Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap
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While no one doubts that the Miami Heat are good enough to make a serious defense of their title come the playoffs, it’s hard not to be slightly worried about their defensive issues and their form when Dwyane Wade isn’t playing, losing for the fourth time in six games, this time falling against the Atlanta Hawks 121-114.

It’s been almost five years since the Hawks have won against the Heat in Atlanta. No more Josh Smith, no Joe Johnson and not even Al Horford, injured. Instead, Paul Millsap led the charge with 26 points, helped by DeMarre Carroll with 19 points and Pero Antic, doing a good job in Horford’s place, scoring 17. Mostly, it was about getting easy points in the paint against Miami.

James led his team with 30 points and got plenty of help from Chris Bosh with 21 points and Mario Chalmers, scoring 17. However, as James said after the game, the Heat did enough on offense to win. The problem is the defense, which has been an issue for quite a while.

Not having Dwyane Wade is also a problem. Wade has now missed 10 games this season, in which the Heat are 5-5. With him? They’re 24-6, and it’s interesting to see the difference considering they were 11-2 last year when Wade wasn’t playing. Maybe the difference is that last year there was a bit more consistency and continuity to the lineups when Wade was out with injuries. This year it’s all about preemptive rest while thinking about the playoffs. The Heat might end up falling too far behind the Pacers to get that home court advantage that’s so important to them.

We scored enough points to win, so obviously it was defense. Especially in the first half. I can’t just pinpoint what it is. It’s a little bit of everything. At some point we’ve got to figure it out. It’s just not good basketball right now. We tried to win it on a shootout and then when our offense came up dry on the road toward the end, a couple missed shots and turnovers, we weren’t able to secure a win.

Is that simple? Is it only effort that the Heat don’t have, or maybe it has something to do with the bench and rotations being slightly erratic, which never helps familiarity and especially consistency on defense? When asked about it Heat players always talk like it’s always up to them, and that if they would just put in a bit more effort on defense, things will look much better.

But the Hawks, and other teams, might be learning that running against the Heat, especially when Dwayne Wade, isn’t such a bad plan. Their problems in defending the paint have been known for a very long time, but teams that manage to stretch the Heat on defense and force them to feel uncomfortable defensively are the ones that actually do well against the NBA champions. For the Hawks, this is as good as it gets this season – playoffs and an early exit. For the Miami Heat, these are warning signs that their reign as champions might be over if their defensive struggles continue.

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