And the Heat, and especially undeniable MVP front-runner LeBron James, are playing their best basketball right now. Miami went 12-2 heading into the All-Star break, winning its last seven in a row. James popped over 30 points in those seven and in 10 of the 14 games during that stretch. He added two triple-doubles.
Right now, the Heat are the best team in the Eastern Conference by four games.
The Knicks backed into the All-Star break, losing three of four, including losses to the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards. The second of their two wins against the Heat was way back on December 6th, almost three months ago.
The Pacers stumbled into the break also, losing two of their last three. Overall, Indiana has seven more losses than Miami.
The Heat are still better than the Knicks and the Pacers on paper and against the league, but both teams were able to really have their way with Miami two times apiece. These were no small defeats. New York won by 20 both times. Indiana held Miami to 89 and 77 points, the latter being the Heat’s lowest point output of the season.
How did they do it? What can other teams learn from this success? Can it be duplicated in seven games?
Miami is still the favorite to make it out of the East, but one other thing is certain: New York and Indiana—and maybe the Chicago Bulls or even the Brooklyn Nets—have a shot at knocking off the champs if they follow the blueprint.
Defense Over Offense
The magic number against Miami is 95. The Heat have won one game when scoring fewer than 95 points. The Knicks have won three. The Pacers have won an unbelievable 14.
To beat the Heat, a team must rely on a strictly defensive scheme. To abandon defense in any way against Miami is to abandon hope of victory.
The Heat have lost only five games (of 14 losses) to teams that don’t have a top-eight defense, so it doesn’t matter how many points foes put up. Miami will keep pace.
The Pacers have the best defense in the NBA, yielding the lowest field goal percentage (41.7 percent) and points per game (89.9) to opponents. They are the only team giving up fewer than 90 points on average. So it is not surprising how they’ve just crushed the Heat.
This defensive domination could very well carry Indiana, or any of these other top 10 defensive teams—Memphis, Chicago, the Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn, New York, Boston and San Antonio—past Miami in a series.
Perimeter and Three-Point Attack
Perhaps the second-biggest factor in the Knicks’ wins over the Heat was their successful three-point onslaught.
In the two wins, New York bucketed 37 treys to Miami’s 13, including a 52.8 percent outing in the first game of the season. The Pacers, too, had greater production than the Heat outside the arc in their two victories.
If there’s one chink in Miami’s defense that can be exploited, it’s out on the perimeter. The Heat give up the sixth-most three-pointers in the NBA as opposed to the 26th-most two-pointers. Quite the disparity.
So if you’re going to look for an offensive edge against the Heat, work the arc.
Rule the Boards
Hard to believe, but it’s true: The Miami Heat are the worst rebounding team in all of the NBA—No. 30.
The Pacers are the best. They annihilated the Heat on the boards, 55-36 in the first game and 34-25 in game two.
Outside of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks have little rebounding game (23rd), but that’s still better than the Heat. In their first contest both teams had 41 rebounds, but the Knicks had six more offensive chances. In game two New York dominated the boards on both sides of the court.
You can’t stop LeBron James, though he was slowed down a bit (relatively) in the four losses against New York and Indiana.
The Heat as a team, though, can be beat if an opponent plays lockdown defense at the cost of offense and wins the battle of the boards and perimeter.