Miami Heat Play-Calling: Why the Team Struggles Late in Games

Byron on SportsCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 18:  Head coach Eric Spoelstra of the Miami Heat talks with LeBron James #6 during a timeout in the game against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on December 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images


Coach Erik Spoelstra is probably aware that he is on the hot seat right now. There was too much hype around this team when it was formed to accept a second round exit from the playoffs. Because the Miami Heat continue to look like nothing more than the sum of its parts on the best nights (and much less than that on the bad nights), many NBA fans are wondering if the Heat have a chance to advance to the Conference Finals this year.

The Heat's record against team that are above .500 is 15-19. And, although it is true that the Miami Heat team that one the championship in 2006 also had a regular season losing record against winning teams (19-21), there is no comfort to be found in that statistic. It is also less comforting to know that the 2006 Miami team had big men and an 8-4 record in games that were decided by three points or less. Neither of those two facts applies to this years club.

I bashed Bosh last article. The late game (close out) issues Miami is having are not Bosh's fault. How can it be? At the end of games they don't really even include him in the offense.

Miami Late Game Situations: What Coaches Need To Address

The Miami Heat offense in late game scenarios has been ugly. Really, really ugly. Two examples worth looking at are the recent losses to the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls.

In the Bulls game, Luol Deng missed a free throw. It is not the coaches fault that his team allowed Deng to get back to the ball and, to add insult to injury, get failed and return to the line. It is no the coaches fault that LeBron James failed to make a difficult shot to win the game. It is however, in part the coaches fault that such difficult was essentially a requirement to have any attempt to win the game.

Take a look at the play they ran. (See Video)

From my armchair, I am appalled. The Bulls have Luol Deng on the ball checking James, Joakim Noah shadowing Chris Bosh, Bogans on Wade, Rose on Chalmers, and Brewer on Miller. For reasons, I still cannot understand. The decision is made to have Bosh screen for James.

This is an odd choice, because Noah is the best in the paint defender on the on the court for the Bulls as well as their be shot blocker. The decision to bring the bring the best shot blocker on the court to the ball in the closing seconds is mind boggling.

Keep watching the play and you see after the screen Bosh floats toward the baseline and outside of the lane. He never offered any angle for LeBron to make an entry pass to him at the front of the rim. He basically quit the play. That would indicate that he has no confidence that LeBron will deliver him the ball. So, all the Heat were ever going to get out of the screen play was a bigger, stronger, defender on the ball. In what world, does that make sense?

As you watch, you notice that the screen set was an awful screen. Bosh actually set a slipped screen, which is what you use if you are going to back door your man. He slipped the screen and never back-doored. A symbolic screen. That was the best they could come up with. After the screen is slipped you have a switch (that the Bulls never needed because the screen was so pitiful), and James at the top of the key with a bigger, but just as mobile defender on him. And, everyone watching the play.

Consider this Available Option vs. The Bulls.

Given the personnel on the floor, the Heat had many other options. But, the one guy on the floor who should not have been screening for LeBron James was Chris Bosh, because he was covered by Noah. There was no advantage to be gained from the switch, if it occurred (which it did).

Assuming the play is for LeBron, to take it to the rack one (of many) better options, would be to have Chalmers and Bosh strong side with Wade Miller weak-side (preferably with Wade and Bosh on the baseline). Chalmers should screen for LeBron James, because he has, Derrick Rose, the weakest and smallest on the ball defender guarding him. At the same time Bosh should screen for Wade and allow wade to curl to the strong side wing.

The Bulls cannot switch on James, so Deng has to eat the screen. If the Bulls, do switch advantage Heat, because James can shoot over, pass over, or muscle Rose with ease. The reason rose was on Chalmers was to hide him, by placing him on the player least likely to take the shot.

The screen that Bosh sets serves three purposes: 1) Puts Wade in motion with space, and, more importantly, 2) It take Noah away from the ball and off of LeBron's strong side. 3.) Creates off the ball motion. If no pass to the cutters is available, Wade is curling out of the lane strong side to the wing, available for kick out, if needed and in good position to trail the drive and assist on boards. Bosh should also go to the wing and trail the drive. His job is get Noah out of the lane. Miller floats to weak side baseline and Bosh to the elbow extended 17 feet. Chalmers floats behind the arc weak side.

No matter what happens, the Heat would still have the option to force a shot at the rim, however, with off the ball motion there is a chance that they can simply pass the ball into the Wade or Bosh as they attempt to trip up the Heat around the rim immediately following the screen.

In truth, almost any offense they ran at the end of the game besides the one they ran would have been an improvement. The offense that was implemented guaranteed that there was gonna be a difficult and heavily shot to finish the game. That is what generally happens, when the set play is “OK, you go one one four against this elite defensive team. The rest of us will just watch.”

To a degree, the coach seems too enamored with the talent on the roster, to think the way coaches on teams with less talent have to think all the time. If you only have one shot, run the best play you have. An isolation with no misdirection other than a slip screen from a guy that won dive to the front of the rim. Now, will always leave people scratching their heads. Especially when it has failed every other time it has been attempted by your team.

The good news for Heat fans: This is a coaching problem that can be corrected (without replacing the coach) by simply doing something (anything) different (e.g., get the shot blocker away from the ball for starters.

The one area where the Miami Heat should be the most effective is in late game situations, because they have three of the most talented players on the court at the same time trying to get one of them the best shot available. That's a coaches dream – unfortunately it has not translated to reality.

The Knicks Game: A Similar Scenario

The Knicks game was the same scenario. James had a much weaker defender on him, Carmelo Anthony. To keep this brief you can review the highlight and see that on Miami's second to last possession. Bosh is on the right block. In fact almost everyone is to LeBron's right.

Essentially, the Miami Heat helped the New York Knicks load up on LeBron's strong hand. And, that my friends is why it was so easy for the Knicks to force LeBron left. Additionally, once again Bosh's positioning takes the best shot blocker on the opposing team to the ball. I am sure this was not by intent, however, if Bosh is not going to receive the ball he should not be on the right block. James and Wade are right-handed. Bosh is a lefty.

One interesting note is this. Bosh and the Heat use advanced stats to help them game plan. The advanced stats indicate that Bosh is better in the post on the right block. Why they would need advance stats to know this is beyond me, because Bosh is very left-handed and likes to finish facing.

A post up on the right block allows him to turn into the lane and towards the rim with his his shoulder between him and the defender and if the defender over plays his shooting hand when he turns into the rim the left hand becomes the nearest hand to the rim on the up and under.

So, that is probably why Bosh was on the right block. The problem here: That statistical information is only applicable to situations where Bosh has the ball in the post. This was not one one of them. He should have started the play on the weak side (left side) and waited for the ball to reach the right side of the court on the wing. (That's where the best entry passes are.) If the ball does not make it to the wing, all he is doing is gumming up the works.

This is not really Bosh's problem it is the coaches problem. Spoelstra helped Stoudemire block that shot, by having Bosh on the block that allowed to Stoudemire to defend man (no angle for any pass to Bosh) and basket (with pass angle cut off Stoudemire can roam).

It was a great block. So, Miami should not feel nearly as bad, until you look at the play again...This is where it is obvious that sequence is a mess..

Notice where Wade is on this play. He is the one guy on the court that there is absolutely no chance of getting a pass to. He gets to spend the entire attack portion of the play running away form the ball into a cluster of blue shirts. Instead of having Wade curling to the ball they have him curling away from it, while Eddie House just stands in the corner.

The Heat Continue to Struggle:

The Heat team has been intriguing since before the season began and for good reason. They signed three free agents, facilitated to the disintegration of two teams in their conference, and Vegas book maker had them picked as the odds on favorite to walk away with the Larry O'Brien Trophy. A championship this year looks like it is a long shot, at best.

For some odd reason they have been unable to win since they waived Carlos Arroyo. Is it possible that he cursed the team or stole their mojo as he headed off to “greener” pastures with the Miami Heat playbook? Although one is free to speculate, this seems unlikely.

Coach Spoelstra has repeatedly stated in post game interviews that they are still trying to “figure (this or that) out.” For the Heat fans, this should be a source of distress. If at this point, in the season the coaching staff has not figured out how best to use the players that are on the roster, it is quite possible that this coaching staff will never figure it out. It is actually quite painful to watch.


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