MIAMI -- The Miami Heat leads its division, owns the best in-conference record among teams in the East and has won twice as many games as it has lost.
It may sound impressive, but nobody in the locker room sounds all that pleased.
With Shaquille O'Neal now manning the post and Dwyane Wade continuing to evolve into a superstar, it's no surprise that Miami is clearly better than it was a year ago. Still, the Heat knows that there are flaws to overcome if the team is going to be a championship contender.
The 10-5 start has been marred by stretches of shoddy defense and questionable shot selection, both frustrating coach Stan Van Gundy. The Heat is outscoring teams by only 1.8 points per game, holds a slim 1.1-rebound edge per game over foes and has already been forced to carve out three two-point home wins.
Those games go the other way, and the Heat would be below .500. It is not enjoying walking the tightrope.
"If we was in college, we'd be passing," O'Neal said. "But I'd bring this report card home and I'd get a whipping because right now we're at a low-B, high-C average. And that's not good enough. It's OK, but it's not good enough. It's not what other teams are doing. It's what we're doing."
Van Gundy refused to vent his frustrations directly to the team after Sunday's 106-104 win over Boston, a game where the Heat yielded 33 fast-break points -- 17 in the fourth quarter alone when the Celtics wiped out what had been a 13-point Miami lead.
Instead, he described the Heat's effort with words like "appalling," "horrendous" and "ridiculous" in his postgame news conference. And the team got its lecture Monday.
"I'm not really into analyzing where we are right now," said Van Gundy, whose 15-game record was 4-11 last season. "We are what our record is and I know we have to get a lot better. I'm not overly impressed with the way we're playing. I know we've got to improve in a lot of areas. But I'm not depressed either."
O'Neal said he expected the Heat to endure some growing pains while adjusting to all the new faces scattered about the locker room.
Miami hosts Toronto tonight (7:30, Empire), then begins a four-game, six-day road swing Friday that takes it through Chicago, Denver, Utah and Milwaukee. Only two of those five clubs have winning records.
"Once we master what we're supposed to be doing, then we'll be fine," O'Neal said. "However, we're on the right track."
Clips crunch Cavs
LOS ANGELES -- Short-handed again, playing their fourth game in five days, the Los Angeles Clippers might have been excused if they had faltered down the stretch against one of the NBA's hottest teams and its most celebrated young player.
But it was LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers who stumbled toward the finish, the Clippers surging late to a 94-82 victory that stretched their winning streak to four games.
Minus injured veterans Corey Maggette and Kerry Kittles, the Clippers outscored the Cavaliers, 24-14, in the fourth quarter to run their record to 9-6, wrapping up their most successful November since the franchise moved from Buffalo.
Elton Brand had a season-high 30 points and six assists to help hand the Cavaliers just their second loss in 11 games.
Around the rim
* Doc Rivers got his team back on track while gaining a measure of revenge on his old squad, and the Celtics snapped a four-game losing streak by beating the Magic, 117-101. The Magic fired Rivers a year ago, after four-plus seasons, when the team stumbled out to a 1-10 start.
* Earl Boykins scored 22 points to help the Nuggets overcome the absence of Carmelo Anthony (sprained ankle) and defeat the Hornets, 76-67. New Orleans, meanwhile, found out it would be without Jamaal Magloire for up to three months because of a dislocated finger he suffered last Friday.