Beating the Miami Heat: Part 2
Part One of the article talked about what teams need to do on the offensive end of the floor to have a chance at competing with the indomitable Miami Heat. Now let us look at what teams need to do on the rather more important defensive end of the floor. As they say: “Offense wins matches but defense wins championships”.
The blueprint needs to include the following key points:
Trying to play Zone D:
The Miami Heat is easily one of the most vibrant offensive units in the league. Their major offensive weapons include the play-making and driving ability of LeBron and Wade, and the complimentary efforts of the impeccable shooters like Battier, Chalmers and Bosh. The Heat try to run a high pick-and-roll to ensure that the opposition’s big man is driven out of the paint and thus opening up the lane for LeBron or Wade to exploit. If the help comes too quick, they dish the ball to the open shooters or try to find Bosh at the elbow. The Heat have some of the best perimeter shooters in the game, and Bosh is money from the elbow and this is the primal reason behind the Heat’s success. Thus this makes it a huge dilemma for the opposition defensive players as now they are forced to pick their poison, and more often than not are made to pay a hefty price by the Heat. The Heat not so surprisingly are averaging over 103 points per game, shooting a league high 49.6 % from the field, and averaging over 38% from beyond the arc.
The best way to defend such plays is most certainly by deploying the zone defense. Be it a 3-2 zone or a staggered 2-3 zone, it just kills out the open lanes that LeBron or Wade can look to exploit. What it also does is that it forces the Heat to play from the perimeter and despite the fact that they are amongst the league leaders in 3-point shooting, they surely aren’t nearly as dangerous without the drive-ins and the easy points in the paint. The zone defense also nullifies the isolation match-ups that can be easily exploited by the highly-skilled and athletic duo of LeBron and Wade, and also cuts down on the open lanes and chinks in the defense. It shall force the Heat to move the ball, and with help coming easy on a zone defense, the Heat will have to rely solely on overloading a particular side of the court, and try to find open looks off off-ball screens. Further considering that Wade and LeBron have a lesser impact as shooters from the mid-range and beyond the arc; it shall surely play into the hands of the opposition. It is this way that the Dallas Mavericks nullified the threat posed by LeBron in the NBA Finals of 2011, and in many ways showed the way to get it done defensively against the Heat.
The problem with zone defense is that it requires far greater amount of co-ordination and rotation to keep up with the extensive ball-movement and to nullify the open spaces. It requires a lot of practice, and considering that most teams in the NBA rely on going man-to-man it is very doubtful that any team in the NBA is prepared to play the zone. Maybe the Celtics or the Bulls, but other than that no other team in the league has ever shown a desire to try out much of a zone defense.
The Miami Heat’s offense is mostly depended on the court vision and play-making abilities of LeBron. Can LeBron be stopped? In 65 games so far, nobody has been able to do that, other than maybe Kobe. So, the only other way is to make it as difficult as you can for him. The best way is to ensure that you get multiple different looks against him. Make sure that you suit up at least 3-4 different defensive players on him during different stretches of the game, and force him to think and make decisions. This will not only bother his rhythm but also allow ensure that for all four quarters he is matched up against relatively fresher legs and active bodies that can keep him thinking and maybe force him to make a few mistakes.
Also when the Heat try and run the high pick-and-roll, it is imperative that teams try and double up on LeBron, and try to trap him and deny him the open lane. Try to force him off the ball, and make the pass to an open man or a rotating big and hope the weak-side help and defensive rotations to bail them out. When LeBron decides to get his mid-range post-up game going, double him up and force him to give up the ball. It may very well open up for an open three-point shot, but teams can live with that.
Efficient defensive rotations:
The most vital effort on the defensive end of the floor against the Heat lies in trying to ensure that the defensive rotations are quick, and efficient. It is almost inevitable that LeBron and Wade will beat their man and get to the rim, but it is important that teams have enough cover and rim-protection. The whole defense needs to converge and try to slash the ball away, force a turn-over or at minimum contest the shot. If LeBron and Wade kick the ball-out, the recovery needs to be quick, as almost everyone who spots up is averaging over 40% from beyond the arc. It calls for a herculean defensive effort, something that maybe only the Memphis Grizzlies with their inner length of Randolph, Gasol and the wing players of Allen, Conley and Prince have shown the desire and determination to execute. It surely is a tall order, but beating this Miami Heat team is no joke, and it does call for such efforts.
Drawing offensive fouls:
Another important way of discouraging the Heat is to try and draw charges. Wade and LeBron’s drives to the basket happen at a pace that almost makes it impossible for them to change directions once they have a head full of steam. Most of the time they manage to earn a 3-point play, because the rotation isn’t quite quick enough. But teams have to take that chance and try to shore up the paint. Most importantly they need to ensure that the Heat’s rampant duo realize that there is a help defender ready to fill the lane and draw a charge, and this can surely play on their minds and force them to take tougher floaters or try and use the bank-shot.
The Miami Heat are amongst the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league, and it is imperative that the opposition big men other than shoring up the paint and protecting the rim, work themselves out on the boards and win the rebounding race by a huge number. This shall not only eliminate any second chance opportunities, but can earn the team some easy transition opportunities.
It may sound too lofty to just lay down the strategies and assume the teams to just run the same. It is easier said than done. However, the Heat are no ordinary team and it does call for gargantuan efforts and almost desperate desire for any team to succeed against them. The teams need to play with a lot of heart, respect the Heat for who they are, what they can do and react accordingly. They need to play their game, stick to the strategies rather than be flummoxed by a breakaway dunk or a momentum changing highlight or a gravity-defying play. The Heat are so good that they will for sure get their moments, but the opposition teams need to read such plays as just two points, and continue playing the game. They need to be aggressive, mentally tough, focused and make it as difficult as they can for the Heat. They need to get into the faces of the Heat, play and challenge their ego, and look to beat them with their energy and effort.
The streak stands at 24 but will the streak of 33 games be broken? I am not too sure, as when the Heat play the Spurs on the 29th of March, I expect the streak to end. But, such streaks do nothing but project the supreme confidence and focus of this team. Stuff of champions indeed, but the exploits of a certain Knicks and the Bucks surely lend some light into the truth that despite all of the Heat’s brilliance there is still a way to beat them.
And come the play-off’s, the regular season records and streaks will carry no meaning. It is then that the real pedigree of the teams will be tested. The Heat do look scary, but beating them is surely very much possible. Probability is a different issue altogether.