areas they can improve upon to make this a winning month. We’re in the home stretch now, all that’s left is to execute.