The Miami Heat are the only top seed taking care of business in the first round of the NBA playoffs. But the Charlotte Bobcats are about as fearsome as a group of kittens, and more threatening teams await in the next round. Let's take a look at a few areas of concern the Heat can make adjustments to going forward.
The Heat don't care much for offensive rebounding, but they should probably care a little bit. Miami is grabbing just 14.3 percent of the offensive boards, a rate that would slot them well below the Los Angeles Lakers' last-place rate of 20.2 percent in the regular season.
Miami opts to get back in transition defense rather than crash the boards, but back-pedaling as soon as a shot goes up has given teams a way to inch forward in past playoffs series.
Miami has been laissez faire about hustling for rebounds on both ends because it really hasn't had to. It's outscored the Bobcats by a playoff-best 28 points, and Big Al Jefferson injured his foot in the opening track.
The Heat have done exactly what they wanted to do this series, playing tough defense and getting good looks while stopping Kemba Walker and Josh McRoberts from doing much in the transition game (the Heat have held the 'Cats to just 23 fast-break points in three games).
And despite going rigor mortis on the offensive glass, the Heat have given up just 30 second-chance points after Charlotte puts up shots (slotting the Bobcats for second-worst in the playoffs) and have scored an equal amount of points in the paint.
Still, the Bobcats front line isn't one to jump on Miami's Achilles' heel. Jefferson is hurt, McRoberts is a stretch 4 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist drinks Gatorade while everyone else is on offense. If faced with the Indiana Pacers or Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Finals, they could extend a series—like we've seen before.
It's not an easy fix, though.
It isn't as if Chris Andersen or Udonis Haslem hasn't been playing as many minutes. And each has been par to his regular-season production. The Heat have also been headstrong about using Bosh to stretch the floor, and McRoberts keeps him away from the basket on defense too. Toney Douglas typically gives a crap about rebounding, but slotting him more minutes shouldn't (and wouldn't) be the cure-all to the Heat's ill rebounding.
To fix it, everyone else needs to pitch in just a little bit more. Maybe they will when they need to.
Play Shane Battier More
The Heat are feared as one of the best fast-break scoring teams in the league. However, you wouldn't know it looking at the 25 fast-break points they have scored through three playoff games. Only the Chicago Bulls and Bobcats have fewer.
The Bobcats have resorted to fouling quickly on fast-break opportunities, but it doesn't help that the Heat are down from a league-best 9.5 steals per 100 possessions in the regular season to a rate of eight in the playoffs, per NBA.com statistics.
One easy way to fix it would be to give Shane Battier, playing about two minutes per game, some of his time back from James Jones. Battier is not only a plus defender, but also one who forces turnovers too. Jones? Not so much. But Jones is shooting much better from three, and the Heat need him.
However, Rashard Lewis hasn't been great. He hasn't made a three-pointer yet this postseason and is just 1-of-10 shooting in all. And yet he's played eight, 14 and six minutes in three games. Give Battier those minutes.
More Aggressive Help Defense
The Heat have resorted back to trapping on pick-and-rolls after being more conservative throughout the marathon regular season. It took a game to adjust to the resurrected blitz-and-help approach. Miami was slow on switches almost every time the Bobcats threw a high-screen at them in the first game. That got fixed quickly, with Miami being much more crisp in Games 2 and 3.
But the second level of help defense can still use some work—especially near the rim. The Bobcats have used Jefferson perfectly during this series. It's a shame he got hurt because he could single-handedly make this series more competitive (but not single-footedly, right?).
When the 'Cats use Big Al on screen action, the Heat have been quick to trap the ball-handler. However, they will take a guy off Jefferson to do that and let the bigs sag in a more conservative approach underneath.
In the case of these videos, that big is Chris Bosh. Bosh could be more aggressive and chase down Jefferson. I don't expect six-foot-nothing Walker would be able to find a potential man cutting baseline behind the rim while two defenders trap him. Bosh shouldn't worry about Jefferson driving past him when he plays up on him, either—with or without the foot injury.
But that's all relative to this series. Not every team has someone as dangerous as Jefferson to help take advantage of this, but the Heat could afford to be a bit more aggressive in defending some of this pick-and-roll action that is trending across the NBA.
That stare-down by LeBron to the Bobcats bench and owner Michael Jordan was awesome. We need more of that. Talk about ramping things up.
All statistics via NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted and are accurate as of April 27, 2014. Follow Wes on Twitter @wcgoldberg.
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