Numbers say Miami Heat belongs among the elites

The Miami Heat are coming off a difficult loss to the Los Angles Lakers and return home 6-3 after a 1-2 road trip. With just over 10 percent of the schedule complete, who the Miami Heat is is coming into focus.

At the moment, Miami sits at No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, behind Boston (6-1) and Toronto (6-2), and perhaps surprisingly ahead of Milwaukee (6-3) and Philadelphia (5-3). Most pundits saw the Heat as a playoff team, but few had them in the upper echelon of the East.

While nine games is a small sample size, certain patterns are starting to emerge about Miami.

First, the Heat are clearly better than some of the national analysts believed them to be. Miami is second to only the Lakers in total wins, and two of their three losses have come on the second night of a back-to-back.

ESPN senior NBA writer Kevin Arnovitz said last week on “The Jump” that Miami has a “top defensive coach” and a “top defensive program” that’s “going to produce 50 wins in the East.”

Miami is on pace to win 54 games this year, which would have put them as the 3-seed in the East last season.

After nine games, the Heat is No. 5 in the NBA in Defensive Rating (100.6). With Jimmy Butler in the lineup, that number jumps to No. 3. Miami is No. 3 in steals-per-game (10.0), No. 6 in blocks-per-game (6.0) and No. 7 in opponent-points-per-game (105.4).

The Heat is No. 5 in Net Rating (5.2), which is a pace-neutral stat that allows for team comparisons on a more even footing.This means Miami has an elite level defensive, and coupled with a competent offense thus far, it’s propelled the team to near the top of the standings.

While the defensive numbers were expected, it’s been the unselfish nature of the offense that’s surprised some.

Miami has had a different leading scorer in six of nine games. Butler has lead the team in scoring in the last three.

Offensively, the Heat are No. 2 in Assist percentage (63.7), and they have four players averaging at least 4.8 assists-per-game.

Miami is No. 4 in three-point percentage (37.8), and that’s after an atrocious 6-of-35 outing in LA. The team is No. 6 in effective field goal percentage (53.4) and No. 7 in true shooting percentage (57.0).

These numbers are what makes last night’s loss in Los Angeles understandable.

It was the second night of the back-to-back against an elite defensive team with a pair of top-5 players. The Heat lost by 15, but it was clear they had dead legs all night.

The dead legs showed themselves most prominently in the shooting, where the Heat had season-lows in points, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage.

Entering the night, the Heat was over 40 percent from three, so to make only six of 35 attempts (17 percent) made a huge difference in the game. An average night from three would have made last night’s game a much closer contest.

While the 1-2 road trip is disappointing, it’s not unexpected, considering the games against Western Conference elites Denver and LA.

Miami’s schedule softens over the next two weeks, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Heat finishes the next two weeks at 11-3 if these numbers hold.

The Heat is home against Detroit (4-6) on Tuesday, then travels to Cleveland (3-5) on Thursday.

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