Are The Heat Better, Worse, Or Just Different Than Last Season?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The question on everyone’s mind these days is whether there will be a new pope before the Miami Heat lose a game.

OK, here’s a more pertinent question: Are the Heat a better team than they were last season?

The answer is yes, but it comes with a small asterisk.

After Tuesday’s win over the Hawks, the Heat are 48-14, on pace for 63 wins and the best winning percentage in franchise history. They’ve outscored their opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, about 2.2 points better than they were last season. The 2011-12 champs never won 19 straight games, either. Their longest winning streak was just nine games.

A look at pace-adjusted numbers shows the ups and downs of the Heat’s three seasons with LeBron James.

Heat pace and efficiency, last three seasons

Season W L Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2010-11 58 24 93.2 21 109.3 3 100.7 5 +8.5 1
2011-12 46 20 93.7 15 104.3 6 97.1 4 +7.2 3
2012-13 48 14 93.1 21 110.3 2 100.9 9 +9.4 2

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Heat have made a big jump offensively. In fact, though they ranked sixth on that end last season, they’re the second-most improved offensive team in the league, with the Knicks having made a slightly bigger jump.

Miami and Oklahoma City have been taking turns at the top of the offensive rankings for the last few weeks now. While the Thunder do more damage from the free throw line, the Heat shoot better from the field.

Better shooting counts for most of the Heat’s offensive improvement, but a decrease in turnovers has also been key…

Heat offense, last two seasons

Season 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank
2011-12 49.6% 4 35.9% 10 26.6% 19 16.1% 22 .307 5
2012-13 53.5% 1 38.7% 3 22.5% 27 14.5% 5 .292 9

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions

James’ turnovers are down, but not as much as those from Mario Chalmers, who went from turning the ball over 15.7 times per 100 possessions last season to just 12.2 this season.

The Heat’s shooting improvement has as much to do with the shots they’re taking as it does about how well they’re shooting them. Now, they’re shooting better this season from every area on the floor, but they’re also taking more of the most efficient shots.

The best shots are those from the restricted area (worth 1.18 points per attempt across the league) and those from the corners (worth 1.17). The Heat have taken 44.1 percent of their shots from those two areas (sixth highest mark in the league), up from 41.2 percent last season. James, in particular, has done a nice job of reducing his mid-range shots.

That’s a big reason why James is having the best shooting season of his career. Of course, Chris Bosh has taken more mid-range shots this season, and he’s also having the best shooting season of his career. Dwyane Wade is too.

The one small asterisk mentioned earlier comes on the other end of the floor. Only six teams have regressed more defensively than the Heat, who are allowing 3.8 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season.

There’s been some improvement over the course of the season and some great defensive games at times, but there’s never been a significant stretch of games where the Miami defense has just shut everyone down. Even over the course of their 19-game winning streak, the Heat have been just the sixth-best defensive team in the league, having to rely on offense to get a handful of those wins (including a few over bad teams).

Part of the regression has been defending the paint. But they’re also not rebounding as well as they did last season, an aspect of their defense that may be harder to improve if they plan on flipping the switch come playoff time.

Now, we’re picking nits here. The Heat are finally dominating the competition like we asked them to do a month and a half ago (just before the streak started) and we’re still hung up on their defense. But they’re simply not as good defensively as they were last season, or as good as any of the five NBA champions before that.

2012-13 Heat vs. last 10 NBA champions

Season Team OffRtg Diff. Rank DefRtg Diff. Rank NetRtg Rank
2002-03 San Antonio +2.4 7 -4.1 3 +6.5 3
2003-04 Detroit -0.9 18 -7.5 2 +6.6 3
2004-05 San Antonio +1.8 8 -7.3 1 +9.1 1
2005-06 Miami +3.0 6 -1.7 10 +4.7 5
2006-07 San Antonio +2.9 5 -6.3 2 +9.2 1
2007-08 Boston +2.9 10 -8.6 1 +11.5 1
2008-09 L.A. Lakers +4.3 3 -3.6 5 +7.9 4
2009-10 L.A. Lakers +1.1 11 -3.8 6 +4.9 6
2010-11 Dallas +3.1 8 -2.2 7 +5.3 7
2011-12 Miami +2.5 6 -4.8 4 +7.2 3
2013-13 Miami +7.5 2 -1.9 9 +9.4 2

OffRtg Diff. = Points scored per 100 possessions vs. league average that season
DefRtg Diff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions vs. league average that season

Do the Heat need to be better defensively? Maybe not. Comparing offensive efficiency vs. the league average, they’re the ninth-best offensive team of the last 36 seasons (since the league started counting turnovers in 1977), and their NetRtg of +9.4 points per 100 possessions would also rank in the top 10.

So we’ll just have to wait and see — probably until mid-June when they finally face a similarly dominant team — if this new formula works just as well for the Heat as the last one did. Or maybe they’ll just flip the switch on April 20 and start defending as well as they did last season.


  1. kobe who? says:

    20 wins and counting…. huge laugh????

  2. jake s says:

    I would like to congratulate Eric Spoelstra, D-Wade, and Co. for winning the lottery on this one. The east would be one huge laugh without Lebron. Heat would be be playing like the Nets without him.


      And you are a looser! Cleaveland had James remember? So I think the whole Miami Heat team should take credit for their sucess. Its always sore looser fans like you that try to discredit the Heat for being winners LOL. Don’t hate Appreciate!

  3. Nick says:

    Everyone forget on LAC? Don’t be mad I’m heat fan but, if LAC make the Finals they certainly have what it takes to beat the Heat.

  4. Felipe Avila says:

    I do not agree about Heat’s defense. They’ve started slow the season, but is clear that they just defend when they need to. And when they want to do this they can hold any team in the league. That is flagrant in this winning streak.

  5. Lebron iZ DeezD says:

    I’m teLLiN Y’aLL….

  6. The Heat r better then any outher team in the NBA

  7. yeazy jr says:

    LETS GO HEAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. W/E says:

    The Heat will own big time in the post season, all the other east teams are worthless, Miami will CREAM them, the only challenge will be the finals.

  9. Gregory Morton says:

    Not sure anyone will pose a TRUE threat to the Heat. Defensive team that moves the ball and can hit the three. Not to mention they have the best player his side of the Milky Way. I smell a repeat.

    #LBJ #MVP

  10. Wilt #13 says:

    My thought is that No team in the NBA can beat the heat Here are some teams that are close but with the reasons why they cant beat the Heat.
    OKC-They have durant who is a better shooter then LeBron but not as strong or all-Around talent as LeBron so in this matchup LeBron wins.
    -Russle Westbrook Is quicker and more young and atlatic then Wade[at this point of Wade’s Career]. But Wade is smarter and more mature and less cares about his points and alittle more stronger then WestBrook.Matchup won by Wade.
    -Serge Ibaka Is OKC best defender who can make LeBron work alittle more harder but He is not that good in the offence of in. Bosh Is a better shooter and a third option for the heat offence.But I will Take Ibaka Just cuz he is a hard worker and Defend better.
    Kevin Martin is a great shooter but not as a good as a defender and Shane Battier So battier won the Matchup.
    SAS-They have the talent but no the youth to win agains the heat.Yes they have 3 HOF’mers but none of them[Maybe T.Parker]Can run as much as LeBron,Wade and Bosh.
    LAL-If they will even make the playoffs they cant win agains the OKC or the SAS but if they do they dont have the Camistry[Sorry If I missspelled that] To win agains the Heat.
    DENVER-I think they are a great team to be in the Finals Just because they dont have a superstar and dont need one to beat the OKC like they did a few days back.Or the SAS so I think they can make it.
    But dont have the expiriens to be in the finals so the heat will win either way.
    These are just my options and I hope I didnt missspelled any words English is not my First nor second langeuge

  11. Jason says:

    In playoff time everything will be different, Thats the time for the heats defence to go full gear, Gogogo Heat!!!

  12. Rico says:

    Heat are a better team than last season, because for one, they are more matured now than before.

    BTW I would rather have Spurs meet Heat in the finals than OKC.
    Spurs have a bigger chance to beat Heat than OKC.
    Nothing against OKC, but Heat and OKC are both having the same type of superstars/players (Durant-James) (Westbrook-Wade) (Ibaka-Bosh) (Martin-Allen) the only problem is that Heat is more superior(as of now) and they have Battier to guard Durant

    • Bstarr says:

      @Rico You are right about the match ups between the Heat & OKC but you are SO WRONG about the Spurs having a bigger chance to beat the Heat.

      By the way, don’t you think that OKC is not more matured compared to last season?? Personally I don’t want to see a boring final so let OKC have their rematch in the finals. Spurs never get “nasty”. Ain’t that right coach Popovich?

      And just to remind you…..let’s see what happens in the playoffs first. Remember what happened to Chicago last year? There is no guarantee that Heat will make it to the finals and with no injuries at all. Celtics, Knicks & Pacers are still good contenders and willing to play some hard nasty B-ball when they meet the Heat.

      So only at the end of this season we can say they are better or not! Figures are great but useless without that nice ring on your finger.

      • Caruso says:

        Celtics good contenders? There’s no way that the celtics can beat Miami without Rondo… NO WAY!

    • Matthew says:

      @Rico you are wrong

  13. Hoguey says:

    How about some column headers for the tables?