I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: In no way is this Miami Heat team perfect.
It wasn’t until last year when you saw a squad like the Heat win a championship. Size generally is a deciding factor in seven-game series’ because of how prolific and influential big men can be on the boards, scoring near the rim and defending the paint. The Oklahoma City Thunder were perfectly built with those attributes in the form of Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and the league’s leading shot-blocker in Shane Battier.
Those three gave the Thunder a size advantage, but it was Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and LeBron James playing similar positions that gave the Heat the advantage along the perimeter and in the open-court. Battier and James running at the four made Ibaka’s presence obsolete, causing the shot-blocker to play in less than 30 minutes per game while averaging only seven points and five boards.
Ibaka didn’t have a post player to guard, so he spent his time in an unfamiliar environment defending Battier and James along the perimeter. Battier ended up having a field day converting nearly 60 percent of his three-pointers, while James did his work from the perimeter and in the post.
Perkins was no better. Despite being hurt, Bosh still made Perkins and the Thunder’s big’s pay with his outside shot and his ability to drive. Kendrick was far too slow to defend Bosh and he certainly couldn’t defend Shane Battier at the four, so he ended up being featured in games where he played only 15 minutes.
The Heat won a championship without having a dominant big man down low. Although you could argue Bosh is the one who is meant to fit the bill, he might have ended up coming back too early from the abdominal muscle he strained only a few weeks prior to the NBA Finals. No, the Heat essentially won this with perimeter players neutralizing the influence of the post players.
It worked so well for the Heat that they decided to transition it fully into the 2012-’13 season. It’s resulted in the team’s defense taking an early hit as a result of the adjustments that have been made, but it’s also allowing the Heat to become the NBA’s best offensive team with miles between them and first place.
Through five games, the Heat have scored over 100 points on four occasions and 119 or more in three. They’re putting up those numbers against solid defense’s, too. Defenses such as the Boston Celtics and a Denver Nuggets team that featured behemoths such as Kostas Koufos, JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried. Although the Heat sacrificed a lot of points, they also proved that the offense, which has been of concern in the past, has yet to stall for consistent stretches.
Don’t tell me you don’t remember when the Heat’s offense was nearly unwatchable? You all remember those LeBron-centered lineups where he would struggle to involve Udonis Haslem and the ailing Mike Miller. Even when LeBron was on the floor with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the offense was still victim to fall apart because of the lack of ball movement and chemistry.
Two years after the Heat struggled to start off 9-8, they are now 4-1 and leading the league in scoring at 110 points per game and were the only team with three players averaging at least 20 points until Bosh laid an eight-point egg against Brooklyn. Scary to think the Heat are doing so with a 6’8″, 220-pound, 34-year-old small forward as their power forward, right?
It all comes off of ball and player movement, the improvement of Mario Chalmers as a passer, and the inclusions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Perhaps you could put Lewis and Allen’s inclusions hand-in-hand with the ball and player movement, since both players are quite possibly the main reasons why this Heat team has started off with such gusto on the offensive end.
When you have perimeter players like Allen and Lewis on the court, you obviously open up the floor which was the exact intention Pat Riley expected when going after those two, instead of going after a defensive-stopper in the post in Marcus Camby.
But when Allen and/or Lewis are on the same floor as a LeBron or a Dwyane, defense’s are going to have to be wary of the perimeter as well as the paint because of the elite threats at both aspects. It’s pick your poison as defender’s must either choose defending the best three-point shooter basketball has ever seen or two of the league’s most prolific slashers in the history of the game.
Normally, size would help the opposition but it doesn’t work in these cases because the Heat are too fast. You can have Kris Humphries and Kenneth Faried doing work on the boards, but they certainly don’t create the same impact following halftime adjustments and once the perimeter players on the Heat are constantly getting open looks and the opposition’s big’s are on their toes because of the threat of drives.
The Heat are chock full of perimeter threats that don’t have trouble in the team’s setting where they are constantly getting open for perimeter jumpers. Battier, Allen, Lewis and Chalmers have all proven to be elite shooters from deep and even Norris Cole who worked on his three-point shot over the summer is attempting to get into the act.
And I didn’t even mention the fact that the Heat always have Mike Miller, James Jones and Josh Harrellson in reserve as other quality three-point threats.
There’s going to be the talk of, “If you live by the three, you die by it too”, cliche because anyone who doesn’t enjoy good Heat basketball will do anything to discredit this team. However, as a rebuttal, I offer the fact that Allen has never shot below 36 percent from the field, Battier will never shoot as bad as he did last year, and Lewis is perfectly capable of hitting open jumpers.
Will there be cold stretches? Of course. Every single team in the NBA will have to go through them, including the Heat. But enough of a cold stretch to force the Heat out of championship contention? It’s doubtful when there are so many elite three-point shooters receiving passes from elite facilitators.
If you allow these guys to play comfortable, you’re going to yield results and it’s exactly what we’re seeing now. Allen is ecstatic to again play the style he did in Seattle and Milwaukee and Lewis has sounded like a kid in a candy shop every time he has been asked about playing with so many All-Stars that are going to constantly get him open jumpers.
Those two have yet to completely gel into the Heat dynamic of also being an incredible defensive team to go along with the new moniker of being an offensive juggernaut, but we are already witnessing adjustments being made following poor defensive performances where they gave up a franchise record 19 three-pointers to New York and then giving up 72 points in the paint to Denver.
Since then, the Heat gave up 99 points to Phoenix, but forced them into sub-40 percent shooting from the field. A few nights later, the Brooklyn Nets came to town led by arguably the league’s top point guard in Deron Williams and arguably the league’s top offensive center in Brook Lopez.
By the end of the night, Williams was victimized into seven turnovers and Lopez needed eight shots to score eight points. Miami allowed the Nets to score only 73 points and shoot 38 percent from the field. Not a bad defensive performance from a team that yielded over 100 points in their first three games, eh?
Obviously the Nets and Suns aren’t teams worth worrying about, which is why this six-game road trip the Heat are soon to embark on will be a test to see just how well small-ball works. Dates against Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers mean that Battier will end up being matched up with rebounding stalwarts in Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin.
Miami has showed signs of trouble against athletic, strong defenders in guys like Faried and Humphries, but have also proven just how resilient they can be through halftime adjustments, gang-rebounding, and an always active defense that is constantly disrupting the rhythm and flow of opposing offenses.
It’s far too early to begin speaking of just how well this system is going to hold up, so we’re going to have to let nature run its course before jumping to any definitive conclusions.
However, if there is one conclusion that’s safe to jump to, it’s the fact that this Heat team has finally got it figured out on the offensive end and LeBron James has ended up playing in 30 minutes or less in three of the Heat’s four wins because of how well the offense has been run that’s allowed Miami to run up large margins of victory.