BOSTON – It’s streak vs. streak on ESPN Friday (8 p.m. ET), when the Miami Heat, winners of 12 straight games, host the Memphis Grizzlies, winners of eight straight.
The Heat have seemingly flipped the switch after coasting through the first half of the season. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have found their legs after losing three of their first four games in the wake of the Rudy Gay trade.
The two streaks have been quite different. One has been a result of ridiculously efficient offense, while the other has come with some stifling D. And you can probably guess which is which.
The Heat … are hot
Led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Heat offense seemingly can’t be stopped. Over their last 12 games, they’ve scored an amazing 117.5 points per 100 possessions to take over the No. 1 spot in offensive efficiency for the season.
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Crazy note: The Heat rank only second in NetRtg over the course of their winning streak. Thanks to a few blowouts, the Thunder (7-3 since Feb. 3) have had a better point differential and the Pacers (8-3) are just a hair behind Miami.
The Heat’s shooting during the streak has been pretty ridiculous. James has shot 65 percent, while Wade and Chris Bosh have each shot better than 53 percent. Four different guys have attempted at least 40 threes and shot them at 40 percent or better.
That kind of shooting just isn’t fair, and it’s been the the most important aspect of the Heat’s offensive improvement. But we shouldn’t overlook a decrease in turnovers, from 14.6 per 100 possessions before the streak to just 12.8 over the last 12 games.
Not only has the streak taken the Heat to No. 1 in offensive efficiency this season, but it has them among the top offenses of the last 36 seasons. They’re scoring 8.1 points per 100 possessions more than the league average, a difference that ranks third among all teams since the league started counting turnovers in 1977.
Biggest difference, team vs. league OffRtg, since 1977-78
The Heat have played four top 10 defenses during the streak, but they’ve also played six bottom-10 defenses. In their last two games, against No. 28 Cleveland and No. 30 Sacramento, the Heat and their opponents have combined to score about 119 points per 100 possessions.
Miami’s last loss came against the Pacers, the only team that ranks higher defensively than Friday’s opponent.
Grizzlies’ defense only getting better
The Grizzlies have actually improved on both ends of the floor…
But they’ve scored less than a point per possession in each of their last three games, including an ugly 76-72 victory in Brooklyn on Sunday. So while there’s more of a difference in their offensive numbers, there’s been more consistency from the D.
And so far, Tayshaun Prince looks like a key piece in the improvement. The Grizz have allowed just 89.3 points per 100 possessions in Prince’s 329 minutes on the floor. And the new starting lineup has allowed just 88.7 points per 100 possessions in 200 minutes together.
(Interesting note: The best league’s best defensive lineup that has played at least 100 minutes together is a Raptors’ lineup that includes Rudy Gay.)
Here’s the asterisk with the Grizzlies’ streak: Only two of their last eight opponents — Golden State and Brooklyn — have winning records. And only two others — Dallas and Toronto — are somewhat decent. That makes Friday’s game in Miami a huge test for that improved defense.