The B-Side: The Miami Heat and the Beauty of a Defense in Recovery
The B-Side is a recurring feature here at Bleacher Report that gives kudos to the unheralded: the brilliantly executed set that leads to a bland layup, the swarming coverage that causes a shot clock violation or even the phenomenal move that ends with a blown finish. Every night in the NBA is filled with plays that are noteworthy for a wide variety of reasons, and this space is set aside to enjoy the alternatives to the standard highlight—one clip at a time.
The Miami Heat don't have a perfect defense, nor the league's best. But there isn't anything quite like watching the frenetic concert of defensive rotations that grace most every Heat game.
Other teams may have more stable systems or even better execution, but the flurry of speed and length at Miami's disposal creates a unique display that's almost impossible to replicate.
Case in point: Miami's defensive execution against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night.
Even through the occasional breakdowns, we could see an aesthetic wonder that doubles as real basketball application. The Heat didn't necessarily put a stranglehold on the game through the strength of their D alone (the Mavs had much of a hand in their own downfall by missing makeable shots), but the crispness of their recovery hinted at Miami's particularly dominant defensive potential.
In this clip, the Heat halt a series of seemingly inevitable scoring opportunities. Dallas' set begins with a dribble handoff between Lamar Odom and Delonte West that shouldn't at all be overlooked; often these kinds of quick, immediate reversals put opposing defenses in a difficult situation, but Norris Cole glides around Odom and pesters West's dribble to keep the sequence in check.
The Mavericks—by design—had set both bigs at the elbows, and once Odom completes his handoff, Brandan Wright slips subtly into position to set a pick for Odom. Chris Bosh stays tethered to Wright, and Odom darts down the lane with Shane Battier trailing a few steps behind him.
In theory, this should be an easy feed from the wing for a layup, but Cole has so thoroughly bottled West on the perimeter that he's unable to make the simple pass to the open man. Smart off-ball movement may be the foundation of a great offense, but even those cuts are victim to a defense's on-ball pressure.
At exactly the same time, Jason Terry triggers from the top of the key to curl around Wright's still-standing screen and receives the ball from West on the right wing.
Dwyane Wade—who had been defending Terry—got caught a bit on the unexpected screen curl, but Bosh has rotated into position to erase the possibility of Terry taking his patented pull-up jumper and remains in close enough proximity to challenge any attempt Terry could make at the rim.
As Terry slinks toward the basket, the entire Heat defense collapses on his position.
Bosh shades him from behind, and Wade finally makes it back to the vicinity. Battier slides over—leaving Odom relatively open on the opposite block in the process, but for good reason—to prevent Terry from getting an open look at a runner.
Udonis Haslem even takes a few noncommittal steps into the paint from outside, ready to smother whatever turn the Maverick offense takes. Cole, too, slides in a step toward Terry's position from the deep right wing, fully enacting the defensive gambit that Zach Lowe recently broke down in detail over at Sports Illustrated's The Point Forward.
Miami pushes opponents out of their comfort zones by making them rely on consistent ball movement and non-essential scoring options, as evidenced by exactly this kind of collapse.
By the time Terry dishes the ball to an open Odom, Haslem has completely committed; he immediately places himself between Odom and the basket. Four Heat defenders have neutralized three Mavericks in the paint, while Cole keeps an eye on West in the corner.
But where on earth is Dirk Nowitzki?
In Odom's haste to try to create against a rapidly shifting defense, he opted to make a move into the paint from the block rather than kick the ball out to Nowitzki—who isn't pictured, but has lingered at the three-point line, completely unguarded.
By the time Odom realizes that swinging the ball to Nowitzki may be the right move, it's too late. Wade has already positioned himself in the passing lane between the two Mavericks, just as Odom has picked up his dribble after Haslem blanketed him.
Luckily for Odom, Terry provides an out; "Jet" had been all but forgotten since making his dish to Odom, but he flares out from under the basket to an open space on the wing.
Odom manages to make a difficult jump pass to get Terry the ball at the right time, but Battier's closeout changes the picture substantially. Battier's block attempt forces Terry—a textbook jump shooter—to fade slightly on his attempt.
Although Dallas still got off a decent look against a scrambling defense, Miami did just enough to prevent a bucket.
The Heat are very skilled in making their opponents forget any sense of offensive order. Nowitzki spent a good chunk of this possession without any opponent close enough to challenge a potential three-point attempt, but Miami so expertly navigated its vulnerabilities that Dallas' ball-handlers could only concern themselves with the immediate, swarming threats.
Roving defenders like Wade and LeBron James force opponents to hesitate just enough on their cross-court kick-out passes for another Heat player to recover in time, making their perimeter weakness only accessible to opponents with disciplined ball movement and several capable outside shooters.
Under most circumstances, these Mavericks would qualify. But that power to force opponents to forget who they are offensively—if only in a single moment as they suffocate a ball-handler—is potentially invaluable.
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