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What is going on with the struggling Miami Heat defense?

Nov 14, 2012, 7:50 PM EDT

Miami Heat's James celebrates win over Atlanta Hawks with Bosh and Allen during their NBA basketball game in Atlanta Reuters

If you haven’t been watching, if you didn’t look at the numbers, you could easily miss it because the Heat are 6-2 and Miami remains the city you are going to have to go through to get an NBA title.

But the Miami Heat defense has been bad this year.

They are 24th in the NBA in points given up per possession — 104.1 per 100 trips down the court (via Hoopdata). For comparison, last season they were fourth in the NBA at 97.1 per 100 possessions — seven more points per 100 is a big drop off. Teams are shooting a little better all and much better from three (38.5 percent this season, up from 36 percent last season).

What is going on? And should Erik Spoelstra or Heat fans be worried?

Not yet, Tom Haberstroh says at ESPN’s Heat Index.

For one, we are 8 games into the season and it’s too early to hit the panic button on anything (we’re looking at you, Lakers). Teams start slow sometimes on one end of the floor, even the Celtics did on defense last season.

But Haberstroh says the bigger issue is the Heat bench, and one particular bench guy in particular.

The dirty little secret is that the Heat’s starting lineup has been terrific defensively. According to NBA.com/stats, the starting lineup of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh has held opponents to 94.0 points per 100 possessions in 104 minutes of playing time. For reference, the Knicks lead the NBA in defensive efficiency at 93.6 points per 100 possessions….

When Ray Allen has been on the floor this season, the Heat have surrendered 109.0 points per 100 possessions. When Allen’s on the bench? 97.7 points per 100 possessions, or right about where they were last season.

It’s not as simple as “it’s just Ray Allen” but his ankle is not right and he is not moving laterally as well so his defense isn’t great. Plus it’s a new system with new players to adjust to.

Maybe having Joel Anthony out there with Allen at times can help — Anthony doesn’t bring much offense but he brings some defensive intensity the Heat have lacked with their second unit.

But that second unit is something to watch Wednesday night — the Clippers have the deepest bench in the NBA, with a backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford that have torn teams up. The Clips have a real advantage here and have been playing well this season — this is going to be one close game.

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