How do you stop the Miami Heat?
There’s never been a player like LeBron James.
He’s a Ferrari against a league of ponies—at least that’s the illusion he creates.
Restraining the unrestrainable is about as impossible as tying a rope around that Italian sports car.
With a foundation of James, paired with the top-tier abilities of Dwyane Wade and the overshadowed production of Chris Bosh, it’s no wonder the defending champions are rolling with 16 consecutive wins.
Alex Kennedy @AlexKennedyNBA
For the third straight game, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were unstoppable. They combined for 69 points.5/25/2012, 2:51:53 AM
So how do you stop this barreling freight train of unique talent?
The recipe is arduous and typically spoiled, but there are keys to stopping Miami’s feast on the league.
Make the other guys beat you
Don’t operate by the principle that James will simply “get his,” and therefore, it’s more about stopping his teammates.
That’s not the type of superstar that James is. When he is getting his, he’s getting it to others too.
Sure, it’s overly simplistic to imply that James can be stopped—like telling a lineman to “just go tackle” Adrian Peterson—but the absolute focus of a defense needs to be to keep the ball out of his hands.
Here’s how easy it is for James when the focus is lost:
Again, not that it’s easy, but it’s where the defense must shift. Overplay him on the perimeter, be ready to rotate into help at every opportunity and make the other guys beat you. Miami’s other guys will get open looks, but none at a higher shooting percentage than James’ 56.2 percent.
James will wait for the double-team, create space and then make the assist. But it’s better to take your chances on the other guy. Again, would you want Peterson running the ball or having him pitch it to one of his lesser teammates?
James, if allowed, will still create easier shots for himself than he can for his teammates.
The Wade issue
The biggest issue in defending the Heat is that when you choose to focus the defense on James, you’re naturally giving greater range to another NBA superstar.
Wade’s success this season is a result of receiving less-aimed defensive attention than any other superstar. If you’re overplaying James on the right side of the court, Wade is seeing more space on the left side.
When picking your poison, there has to be some understanding that you’ll be sick one way or the other. An opponent can partially choose to focus the defense on the hotter hand, but lately, they’ve both been hot.
Throw Bosh into that mix, and it’s clear why each of the three is shooting at such a high percentage.
If there was a solution for this issue, teams would utilize it. But there isn’t. It must be mentioned, though, if a team sticks to a blueprint of converging on James.
It’s still better to make Wade, Bosh and the other Heat scorers beat you rather than James.
Don’t allow Miami to run away
Miami separates itself through its transition game.
The Heat’s ability to run off turnovers or quick outlets is a root of their high-percentage scoring. If James and Wade are tough to stop in the half court, they’re twice as difficult to handle at full speed on the open floor.
Just more than 18 percent of Miami’s scoring comes off the 15.6 turnovers the Heat force per game.
While opposing backcourts dwell in the storm of Miami’s length and poking hands, any blueprint to beat the Heat must include low turnover numbers.
Attacking the Achilles' heel
The Heat might be one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league at 8.4 per game partially because they miss fewer shots than any other team.
But perhaps the best way to attack Miami is to take advantage of its 19th-ranked defensive rebounding (30.3 per game).
Teams need to break down Miami’s perimeter overplay and attack the hoop, creating opportunities to attack the offensive glass. If one player shoots in the lane and draws the defense, an offensive rebound may be free off the miss.
The tough reality of the unyielding Heat
The Heat are defending champions because this blueprint is easily crumpled up by the mammoth talent in Miami.
The current 16-game winning streak is just a sample of further proof that the Heat are even better than last season.
Any desire to topple the league’s Goliath will mean bounding James while shuffling to limit his teammates who would be great even without him.
Surprisingly, it comes down to the same fundamentals that the local J.V. coach is preaching: defense, limiting turnovers and working the boards.
That, at the very least, gives opponents a chance.
All advanced stats courtesy of the NBA's media stats portal.
Jimmy Spencer is a Lead NBA Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him @JimmySpencerNBA
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