5 Quick Fixes for Miami Heat to Become Elite Defensive Team Again
The Miami Heat are an elite defensive team, they're just not playing like one right now.
LeBron James and company are currently allowing allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions, 10th-worst in the league and a far cry from the 97.1 points (fourth-best in the NBA) they allowed last season.
The good news?
"There is a cloud over our team because we're not defending like we know we're capable of defending," James said. "We have some room for improvement. The good thing is we can be great. But right now, we're not good. We're not very good right now as a team and we've got to get to that point."
Admittance is the first step toward resolution. However, it's also the easiest step. What comes next is the hard part.
And what comes next is the Heat acknowledging where exactly they need to tighten up, and how they're going to do it.
All stats in this article are current as of Dec. 9, 2012.
Push Shane Battier to the Limit
Desperate times call for desperate, shaved-headed measures.
I understand that Shane Battier is 34 years old and already averaging 25.5 minutes per contest, but the man is an innovator on the defensive end. As such, with the way the Heat are playing they really should consider upping his minutes to 30-plus for the time being.
Yes, but sometimes you have to take risks. For Miami, now is one of those times.
Because with Battier on the floor, opponents are scoring just 100.5 points per 100 possessions as opposed to 112.9 points with him off it. That's an absurd difference. Like really absurd.
While pushing an 11-year veteran harder isn't ideal, the Heat's defensive sets are anything but ideal right now.
Battier provides Miami with a proven defensive performer, someone who stands to enhance its defensive attack for an extra five to 10 minutes per game if given the opportunity.
Almost needless to say, exploring this avenue is something the Heat can't afford not to do.
Cool It with the Help Defense
I get it, the Heat have committed themselves to small ball, which leaves them vulnerable in the paint. But their attempt to counteract such a reality has come at an unacceptable expense.
Miami is allowing 39.8 points in the paint per game, a respectable mark and one that is 11th-best in the league, yet it's cost them any kind of stability on the perimeter.
By ensuring that Chris Bosh—or whomever is manning the rim—receives extra help in the paint, the Heat are leaving themselves weak on the outside. Teams are scoring an average of 27.3 points from downtown on South Beach's finest, the third-worst mark in the league just behind the Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans.
Now, obviously help must be provided when needed, but Miami either needs to sacrifice some stability in the post or get a grip on their defensive rotations, because 27.3 points is out of control.
If the Heat were getting manhandled both in and outside of the paint, it would be a different story. But they're not. They're getting hammered from behind the arc and that's going to continue until assignments stop being blown and players are being forced off their man.
In the Heat's case, less help actually means more.
Give Joel Anthony More Burn
It pains me to admit this, which means it's likely to cripple the Heat, but Joel Anthony has become a necessity.
The offensively inept big man has played in 14 games this season and is only averaging 6.1 minutes of action per appearance. Hang me if you must, but that needs to change.
It's not so much that Miami needs an additional presence to protect the rim—though it never hurts—but it has more to do with the fact that the Heat are a better defensive team with Anthony on the floor.
In limited action thus far this season, Miami is allowing just 96.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor compared to 108.7 with him off. Just as it was with Shane Battier, that's a huge difference.
With him on the hardwood, Miami's defensive rebounding rate also skyrockets from 72.4 to 80.5, while the opposition's offensive rebounding rate plummets from 27.6 to 19.5. For a team that allows more than 11 offensive boards per night and is 29th overall in rebounds per game, that's a godsend.
Yes, the Heat's offense suffers slightly with him on the court, but at the rate Miami is allowing opponents to score, Anthony has become a necessary evil.
Go Big...for the Sake of LeBron
LeBron James is one of the most talented defenders in the game, and as he continues to man the power forward spot, he's a huge part of the reason why the Heat are in the top-11 in points allowed in the paint per game.
That said, Miami needs his superior anticipation on the outside more than ever.
As previously noted, the Heat are allowing the third-most points from beyond the arc per game. Increasing the use of Shane Battier will help keep that in check, but he cannot play 48 minutes a night.
By playing Joel Anthony, Chris Bosh and Rashard Lewis together more, this frees up James to be more of a free safety on defense. He can be the one to provide help on the interior, but is also free to float around on the outside, contesting as many shots as he can.
Understandably, in the age of stretch 4s, this won't always hold true, because LeBron will be out on the perimeter anyway. But when playing against teams like the Houston Rockets, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs, it strengthens Miami's defensive balance.
So, while going small helped the Heat win a championship last season, going big will help them preserve their title hopes this season.
Play with More Fire
Sometimes it scares us to journey outside the confines of measurable statistics, but in this case, we have to.
While the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis have changed the Heat's dynamic quite a bit, there's no use denying this is nearly the exact same team from last year. So, there's no excuse as to why Miami is playing as poorly on the defensive end as it is.
LeBron James himself even admits that this team has the potential to be "great" defensively, that they just have to do "better." And that comes down to defending with more fire, more ferocity. It comes down to believing that, as a collective, you're playing with a sense of purpose on the defensive end.
As Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com notes, Miami's "woes" on defense come down to a lack of will more than anything else.
This is so boring, but the Heat's D woes can basically be boiled down to a lack of effort. Not much else to say.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) December 7, 2012
That's unacceptable. There's no reason Miami should have let up 100 or more points in just 18 games. Especially when they allowed just 100 points 16 times all last season
Yes, a potent offensive attack is great, but defense is part of the game, part of championship-caliber success too.
And the Heat must never forget that.