2011 NBA Champions
With the NBA playoffs less than two weeks away, general managers, coaches, players and fans of playoff-bound teams are all asking the same question—If we play them, how can our team beat the Heat this spring?
For any team to knock out the Miami Heat, it's going to require at least a little bit of luck, but there are also a few key areas that teams can focus on to give themselves the opportunity to win a seven-game series. With Wade and LeBron capable of taking over on any given night, there is no perfect system for beating Miami, but with 17 losses on the season, the Heat have shown that they can be beaten if played correctly.
Turnovers are always a factor in basketball and are critical against the Heat. A team with great speed and great defense, the Heat thrive on fast-break opportunities and a key for opponents is limiting those opportunities.
Over the course of the 2011-2012 season, the Heat averaged 14.8 turnovers per game (TOPG) while forcing 16.9 TOPG. In their 17 losses, the Heat averaged 15.2 TOPG while only forcing 14.64 TOPG. This is a swing of 2.7 TOPG with a potential impact of six to nine points per game (PPG).
The biggest impact this TOPG swing has is it forces the Heat to play more in the halfcourt and slows down the tempo of the game.
Gasol James Rebound
The biggest weakness on the Heat's roster is their center position. The Heat have tried to use several big men in order to shore up their post play but have struggled against teams with strong post players who have out-muscled them on the boards.
Over the season, the Heat have averaged a +1.7 rebounds per game (RPG) differential, and in losses they average a -5.4 RPG differential. This swing in rebounds prevents second-chance points for the Heat, creates second-chance points for their opponents and prevents transition opportunities for the Heat.
The biggest problem with out-rebounding the Heat is that it requires a strong effort by the whole team. Not only do teams need to account for Bosh, Haslem and the big men, but Chalmers and Cole are decent rebounding point guards and James is a beast on the boards with his solid frame at the small forward position. In order to significantly out-rebound the Heat, every player must block out their man on the defensive glass.
Lucas III and Korver of the Bench Mob
When the Heat signed the "Big Three," they limited their ability to sign a solid supporting crew. Luckily, they have attracted ring hunting veterans like Battier, Miller, Howard and Turiaf, but these players have done little to manage games when James, Wade and Bosh are off the court.
Over the course of the season, the Heat's bench has averaged a -7.9 PPG differential but with stellar play from the "Big Three," the Heat have been able to overcome this shortcoming most of the time. In their losses, the Heat's Bench has averaged a -12.6 PPG, and at times has caused too great of a deficit for the Big Three to make up.
Most commonly the Heat's bench has struggled against point guards and big men. With Battier taking the majority of time in backing up James and Wade, shooting guards and small forwards are hard pressed to get much going against Miami.
The Heat have three offensive weapons, not five. As an opponent, you know where their offense will be coming from and your goal has to be to disrupt their flow. If any one of those three get going early, you can expect a 30+ point outing from them.
If two or more of them get going, you can count on 20+ points from each of them. So, the goal is to get them off to a slow start and continue to harass them the entire 48 minutes. This is easier said than done, but there is a strategy to this.
First, you have to contest the 15-foot Bosh jumper early. Of the Big Three, Bosh is the easiest to disrupt. If you can contest his first four or five shots and get him off to a rough start, he will disappear offensively. Many teams overload on Wade and LeBron early and let Bosh get in a rhythm, and that is a major problem.
Second, deny the lane. The Heat average more than 24 free-throw attempts per game and nothing provides them with momentum than Wade or James driving acrobatically to the rim, getting lightly bumped and going to the free throw line for an "and-1." If you can deny the lane and force Wade and LeBron to be jump shooters, you have a much better chance of getting them out of rhythm.
Here are some more ways to do it:
- Denying the lane starts with your perimeter players working hard to deny entry into the lane. If they move their feet and play smart, they may be able to draw charges as Wade or James starts to drive.
- Next, your help defenders need to be ready to come over and stop a drive at the expense of leaving an outside shooter open because the Heat only shoot .363 percent from three-point range.
- Finally, your frontcourt needs to be willing and ready to foul hard to deny easy baskets and force Wade and LeBron to earn their points at the line.
The Heat's offense is constantly evolving from game to game and throughout each. The best defensive game plan is to evolve along with them and not get stuck in one defensive scheme because the Heat are too good to be contained for 48 minutes without defensive adaptation.
The biggest challenge when playing the Heat in a seven-game series is the mental challenge. You must play cognitively for 48 minutes a game. You must be prepared to be mentally strong for seven straight games. And you must not allow yourself to be drawn into the Hollywood-level drama that is the Miami Heat.
The Heat can lose games when they are dominating at halftime. They can overcome double-digit deficits in the fourth quarter. The Heat are just as capable of overachieving or underachieving as any other team in the league. So, if you are leading them, don't take your foot off the gas. If you are trailing, just focus on winning the next minute or two and working your way back.
Bosh, Wade and James all thrive off conflict. If they feel an opponent slighted them, they will turn around and demolish that opponent. If a game gets chippy and Wade or LeBron are involved in the conflict, you can almost count on them to provide late-game heroics. The only way to beat Miami is to out-scheme them on the court because mind games do not work on them.
That being said, it is not impossible to make the Heat struggle mentally. If you can get Bosh down on himself, you may take him out of a series. If you get LeBron to struggle in the third quarter of a game, he may disappear in the closing minutes.
Play hard, foul hard and don't let them bully you; respond with equal physicality, but avoid making it personal. If you have big personalities in your organization, they must demonstrate maturity and reign themselves in.