Miami Heat: How Defense Will Carry Them to a Championship

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Miami Heat: How Defense Will Carry Them to a Championship
Marc Serota/Getty Images

On Friday night against the Orlando Magic, it wasn't the LeBron James show. It wasn't the Chris Bosh show. Maybe slightly it was the Dwyane Wade show.

The real demonstration was made by the Miami Heat defense, which held Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic to just 70 points. Yes, this is the same Orlando Magic team that scored 112 points the night before against the Washington Wizards and was sixth in the NBA last season in points per game with nearly 103 points each game.

Sure, partly to blame is Dwight Howard's foul trouble which rendered him useless in the second half. However, Miami's ability to close out on three point shooters held the Magic, one of the NBA's best three point shooting teams, to just 16.7 percent from downtown. Overall, Orlando was only able to hit four total shots from beyond the arc.

The Magic scored only 25 points in the second half. How did Miami stifle one of the best offenses in the league?

It all starts with coach Erik Spoelstra. Spoelstra, since the beginning of his coaching career, has always stressed defense as the most important factor in winning games.

Last season, with a roster not nearly as talented as the current star-studded team, Spoelstra led the Heat to become the second best defense in the league giving up just 94.2 points per game. This year, while it's still early, Spoelstra has his squad leading the league in defense, holding teams to just 81.7 points per game.

That's over six points less than the second-best Dallas Mavericks, who give up 88.5 points per game.

It is easy to say that it's only been two or three games for most teams in the league. Clearly, that doesn't provide much statistical significance even if two of the teams Miami has played have been Orlando and Boston.

However, Spoelstra has converted each player on the roster to think defensively first. Take for example, Eddie House, who is a designated three-point shooter and offensive threat. House picked up three steals on Friday against Orlando. He was all over the court, hustling for loose balls and almost falling into the sideline tables diving after a loose ball.

Joel Anthony provides the prime example of the defensive-mindedness of this Miami Heat team. Anthony has averaged 0.7 points a game this season. Well, maybe that's because he's shooting 100% from the field on one for one shooting for the season. Then why has Anthony averaged almost 18 minutes a game this season?

Coach Erik Spoelstra values defense and that is what Anthony gives him: a defensive-minded presence on the floor. Wade, Bosh, and James can provide all of the offense needed.

Speaking of Wade and James, both have led the charge in the improved Miami defense. Their athleticism is game-changing, and while the statistics may not always show up in the stat sheet, Wade and James force numerous turnovers per game forcing bad passes and rushed or altered shots. Certainly, Wade and James can fill up the highlight reel with their blocked shots as well.

So this is the Miami Heat. A team that everyone expected to be about the alley-oops, the athletic finishes at the rims, the dynamic three point shooters, has become the new San Antonio Spurs of the league.

Coach Spoelstra preaches fundamentals, defensive intensity, and rebounding. If you don't believe me just ask Dwight Howard.

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