If the past two games have proven anything, it’s that defense is far more vital to the Miami Heat’s success than rebounding.
Against Golden State: Lost rebounding battle 52-51, but forced 21 turnovers and 36 percent shooting by the Warriors.
Against L.A. Lakers: Lost rebounding battle 42-35, but forced 20 turnovers and 43 percent shooting by the Lakers.
Both wins. The win against Golden State coming in arguably the Heat’s finest defensive performance of the season and the win against the Lakers coming as more of a struggle due to the lack of support from everyone not named LeBron or Dwyane.
Miami held their own on the boards against both teams, but when it came down to it rebounding wasn’t the issue. Is it a problem? Absolutely. This team is ranked 29th in rebounds per and the starting center is barely getting seven boards per game.
However, rebounding isn’t winning the Heat a championship. No, what’s most significant to a Heat victory is just how much pressure they put on the ball-handler prior to them creating a play. Against the Lakers, especially, as the Heat forced Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant into a combined ten turnovers.
It’s what ended up leading to the Heat starting the contest with eight points, all coming off of dunks that were enabled by Laker turnovers as a result of the nagging pressure of Miami’s double-teams.
That’s the Miami Heat we have come to know and respect.
The Heat are giving up 96.9 points per after allowing 75 and 90 points respectively to the Warriors and Lakers. They’re not in the top five in points allowed per, which is where they have finished in the first two years of the Big Three era, but they have significantly improved since the beginning of the year when the team embraced small-ball a little too much.
When the Heat defense was fully flaccid, they had made the mistake of taking Joel Anthony out of the rotation. Even if the guy is a complete dumpster fire on the offensive end, Anthony’s importance on the defensive end can never be overstated. He is an integral part of the defense that makes life easier for everyone else on the court.
He is one of the few shot-blockers and centers on this team, averaging 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes, and the Heat are allowing a higher efficiency field-goal percentage to their opponents when Anthony is off the court; 49.2 percent to 46.1 percent.
Anthony is at his best when playing alongside Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and LeBron James. Having Anthony play alongside Allen in the same unit has been one of coach Erik Spoelstra’s better ideas. It’s no secret Ray has had trouble keeping his man in front of him, so having Joel as a safety blanket gives the Heat the necessary security to compensate for Allen’s defensive failings.
Anthony’s role was magnified against the Lakers. His length and activity blew up just about every pick-and-roll the Lakers attempted. With Nash unable to create a play over 25 feet away from the basket, the Lakers defense was forced into taking a shot they didn’t want to attempt, which explains the 43 percent shooting, or a turnover, which explains why there was 20.
The Heat are now 15-2 in games where they force at least 15 turnovers. They’re 11-10 when forcing less than 15. Think this is simply about putting in more of an effort on the boards?
Strong defensive pressure is going to win this team a championship. This Chris Andersen signing is only going to help ease the problem that has come from rebounding. Opponents are beginning to realize they can’t beat the Heat defense, so they’ll throw up a bad shot for the opportunity of getting a second chance with their taller rebounders down low.
That has worked somehow. With Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem averaging career-lows on the rebounding front, Miami has been without a consistent rebounder outside of LeBron James. The three-time MVP can do everything, but only for so long.
A postseason series, yes, but an entire 82-game season is out of the question. Small-ball works, but only in separate seven-game installments. It’s too arduous of a task to call upon guys like James, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller to compensate for the Heat’s lack of size and hit the boards.
Andersen is going to momentarily mask the problem. He’ll provide exactly what Erick Dampier and Ronny Turiaf provided when they were signed in the mid-season: To be a large body under the rim that can block a few shots, rebound a few caroms, and throw down a few alley-oops.
‘Birdman’ is averaging 5.2 boards and 1.6 blocks per for his career. The Heat is the first team he’s been with this year since being waived by the Denver Nuggets in the offseason. He played only 32 games last year and had seen his role dwindle with Denver over the course of his final four years with the team.
He averaged a career-high 2.5 blocks per off the bench as a 30-year-old in the 2008-’09 season.
Come postseason time, and this is if Andersen is guaranteed a deal, you won’t ever see him. He’ll be another towel-waver at the end of the bench that will be seldom used. That’s not a knock on his skill-set.It’s a testament to how loyal the coaching staff is to the rotation that has already won them a title.
Let’s be real now: Do you really think small-ball won’t work in the postseason? This is the same team that dismantled a much larger Indiana Pacers team in six games minus Chris Bosh. Do you really believe that Ian Mahinmi is going to make all the difference this time around?
Turiaf did play in all six of those Pacer games, but never more than 17 minutes. It was LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as well as timely shooting from Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem, that ended up winning the game; not the Heat suddenly figuring out how to rebound and box out.
Like Turiaf last year, however, Andersen will be fun to watch in a Heat uniform.