It began as mere suspicion, but soon became conventional wisdom. Miami is coasting this season.
LeBron definitely looks like he's coasting, especially on defense. But the Heat'll turn it up a notch in the playoffs.
It's a time-honored sports cliché: The weary, aging champion, angling to hold on to the crown, reserves its best effort for the postseason, when it really matters.
But is there any hard evidence that the 2013-14 Heat can turn up the quality of their play at will? Do they really have a playoff gear?
Short answer: So far this postseason, the Heat have not shown that they have an extra gear.
The longer, more interesting answers are below.
If the Heat really can turn it up at will, we should expect to find evidence in a comparison of their in-season versus postseason play. If Miami has a playoff gear, the team's overall statistical performance should increase significantly in the postseason, especially after we account for its tougher playoff schedule.
We can measure that by looking at the Heat's net efficiency: how well they are performing against their opponents, as measured by points scored and allowed per 100 minutes.
The analysis sounds easy enough, but there's an interesting wrinkle: Teams usually tighten up their rotations during the playoffs, giving more minutes to their starters and limited court time to guys at the end of the bench. Such rotational adjustments can greatly improve a team's overall play -- i.e., its net efficiency -- even if no one on the team plays any better (on a per-minute basis) than he did during the regular season.
So, before we can begin to figure out if Miami's players have truly turned it up a notch this postseason, we first need to account for the impact of the team's tightened playoff rotations. And there's a metric that's particularly well-suited to such an analysis: real plus-minus (RPM).
As previously described in this article, RPM is a mathematical estimate of each player's plus-minus impact, adjusting for the strength of on-court teammates and opponents and other factors like home-court advantage.
To get each team's power rating, which is its overall expected strength of play in terms of scoring margin, we simply add up the RPM ratings of the players on a minutes-weighted basis.
To see how we do it, look at the first two charts: