GAME THREAD: Golden State Warriors (2-0) @ New Orleans Pelicans (0-2) - (Apr. 23, 2015)

The Miami Heat are playing like LeBron James breaking loose on a fast break: virtually unstoppable.

The defending champs have won 15 consecutive games by an average margin of more than 12 points. It's a streak that has lasted over a month. The list of opponent casualties is undeniably impressive: the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks have all been victimized by the Heat during the streak.

So, how do you beat the Heat when they're playing four future Hall of Famers on the court, three of whom are in their prime?

Answer: You pray that the fifth player is Norris Cole.

Yes, the Heat do have a weakness. And truth be told, it's stunning they've been able to get away with it for so long. Contrary to popular belief, Miami's greatest sore spot isn't rebounding, size or any area of their game. Rather, their weakness has taken the form of a specific player on their roster.

They can't seem to play winning basketball with Cole on the floor.

A star-studded mess

To illustrate the negative influence Cole has had on the team's bottom line, consider the following:

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have played with Ray Allen this season, the Heat have been juggernauts. Breaking news, I know. On the whole, they've outscored opponents by 101 points in 323 minutes of action, or are winning by 13.2 points every 100 possessions according to's stats tool.

But watch what happens to that score with various fifth players:

Big Four lineup with various fifth wheels: Let that marinate for a second.

OK, let's break this down. Keep in mind that the Cole lineup features the prohibitive MVP favorite, two additional All-Stars and the greatest shooter of all time. That might be the most stacked supporting cast one could ask for in the NBA. We're talking 36 All-Star appearances between four players.

And it has been mangled by opponents, losing by a whopping 22 points in 64 minutes of action.

Somehow, that unit can't score and can't defend. Granted, 64 minutes is a very small sample size and it's susceptible to wild, less meaningful fluctuations (right, Sloan attendees?). But we can't ignore how much of an outlier it is compared to the rest of the field so far. Put it this way: A big-four lineup that features any player not named "Norris Cole" crushes opponents by 19.7 points per 100 possessions. That's what we'd expect from an All-Star cast. Pure domination.

But not the Cole lineup. It's the other way around.

The Heat's kryptonite from within

Of course, you're probably wondering, "Why should I care about a lineup that barely plays?" Because it points to a deeper defect within the surging Heat, and that big-four lineup is just the most jaw-dropping example.

Is Norris Cole bringing down Miami? Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images The real issue? The Cole and Allen duo is essentially the Heat's kryptonite. And luckily for opponents, coach Erik Spoelstra plays them together almost every game for about 15 minutes.

Opponents, savor those 15 minutes. If you went into an imaginary basketball lab and set out to design the worst complementary point guard next to Allen, you might end up with something like Cole.

While Cole has lightning-quick speed and a great work ethic, he is not a reliable NBA player at this stage in his career. He is a score-first point guard who can't score and has little passing ability beyond the initial entry pass. He shoots 40.6 percent from the floor and 24.6 percent from beyond the arc and shoots as if he were Steve Nash. By most metrics, he ranks among the worst rotation players in the NBA. But Cole plays hard, and that's a valuable attribute on a team full of All-Stars.

However, it's hard to argue that the benefits outweigh the costs. Especially when presented with the gory details. Cole and Allen have played together for 973 minutes this season -- long enough to be the 10th-highest total on the Heat, according to data. Of the top 20 most-used Heat tandems this season, it is the only one with a negative point differential. And it's not even close.

We saw its poisonous effects when the short-handed Timberwolves staged a second-half comeback in Monday's game with Allen and Cole on the floor. Overall, the Timberwolves outscored the Heat 43-40 in the 19 minutes with that duo on the court and got blown out by 19 points in the other 29 minutes.

WORST ROTATION PLAYERS BY PER Cole's shortcomings were crystallized late in the third quarter when he put his head down, drove through the lane and took an off-balance, left-handed layup that was strongly contested by the 6-foot-8 Derrick Williams. James, meanwhile, was idly standing in the corner as the ball missed wildly off the backboard. James' reaction? He flung his palms in the air in a show of bewilderment and trotted back on defense. That's what it's been like for the Heat. Their offense has been remarkably stagnant with Cole out there and the ball never seems to be in the hands of the people who need it, nor where they want it.

That's most evident with Allen. It's like we're watching two different versions of him depending on whether Cole plays or not. Without Cole, Allen is scoring 17.0 points per 36 minutes while shooting 7.1 3-pointers at a 45 percent clip. That's the Allen the Heat envisioned when they plucked him away from Boston this offseason.

But with Cole? That scoring rate drops to 13.9 points per 36 minutes and 4.9 3-point tries at a 39.5 percent clip. In fact, 3-pointers make up 60.9 percent of Allen's shot attempts without Cole, which is a healthy amount for him. But with Cole, Allen's portion of treys plummets to 42.9 percent. The Heat did not sign Allen to shoot 2-pointers, but that's what happens when he's forced to play with Cole.

The remedy

For Allen, playing with Rajon Rondo in Boston must've been a dream compared to fighting for the ball next to Cole. And that's saying something. So if they're such a bad fit, then why on earth are they playing together so often? It's a fair question, but the Heat don't exactly have any alternatives on the bench. And that's part of their own doing. They stood pat at the trade deadline and burned the 15th roster spot on the player formerly known as Juwan Howard instead of upgrading at the 1.

But they have options. They could split backup point-guard duty between James, Wade and Allen and that's probably what will happen in the playoffs. Cole's minutes were sliced from 19.4 minutes per game last regular season to a mere 8.9 minutes per game in the postseason. Count on that happening again this time around.

Opponents better get their licks in now, because come playoff time, the Cole advantage might be gone.

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