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Bulls vs. Heat: Is Miami sandbagging or legitimately faltering?

Whenever Miami gets into a swoon, the first question is usually about their effort and focus level. It makes sense, as the stretches of dominance make it seem like a kind of switch that they're just waiting to turn on. It was something we saw first-hand in the playoffs last season...until there was another swoon in the NBA Finals against Dallas.

But is it something more? Sam Smith looks at the banged-up Dwayne Wade and wonders:

There is come conventional wisdom that they are bored with the season and just saving it for a fluid playoff run.

[Bosh] hasn't much been since the All-Star break, averaging 16.9 points and 6.6 rebounds since then on just 46 percent shooting...We know James is terrific. But if Bosh isn't as much motivated and Wade isn't quite what he was, well then just who is the Heat? No one is suggesting they cannot win the championship. But they are 3-3 this month and have lost two of their last three at home, giving up 115 points to Boston at home Tuesday. They've had four, blowout double digit losses in the last 10 games.

There isn't one way to win a championship. But I've seen championship teams finishing the season before and don't recall many like Miami with their "We're cool, we've got it," attitude. Maybe they are that confident, that they know how good they really are and this unique season requires pacing yourself even more. Perhaps they understand better.

Yet, other than James, who has been playing at a high level, it's difficult to see why anyone else or the way they play would give you all that much trouble.

And Bill Simmons (thanks, BaB comments) notes after seeing his Celtics win their latest:

What does Miami know about itself? Let's start backward. LeBron and Wade are having superb individual seasons. In the open floor, they rank among the most breathtaking combinations ever (if not no. 1 all-time), but in the half court? It's still "Dueling Banjos," something that hasn't changed since day one. Meanwhile, poor Chris Bosh got eviscerated by Garnett last night, yet another ignominious moment for someone who had already squandered any and all "Big Three" privileges. He's just not that good.8 Their veterans (Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier) all peaked three to four years ago, especially the 33-year-old Battier (December's most overrated signing), who can't even crack 35 percent from 3 (all of them wide open, by the way). Their 2011 point guard situation is just as messy as 2011's situation; sometimes Mario Chalmers shows up, sometimes he doesn't, and their two rookie backups (Norris Cole and Terrel Harris) can't be trusted. And just last week, Erik Spoelstra benched Joel Anthony for Ronny Turiaf. Yeeesh.

So if you're scoring at home, we're less than three weeks from the playoffs and Spoelstra has no idea ...

A. Which six guys he can trust after LeBron, Wade and (by default) Bosh.
B. Which five guys should be finishing every game.

Seems like two pretty big questions, no? The latest media narrative has been, "Maybe Miami should just play LeBron at point guard," something the numbers back up (especially Tuesday night's stats). Really, the narrative should be, "How the heck does this team not have an identity yet?" Last night, they played their butts off and STILL lost. I remember thinking that Boston couldn't beat Miami if LeBron had one of those Mega-LeBron games - you know, 36 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, a couple of fast break dunks/blocks, a couple of 3s, some post-up moves, just one of those games when he's involved - and that's exactly what happened last night. Guess what? They still lost.

Though as pointed out, it took a 'mega' Boston Celtic game to to do.

Maybe this is just a habit in need of breaking, but I still think they have another level of play they can achieve when they're focus and rested, as much as the playoffs allow that. I know the idea is that they don't respond well to pressure, but I think their top-end talent (yes, Bosh too) actually means the opposite: when playoff defenses get tougher, they have players who can score anyway. That's a situation not replicated that often in this odd season.