How the Miami Heat Must Combat Teams with Dominant Centers

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How the Miami Heat Must Combat Teams with Dominant Centers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Miami Heat won an NBA title last season by playing small ball.

Featuring Chris Bosh at the center position and LeBron James at power forward, they opened defense of their championship this year rededicated to that same approach.

The biggest challenge to this philosophy will come this season when Miami is matched up against teams with dominant centers.

In order to combat the size advantages that players like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and even Roy Hibbert will have against their smaller lineup, Miami must make those dominant centers play in space.

They can accomplish this by forcing those bigger centers out of their comfort zone and challenging them to first guard Chris Bosh on the perimeter.

At the other end of the floor, the Heat must also play a fronting style of team defense that rotates quickly with help at the rim.

 

The Heat must force dominant centers to chase Bosh on the perimeter  

Chris Bosh forces his defender to guard him on the perimeter in pick-and-roll situation.

The Denver Nuggets do not employ a dominant center. But when the Heat do face off against a Dwight Howard, for example, they must attack him the same way they did the Nuggets on this particular play.

If you pause this offensive set at the six-second mark, all five Heat players are positioned along the three-point arc. Miami's center, Bosh, is among them.

Beyond the fact that Bosh is simply spaced out on the perimeter, he is also using his athleticism to be active without the basketball.

The spacing first creates an open lane to the basket. LeBron and Chris are then able to capitalize on that opening by attacking with the pick-and-roll.

Dominant or not, there is no center in the NBA who can keep up with Bosh in this situation when the Heat execute effectively.

 

Miami must also allow Bosh to become a scoring threat from the outside 

Bosh creates scoring opportunity by using a shot fake to get to the basket.

So far this season, Bosh is knocking down the 16-23 foot jump shot at 71 percent rate. 

In addition to scoring out of the pick-and-roll, the Heat must also capitalize on the advantages this creates against dominant centers out on the perimeter.  

His ability to knock down that jumper will force his defender to challenge 20 feet from the basket. Defending Bosh in space will work to negate the size and strength of opposing centers.

I understand that the Charlotte Bobcats did not employ a dominant center last season in the highlight above. But whoever the center is guarding Chris must respect his ability to score from the area on the floor where he first receives the basketball on this play.

When they do, he can combat that defense by showing a similar shot fake and driving to the hoop for the finish.

 

The Heat must rotate quickly against dominant centers and send help defending the rim

LeBron rotates quickly to block Howard's shot attempt at the rim.

The Howards of the world will inevitably create scoring opportunities at the rim regardless of how they are defended. This is what dominant players do. 

But when those centers do receive the basketball in the painted area, like Howard did last year against the Heat as a member of the Orlando Magic, Miami must combat this by sending help at the rim.

Bosh or any other center in the NBA does not have the ability to defend a dominant center like Howard by himself. Collectively, though, Miami's overall athleticism could allow them to be effective if they rotate quickly.

In the play above, Dwight receives the basketball deep on the interior. LeBron is trailing Howard but uses his athleticism to drop down, help at the rim and block his shot from behind.

 

Miami must play a fronting style of team defense to create these opportunities to help at the rim 

Heat's fronting style of team defense makes entry pass more difficult.

The fronting style of team defense Miami uses in the video above against the New York Knicks makes entry passes more difficult.They must combat the dominant centers in the NBA by adhering to these same principles. 

This fronting style of defense pushes the opposing offense away from the basket. In doing so, Miami forces the entry pass to be a lob over the top that they have time to react to collectively. 

Carmelo Anthony is not a dominant center. He is a dominant player, however, who is trying to receive the ball in a high-post situation against LeBron at the 30-second mark.

Miami will need to defend dominant centers the same way they did Anthony in this example.

As LeBron battles for position in front of Carmelo, the lob pass comes in over the top. Bosh is able to intercept that pass coming from the opposite end of the floor as a help-side defender.

The challenge is more difficult, obviously, when that high lob is coming into player with the size of Howard. No question. But the Heat must combat those situations with dominant centers in the same way they defended this play against the Knicks.

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