MIAMI — Don't interpret this as disrespect.
But to Udonis Haslem, Roy Hibbert isn't any different from anyone else he encounters.
"No, no, no," Haslem said. "Obviously, he's 7-feet-something. But my rules, my principles, everything pretty much stays the same. You want to do your work early, you want to push him out, and you want to keep him out of the middle."
The Pacers center has at times seemed 10 feet tall when he's played the Miami Heat, and has been roughly twice as effective as against any other opponent. During the 10 matchups dating back to the Eastern Conference Finals, he has averaged 20.6 points and 8.4 rebounds, even with a complete clunker (six points, two rebounds) on Dec. 18. In general, the Heat have managed to make a monstrous myth out of a mere mortal, and that was occurring again on March 26, when Hibbert was manhandling someone his size, Greg Oden, in the opening six minutes.
But then something happened:
Six inches shorter...but surprisingly effective, at least to those who haven't watched Haslem against far bigger foes over the course of his career.
And with Haslem expected to be well enough to participate Friday, after fighting off a stomach flu, Hibbert can expect to see a lot of him from the very start—and he better not look down on the man wearing No. 40.
Last week, Haslem spent some time with Bleacher Report, explaining his approach, while reviewing a few clips of him defending Roy Hibbert on March 26 and someone more skilled in the low block, Charlotte's Al Jefferson, back on Jan. 18.
Start with this: size.
"I’m shorter than a lot of the guys," Haslem said. "I’m always low, chopping their legs down, with my lower body strength. One thing I have been blessed with is amazing strength. I’m strong. I mean, I work out, but I got a lot of natural strength. So with these guys, I try to chop their legs away, stay low, and nine times out of 10, if they do get the ball, I’m able to compete physically to keep them from getting to where they want to go on the court. Height is one thing I can’t change, but my strength has usually been my biggest asset. I was lucky to lose a lot of weight and still be strong—and be able to compete physically with the bigger guys."
Over the years, he's worked with former Heat teammates (like Alonzo Mourning) and assistants (like Keith Askins) in practices. He's never been especially reliant on tape study. It's more instinct. And he's developed preferences. For instance, he usually goes with "hand on, bent" rather than "broken forearm, with your hand down," because the broken forearm allows forward leverage to the post player.
"They spin, and then you are off balance," he said.
He feels as if he has more control with his hand.
"When they bump with their shoulder, I like to take the bump from their shoulder in the middle of my chest, so I give them no angles," Haslem said. "If I bump them with my shoulder, they spin this way."
He demonstrated by shifting the opposite direction.
"If I bump them with this shoulder, they spin that way," Haslem said, shifting the other. "So I take the bump in the middle of the chest, it really gives them no angle to spin off me."
He knows that "everybody in this league can score."
And, everyone has a place they can score the easiest.
"Everybody in this league has a sweet spot or a comfort zone that they like to be in, so you try to do your work early, and try to keep a guy out of his sweet spot and out of his comfort zone," Haslem said. "If you can deny a guy from getting the ball, you deny him from getting the ball, they tend to try to work their way further out away from the basket. Just because the overall competitive nature is they want the ball. So you don’t want them to get the ball close to the basket. They’ll step as far away from the basket as they have to."
What about fronting—playing in front of the post player?
Well, he won't do that in transition, because there's no backside help, and it's too easy for someone to throw the ball over the top, into all of the open space.
But, now, let's open the DVD, and go through some clips:
"Beat him to the spot. See I’m trying to chop his legs down. See, I’m just chopping his legs. He gets out of his sweet spot a little bit. And also, no middle. You don’t want to give a guy middle. You always want to make him turn baseline. I’m focused on taking away that middle. And every time he takes a dribble back, I give him my chest to bump. So every time he takes a dribble to bump into me, I make sure I take it right here in the middle of the chest."
"This one here, he kind of caught me a little bit. I want to stay on his topside. He kind of catches me and gets in front of me. I never really want to let him get in front of me, and get that space. Luckily, I was able to swipe the ball away from him and he had to go get it, so it pushed him further away from the basket. It takes him away from his comfort zone. The further he gets away, the more uncomfortable most big men are. Once again, I get my chest square, and I take away the middle, and he has to turn baseline. And then you play the percentages. Guys are going to make shots. These guys are talented. But you try to make a guy make as many contested shots as you can."
"That was a good play by Chris (Bosh). Because I had the help on the guard cutting through and then Hibbert tried to duck me in. That was a good play by him."
Did he expect the help?
"No, I didn’t. That was just a good feel by Chris. I try to always play one-on-one. I don’t want to try to get help. I take pride in trying to guard my man 1-on-1. If I don’t have to get help, then I don’t look for help. When you look for help sometimes, that’s when you put yourself in a bad position. I just try to play 1-on-1."
"This one right here, I actually start off in front of him. You see that? And once they throw it over the top, I got to get back behind. You know, and once again, angles, push him away, more angles, keep my chest square, in front."
"He’s coming down now. Show, I’ve got to get out and show. Try to get back to the red, but they threw it in so quick, I couldn’t get back to the front. That one, that was just a bad call. I don’t even know what to say about that."
"Stay in front of him. Don’t let him catch it. Try to beat him to the spot. Stay in front of him. Stay in front of him. Don’t let him catch it. Get back around. He’s probably going to try to duck me in sometime. See, here he comes. I’m anticipating him ducking in on this pick-and-roll, most big guys try to duck in, right here on the nail."
"Stay in front of him. Now I’ve got him out about 12, 13 feet. He throws it back in. He got me a little bit on the up-fake. Can’t win ‘em all. Can’t win ‘em all, you know. Can’t win ‘em all. I mean, you get me once, I’m not gonna let him get me again."
"Stay in the red. The key is, always, make a guy work. Don’t just let him get the ball easy. Don't let them stay in their comfort zone. I know most people want it easy. Got to do the work early. That’s the key. Got to do your work early."
"I know he’s ducking me in. I know the play. That’s a strong side pick-and-roll. They’re expecting me to pull, to take the big, and then Jefferson can duck me in right in front of the basket. I kind of saw that play coming."
"Pick-and-roll, show, get out. They’re probably going to be looking for him, coming back around. Try the baseline. A lot of it is anticipation, doing your work early. I mean, it’s not easy. I’m not gonna lie. It’s not easy. You’ve got to be willing to work, you know."
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.