Watching the Miami Heat struggle to size up against Roy Hibbert as if he were their taller, crueler older brother evoked past memories of what nearly prevented them from making the NBA Finals last year.
In case you forgot, the Heat were pushed to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals primarily because they were at a significant height disadvantage. Their attempts to throw the kitchen sink at the 7-2 Hibbert, throwing guys like Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen at him or double-teaming him, were nearly futile as Roy channeled his inner-Hakeem Olajuwon, averaging 22 points on 56 percent shooting.
He had only 11.9 points on a career-low 45 percent from the field in the regular season.
Well, it’s happening again. Roy, who was averaging below 13 points on sub-50 percent shooting going into Tuesday’s matchup with the Heat, dropped 24 points on 67 percent shooting. Miami was able to keep him away from the boards, allowing Hibbert to only get his hands on five, but it mattered little when he was scoring with such ease.
Roy possesses the rare combination of being both offensively gifted on top of having an imposing 7-2 frame, two deadly variables that would work well in a seven-game series with the Heat. In fact, the Pacers are just more fodder to the Heat’s Eastern playoff runs without him.
But because he’s 7-2, and because the Pacers are wise enough to exploit the obvious mismatch presented by having Miami guard him with Chris Bosh, Indiana is capable of winning games just by simply getting the ball to their center within ten feet of the rim.
And the Heat don’t seem to have an answer to this. Fronting him in the post has run its course, as has trying to guard him one-on-one with either Bosh or Andersen. The most Miami can hope for is wishful thinking that Greg Oden will return, not be a lightning rod for fouls, and be able to neutralize, or at least decrease Hibbert’s role in the offense.
Like most of the Heat’s problems in losses, it comes down to what transpires in the paint, specifically what happens on the boards.
Miami succumbed a 43-33 rebounding advantage to Indiana, and it took a 14-rebound effort by LeBron James just to make it respectable. This occurred only a few nights after succumbing a 16-5 offensive rebounding edge to Detroit, a 17-7 edge against Minnesota, and a 49-24 advantage against Chicago.
The Heat dropped those contests against Chicago and Indiana. With those two teams struggling on offense, the Bulls at 27th in offensive efficiency and the Pacers at 14th, there is a necessity to force them into the shots they usually miss.
More importantly, however, is a need to get rebounds. It’s such a regular season problem, I know, but it’s a problem that eradicates brilliant defensive efforts and turns games into a wire-to-wire struggle.
The Heat are the league’s worst rebounding team and it’s not even close. They rank last in the league in rebounds per at a mere 35.5 rebounds per game, over three less than the 29th worst team, and are only grabbing 6.4 offensive boards per game, over two less than 29th.
It’s no secret how poorly the Heat perform on the boards. It’s the lone weakness that opponents are capable of exploiting and it’s why teams like Chicago and Indiana are going to be a nuisance for a long time.
Neither of those teams are going away.
There is a gift that comes along with this curse, though. For one, the Heat just don’t miss or take enough shots to earn as many offensive rebounds, or rebounds in general, than the average team. As poorly as Miami performs on the boards, they boast the league’s top field-goal percentage at an impressive 50.4 percent, and are taking a league-low 75 field-goal attempts per game.
As is the case when it comes to rebounds, the Heat are also averaging significantly less than the 29th worst team, this time taking three less shots per game. In fact, it’s also resulting in opponent’s averaging a league-low 40 rebounds per game.
But that’s what you give up when you have the league’s second-best offensive efficiency, with the Portland Trail Blazers’ league-best efficiency propped up by shooting that may not last all season. Less misses mean less offensive rebounds, which lead to less field-goal attempts.
The amount of time and efficiency that goes into every shot is also a deciding factor. A shot is never wasted in Miami, so one can’t expect the Heat to have so many possessions when they put so much patience and decision-making into each of their attempts.
Still, the rebounding problem is there. The numbers are low because of the aforementioned reasons, but also because there just aren’t many chances for the Heat to rebound.
Immediately you assume, “It must be Chris Bosh, right? Just look at the numbers he’s putting up now.” While it’s true that Bosh is averaging a career-low 5.8 rebounds per, making in the fourth consecutive year Bosh has seen a decline in his rebounding numbers, he’s actually rebounding as well as his peers.
NBA.com has a feature part of its advanced statistics that takes into account all of the chances a player gets when it comes to grabbing a board. As defined by the website, the percentage of rebounds per chance category is defined as, “the number of rebounds a player recovers compared to the number of rebounding chances”.
A chance at a rebound is defined as “within the vicinity of 3.5 feet of the rim”.
Simple enough? Be within three-and-a-half feet of a rebound and it’s considered a chance.
Chris Bosh’s percentage of rebounds per chance is at 60 percent. Here’s a few player who have a lower percentage: Serge Ibaka, Anderson Varejao and Amir Johnson.
Similar results for LeBron James, who is grabbing 73.1 percent of his rebounding chances, which is the second-best number in the league among players who average at least 5.5 rebounds per game.
Bosh isn’t exactly Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan when it comes to rebounding at the moment, nor should he be expected to be since he’s not meant to play center, but he’s also certainly not the reason why the Heat tend to struggle so much on the boards.
He also has a respectable percentage of his boards labeled as contested. A contested rebound is defined by NBA.com as “a rebound gathered where an opponent is within 3.5 feet” and Bosh can boast 34 percent of his boards being known as such.
By comparison, that’s a better percentage than LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, and Josh Smith.
A lot of it has to do with effort, especially when it comes to the Bulls. Chicago is deficient in many areas of their offense, so they make up for it with an unequivocal effort the Heat don’t care to match in the regular season, which is also the case in other contests against teams motivated to play Miami.
It takes 48 minutes of effort to beat Miami. An opponent doesn’t just treat the Heat as any other game and expect to win. They treat it as one of their biggest games of the season, leading to an effort that results in Miami giving up offensive rebounds simply because the other team wants it more.
Then there’s teams like Indiana or Detroit, where effort is replaced by size, which the Heat really don’t have an answer for unless they are adamant about boxing out and playing with fundamentals from start to finish.
Fortunately for Miami, rebounding isn’t a problem when it matters. What is a problem is the Heat’s response to Roy Hibbert, who could be considered as the only thing between the Heat and a third consecutive championship, because they have no answer to him at the moment.
We want to claim Oden, but I’m not one to rely on someone who hasn’t played a game in the NBA since late 2009 to limit arguably the Eastern Conference’s best center. While it may end up working depending in his health, if I were the Heat, I’m figuring out another solution.
An ideal solution would be to force Hibbert into foul trouble, but it’s becoming a near impossibility with the leniency he’s being granted for the verticality rule that allows a defender to make legal contact with a defender if they can maintain their arms going straight up.
With plays like the picture below being called charges, however, it’s a lot easier said than done:
Indiana adjusted to Miami by forcing the ball into Hibbert after he struggled to establish himself against the Bosh-less Heat in the 2012 Semifinals.
It’s now Miami’s turn to make the adjustment. Their threepeat rides on it.