Are the Miami Heat favorites to win the 2012 NBA Finals? It depends what side of the fence you’re on.
If you’re a Miami fan, you probably suffer from delusion and a small case of grandeur. They are way too good to be beaten, even though they have been repeatedly during the regular season.
If you’re a Miami hater, you think that even the Charlotte Bobcats at full strength could give them a run for their money. Okay, maybe not the Bobcats, but you get my drift.
The Heat are a great team defensively and offensively, no matter how inconsistent this shortened season has been for them. This franchise is still the most poised to win the Eastern Conference, barring some catastrophic events that would bench each member of the Big Three.
Still, there are ways in which another team, Eastern or Western Conference, could use their strengths to eliminate the Heat before they gain momentum and confidence in the postseason.
It may not be the easiest feat. However, if sustained properly, any team has the tools to conquer the Heat.
The Miami Heat’s best rotation negates the notion that size matters much in the game of basketball.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Ronny Turiaf are not very big gentlemen and this will likely be the starting rotation to begin the 2012 NBA playoffs. Beating them will come at the hands of utilizing their opposition’s big men to basically overpower their smaller units.
Miami, as talented as the franchise is, can be beat when the more skillful big men step into the picture to dominate the low post. Yes, James, Wade and Bosh attempt to do everything they can as far as rebounding and scoring primarily around the rim to combat the fact that they do not have an equally talented center to collaborate with.
However, their efforts will not make up for that missing piece, as franchises like the New York Knicks (Tyson Chandler), Boston Celtics (Kevin Garnett), Chicago Bulls (Joakim Noah), Los Angeles Lakers (Andrew Bynum) and OKC Thunder (Serge Ibaka) promote the offensive and defensive roles of their starting centers.
Forcing the issue around the rim will expose Miami for their lack of depth at the position and lack of size. This doesn’t just mean defending around the rim. Defense in the low post and mid-range will be admirably effective because that is where Miami is most efficient.
James and Wade have sculpted their most ruthless winning tactics around attacking the rim. However, playing big also includes offense around the rim. Too often, Miami’s lack of size is exposed by another squad’s willingness to eat those fouls that Miami’s players dish out to try to stop an easy bucket.
The follow-through has become ridiculously important in the game of basketball and any of Miami’s opponents will need to use the Heat’s lack thereof to win the battle under the rim.
Miami is not a run-and-gun offense and anyone who believes this is sadly mistaken. Thank goodness coaches are paid millions of dollars to watch tape and figure out their opponents’ weaknesses, because if they just paid attention to highlights, we might as well hand Miami the 2012 NBA championship trophy right now.
The Heat started off the season so successfully because of the fact that they were not operating primarily off of their speed and athleticism in transition. Miami was one of the league’s most efficient franchises in half-court offense, as both James and Wade stopped popping up jumpers and lobbing dunks in transition and started playing smarter.
They became more calculating and took their time on their way into the paint instead of forcing the issue.
Take Wade for instance. He knows that the Heat have the ability to beat out any team in a foot race. Instead of pushing the pace and risking lost points, he would pull up in transition and evaluate the defense the opposition is running.
Wade, as one of the best cutters in the NBA, is immensely skilled at penetrating defenses and making an acrobatic finish around the rim. Clogged lanes are not an issue for him, nor for James, as both have solid mid-range strokes.
For teams to have a true chance at halting Miami’s championship dreams, they will need to operate well in half-court defense. Defensive rotations will be entirely key for defeating the Miami Heat in a seven-game series, especially.
Use Miami’s strength against them. Their help defense is probably the most fearful in the league as it can occasionally feel as if there are more than the regulation amount of players on the floor. They switch over so quickly that the pressure has a stranglehold on the opponent's offense.
Given enough time, Miami forces horrible toss-ups. Therefore, opponents can do the same to Miami.
The Heat operate primarily well in half-court offense, so defensive rotations that meet Miami players on a baseline drive around the rim for a game-defining block are going to be vital. Players will have to pay attention to their personal defensive assignments as well as recognizing when a teammate is being outplayed.
Miami often creates mismatches in the low post and in their mid-range game, so any franchise hoping to knock them out of contention will have to not only cover their own men but watch and anticipate when another player is going to be beat out.
Miami’s defense can be a little lackluster when it comes to teams who are decent beyond the arc. Perimeter defense is not one of the Heat’s stronger lines of attack and that will undoubtedly be on display some of the more three-happy teams in the 2012 NBA playoffs.
For example, Coach Erik Spoelstra tried his best to put an end to whatever clinic the N.Y. Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony had in mind for his squad in their most recent meeting, but neither Shane Battier nor Dwyane Wade could halt Anthony’s strides offensively.
His jumper looked virtually incomparable and Miami was embarrassed early on. However, in the second half of the game, more towards the fourth quarter, the Knicks found themselves on the losing end as their three-balls just were not falling and players like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak were being used more and more to regain a lead that no longer was theirs.
It was a grave mistake that Knicks players made as their interim head coach, Mike Woodson, lectured them to do something entirely different as time wound down. The Knicks were told to drive more often and stop settling for the jumper as Miami was getting comfortable, forcing horrible strokes and watching the rebound be easily tossed into their possession.
Teams with a strong perimeter game need to worry about using it as a two-headed monster instead of using it to primarily beat Miami.
More than often, only a single man on the roster keeps the hot hand for long, such as Melo, and the Heat can live with a single player scoring all the points in any quarter. One man cannot handle an entire Heat roster that is stacked with so much talent.
Perimeter shooting is vital to any franchise grabbing and keeping a lead, but relying solely on a three-point field goal will kill any team’s chances against any team, namely the Miami Heat.
Miami often underestimates their opponents.
Without getting an early jump and closing out an unworthy opponent, they find themselves battling down to the wire with franchises that should not have a shot at winning the game. It was something they displayed against both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls.
"Potential" is a word that often haunts the Heat, as they rarely reach it against organizations that should be light work.
Getting an early leg up on Miami could only increase your chances of defeating what sometimes appears to be an infallible grouping of men. A team getting an early go on Miami can strip the Heat of their “comfortability” and force them into a sense of urgency.
This will cause the Heat’s stars to chuck up those infamous bricks from beyond the arc and turn the game into a sort of cat-and-mouse contest instead of a level-headed meeting of the minds.
Miami often loses their heads when it comes to a proposed blowout win and one in the postseason would only rack their brains that much more. It isn’t a theory that is flawless.
This franchise is mentally strong and only several times in the season has given opponents the luxury of early leads. Still, it is an advantage that teams can give themselves over a franchise that is plagued with rumors of their leading man’s inability to close out a game.
Stopping LeBron James is a no-no.
Just as Miami has to come to terms with the fact that stopping players like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony is not going to happen, Miami’s opposition needs to realize that halting LeBron in his tracks is something that he will not allow at this stage in his career.
Therefore, players need to respond accordingly. Limit his looks. Just because you cannot stop him completely does not mean that you cannot impact his effect on how the Heat play the game.
Solely paying attention to box scores may lead you to believe that James is primarily an offensive threat. However, watching game replays will allow you to realize that he is so much more a threat to a team’s offense.
Yet, James is not perfect. He still has those offensive fouls where he attempts to drive a lane and a defender, such as Tyson Chandler has shown previously, will get into position to stop him in his tracks. James’ speed and power forces him into the body of his defender and therefore the opposing player picks up a charge and heads to the line.
It takes great anticipation to enable a play like this. However, the more elite players in the league who will be spotlighted in the 2012 NBA playoffs, have enough experience in defense to perpetuate such a task. As previously stated, James is just one of those players who is going to get his.
Still, agitation and emotion play huge parts in his game.
Throw off what he is so used to succeeding at, i.e. low post scoring, and force him outside. Force those jumpers that he has strayed away from and force him into those tough looks.
Force him to defend those perimeter strokes. Force him into double teams. Clog his court vision.
It won’t mean that James will be left scoreless in any game of a series. It does mean, however, that you will have shut down the irreparable support system that the most important player of the Miami Heat is.
One would assume that LeBron James was the designated starting man for the point guard position, but that responsibility is designated for Mario Chalmers.
Chalmers is still Miami’s point guard of the future, although he has yet to completely assume his position as such in the franchise. Chalmers is incredibly talented, but he still has spurts in which he reverts back to “toss the ball into the stands” Chalmers. That can be frustrating for a Miami team facing opponents with strong points such as the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, etc.
The Chicago Bulls were not included because Derrick Rose operates more as a shooting guard and is James’ defensive assignment whenever the two franchises meet.
Chalmers is rarely ever responsible for covering Rose because of his lack of athleticism and putrid defensive skill set compared to that of LeBron. Still, players like Rajon Rondo and the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert have an advantage over Chalmers that could only further expose him during a seven-game series.
Chalmers has the potential to be great, but once again “potential” is a word that haunts this organization. Chalmers’ potential will never be reached because he is far too inconsistent to allow it. He will never be the sole reason Miami falls to another elite Eastern Conference foe, but he will always be a standing reason.
Simply playing to the attributes of a Rondo or a Westbrook will put Miami at a disadvantage because it will force help defense. As lethal as Miami’s help defense can be at times, it can also serve as their downfall.
Help defense for Chalmers primarily comes with LeBron and it will force him into multiple tasks. Teams like the OKC Thunder and the Boston Celtics have Miami in a bind in this sense.
Rondo has Chalmers’ number, so here comes LeBron’s help defense. Still, James has to focus on stopping Paul Pierce and making offensive plays himself.
Both Pierce and Rondo are extremely talented players who will undoubtedly spread James thin on the floor. He will step up to the challenge, but it will just show how much Chalmers is not ready to compete consistently against the more able points in the league.