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Miami has it in cruise control, which has Heat fans concerned

Mar 27, 2012, 2:03 PM EDT

Miami Heat's LeBron James watches the bench during an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis Reuters

We can come up with clever names for it — the coast of Miami; the Miami malaise.

Whatever name you want to put on it, it’s clear that the high-speed, attacking “pace and space” offense the Heat started off this season has slipped into cruise control at some safe highway speeds. They are averaging less than 90 possessions a game their last 10. A team who has based its identity on breaking teams’ spirits with energy and athleticism doesn’t even seem to try to do that anymore. Even in spurts.

The vaunted Miami Heat are 8-6 since the All-Star break, have lost two games in a row by double digits to playoff teams (the Thunder and Pacers).

They are in a slump. Heat fans are concerned. They should be. A little.

The players did not seem all that concerned. Dwyane Wade called it a “pothole” in the season. The reason there is no panic is this slump is not likely to cost them a lot — they are pretty locked in to the two seed in the East with 18 games to go. But they need to find their groove again before the second season starts.

How? We could talk about the team’s trend toward too much isolation and over-dribbling in the half court offense. We could talk about LeBron James’ elbow bothering him again. Wed could talk about the turnovers. We could talk about Chris Bosh’s mental vacation. And Mario Chalmers, too. Or Mike Miller being out. Or a laundry list of other items.

But every team deals with that and you fight through it and keep winning (see: Bulls, Chicago) or you fall apart. The Heat aren’t doing either, they keep coasting along.

The fixes are not really complex for Miami — if they apply better energy and focus to overwhelm teams with their athleticism at the defensive end they will create the fast break opportunities that fueled them early in the season. That is what made them a Ferrari early in the season. Right now they are coasting along, top down. They don’t want to expend that energy. Right now they are settling too much in the half court, not attacking. Wade and LeBron need to trust the role players a little more, too.

They’ve done it before. It just feels like the Heat players are waiting until a little closer to the playoffs to flip the switch.

The problem is that while the Bulls are out developing good habits to carry over to the playoffs, the Heat are developing bad ones. Things that could return and bite them under real pressure deep in the postseason.

Heat fans, none of this is worth reaching for the panic button. But feel free to be a little concerned.

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