Scheme Changes Each Contender Must Make to Overthrow Miami Heat
If the Miami Heat are as unbeatable as some of their fans would have you believe, we might as well skip the next couple of seasons and just start throwing year-round parades in South Beach. Perhaps that lockout ended a bit too prematurely.
All these games are simply delaying the inevitable.
By this logic, the only thing we can't predict about this league is where Dwight Howard will wind up.
The rest is written in the stars, or anyway, by the stars.
Not so fast. The Heat aren't invincible, and their competition will grow stronger. Whether by roster movements, improved chemistry or gameplan adjustments, the NBA's elite contenders all understand the bottom line.
If you can't beat the Heat, you probably can't win a title.
Here are a few of the changes we might see from contenders looking to put a swift end to a dynasty in the making.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Here's a change Oklahoma City Thunder fans might like to see: James Harden making an open jump shot.
Or even a layup for that matter.
This was a winnable series for OKC, and it's hard to argue they took a flawed approach. They simply missed some shots. The Heat deserve credit for playing their usual brand of aggressive defense, but this was a case of one team getting hot at the right time while the other went cold.
The Heat didn't magically become a significantly better team than the one who struggled through a seven-game series against Boston, and Chris Bosh's full-time presence wasn't the decisive factor.
This is a game of runs, and Miami found its groove at the right time.
The less-experienced Thunder were perhaps still too satisfied with an impressive thumping of the previously unbeatable San Antonio Spurs. Another year of wisdom, chemistry and determination may be all the change this team needs.
On the court, however, head coach Scott Brooks may want to reconsider the small-ball lineup with which he experimented more heavily late in the series. The Thunder struggled to own the boards on key possessions, especially in Game 4. Putting Durant at the 4 plays right into Miami's strengths by allowing LeBron James to do the same.
The Thunder are better suited with a lineup teaming Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison—two mobile bigs who can rebound and impact the game defensively, albeit in very different ways.
Additionally, Durant needs to take the ball out of Westbrook's hands and serve as OKC's principal playmaker. Westbrook is a fantastic scorer, but he's not the best distributor on this team. If the ball stops, OKC's offense does too.
That has to change.
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The Boston Celtics clearly don't need to change much about their approach to the Miami Heat. They came within 48 minutes of making it to the NBA Finals, so don't tell them they need to rethink things too much.
A couple of changes will come by Boston naturally, simply by virtue of adjustments made to the roster.
The addition of shooting guard Courtney Lee will give the Celtics a tried and true defender who will give Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen something to think about. Meanwhile, replacing Allen with Jason Terry provides the Celtics with a backcourt option who can actually create his own offense.
That alone could be decisive in close games.
Finally, the Celtics should use Kevin Garnett as a decoy rather than trying to force the ball to him. If he can hang out on the perimeter and draw LeBron James or Udonis Haslem out of the paint, it should create some space for Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce to do some damage in the paint.
If James guards Pierce at the 3, the coast is clear to let Garnett do some work in the post.
The idea here is straightforward: Get the ball to whoever LeBron isn't guarding, and keep the guy he is guarding on the move and away from the basket. Force anyone but James to guard the basket.
San Antonio Spurs
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The San Antonio Spurs have faced the Miami Heat just three times in the LeBron James era, and the results have been all over the place.
San Antonio won the first of those meetings by 30 points only to lose the next two meetings at AmericanAirlines Arena by 20 and 22, respectively. Talk about home-court advantage. Indeed, the best adjustment the Spurs can make is never playing the Heat away from the AT&T Center.
Good luck pulling that one off.
More realistically, the Spurs will have to take the ball out of Tony Parker's hands and get him some looks coming off of screens, making backdoor cuts or otherwise making maximum use of San Antonio's motion offense.
The Heat are simply too big for Parker to do his usually damage.
San Antonio is better off letting guys like Manu Ginobili or Stephen Jackson handle the ball in these situations. The good news for the Spurs is that they'll be better prepared to defend Miami than they have been at any previous point.
With second-year forward Kawhi Leonard developing into a reliable defender and Stephen Jackson providing another long body on the wing, the Spurs can at least make LeBron James work for his points.
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It goes without saying that getting a healthy Derrick Rose back would be the most important adjustment the Chicago Bulls could make. Without him, the team wouldn't stand a chance against the Miami Heat in a seven-game series.
Yes, the Bulls squeaked out a victory without Rose in March, but that's hardly something this team can count on going forward.
Chicago will always have a chance against Miami thanks to the sound team defensive approach head coach Tom Thibodeau insists upon. Even with solid second-unit defenders like Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Omer Asik heading elsewhere this summer, the Bulls' defense will remain one of its major assets.
Assuming Rose is in the picture (and there's a good chance he'll return sooner than expected), the Bulls shouldn't try overly hard to force the action against a team that thrives on exploiting mistakes. Relying on Rose to create all the plays inevitably leads to bad shots and turnovers against a defense with Miami's quickness and strength.
The addition of Kirk Hinrich could help alleviate that problem. Hinrich will allow Rose to spend more time off the ball so that he can do his damage without prematurely drawing the lion's share of the defense's attention.
It would also behoove Chicago to work at times with a smaller lineup, given that the Heat don't have much interior size. With Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson in the middle, the Bulls should surround Rose with shooters like Hinrich, Marco Belinelli, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton.
If those guys can spot up and keep the Heat's help defense occupied, it will be easier for Rose to get into the lane and work his magic.
It's easier said than done, but that's always the case against Miami.
Los Angeles Lakers
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The Los Angeles Lakers have yet to face off against the LeBron James version of the Miami Heat in the playoffs, but they've mustered just a 1-3 regular-season record against the team over the last two years.
That's hardly a large enough sample size to prove the Lakers are doing something wrong, but there's still less reason to believe they're doing something right.
Of course, general manager Mitch Kupchak may have alleviated the need to make separate adjustments simply by acquiring legendary passer Steve Nash to run the point. With an engine like that keeping the offense running, even Miami's supremely athletic defense will have its work cut out for it.
The natural extension of Nash's arrival is less use of Kobe Bryant in isolation offense. That alone could do wonders for Los Angeles' chances against the Eastern Conference powerhouse.
If any team has the defensive resources to contain Bryant in one-on-one situations, it's Miami. The combined efforts of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and even Shane Battier can keep Kobe out of his comfort zone.
With Nash helping the Lakers share the ball with far greater frequency, the Heat would have far more to worry about.