When a player has been a member of the NBA for over 16 years, it's unlikely that anything will surprise him.
Such is the case for Kobe Bryant, who has seen everything there is to see since being drafted in 1996.
Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers went toe-to-toe with the Heat on Jan. 17, 2013. The result was a 99-90 win in Miami's favor, as it forced the Lakers into 20 turnovers.
More importantly, the Heat outscored L.A. by a margin of 68-28 in the paint.
Kobe said the Heat D "shocked" the Lakers' pick-and-roll. Credited the "psychopath" Pat Riley for orchestrating the game plan— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 18, 2013
Kobe has every reason to offer up such a high level of praise.
Bryant and Steve Nash attempted to get the ball down low early, running the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Unfortunately, the Lakers were forced to abandon said approach due to their inability to work it inside.
In turn, Miami offset what was believed to be an extreme advantage for the Lakers against a weak Heat interior.
Not only did Bryant praise the Heat as phenomenal pick-and-roll defenders, but he staked the claim that only one team in the NBA is on their level. That team happens to be the defending Western Conference champions.
Kobe when asked if there are any other teams capable of playing defense like Miami: "Oklahoma. That's about it"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 18, 2013
When an individual who has run and defended the pick-and-roll for nearly 17 seasons offers up this level of praise, you take it.
The truth is, no team in the NBA collapses the pick-and-roll quite like the Miami Heat. Their status as the best pick-and-roll defense is debatable, but one thing is not.
With their speed, power and rotational discipline on defense, it can be virtually impossible to penetrate Miami's perimeter.
Blitzing the Point
In your standard pick-and-roll defense, three separate players are enlisted to prevent the play. The interior player locks the screen man, the lead defender fights through to cover the ball-handler and a help-side defender is available if necessary.
The Miami Heat take a different approach.
Rather than utilizing the standard defensive attack, the Heat blitz the ball-handler. In turn, the point guard is forced to dribble out, pick up his handle or make a pass back to the perimeter.
This is exactly what Miami did to Steve Nash. In turn, it prevented one of the greatest pick-and-roll facilitators in NBA history from anticipating the reaction of the defense.
The way the Heat blitz is by bringing the screen- and ball-defenders up simultaneously. Miami then rotates two defenders to the strong side and either the 2 or 3 to the weak side of the paint.
This enables the interior man to close out on the perimeter or impede the screen man from rolling to the basket. All bases covered.
As for the off-ball players on the opposing team, the Heat defenders who are not stopping the ball now come into play.
Not only do they press their man along the perimeter or interior, but Miami closes off the cross-court passing lanes. This eliminates the option of a point guard hitting the pocket man for a corner three.
The Heat take all five opponents into account and effectively neutralize the pick-and-roll.
Compensating for the Interior
By shutting down the pick-and-roll, the Miami Heat have found a way to compensate for their lack of interior size and depth.
Of their consistent rotational options, 6'11", 235-pound Chris Bosh and 6'9", 245-pound Joel Anthony are their most trusted centers. Although both are quality shot-blockers, neither are considered elite defensive stoppers.
This is not to sell their efforts short, but instead to acknowledge a weakness that could be exposed by an elite interior foe.
Fortunately, the Heat use their speed and rotation on defense to close off interior passing lanes. Not only have they prevented the pick-and-roll, but the Heat have kept the opposition out of the paint in general.
For the season, the Heat rank sixth in the NBA in opponent points in the paint per game.
Furthermore, Miami ranks third in the NBA in opponent two-point field goals per game. This is a direct result of its ability to close off the screen-and-roll and rotate against motion offense.
The paper rosters may tell you otherwise, but the Miami Heat are dominant along the interior. They just so happen to achieve such preventative measures by closing the interior off.
Kobe Bryant will be the first to testify to such a truth.