Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has the worst job in the NBA. At the young and inexperienced age of 40, he lacks court presence and fails to command the sage-like respect that other championship coaches engender from their players.
For that reason, I’ve defended Spoelstra all year long. He’s managed three colossal egos masterfully this year, leading a team that began the season with almost no chemistry all the way to basketball’s pinnacle.
With that said, though, last night’s loss against the Dallas Mavericks has to fall squarely on his shoulders.
Forgetting for a moment the devastating 17-2 run with less than seven minutes to go in the game, Spoelstra’s biggest strategic error came within the final two minutes of play.
After another poor offensive possession in which LeBron James waited again till the final seconds of the shot clock to throw up a low-percentage, deep three-point shot, the Mavericks grabbed the defensive rebound and had a chance to take the lead.
Unbelievably, when the Mavs set up on the other end, it became apparent that Dirk Nowitzki was being guarded by Udonis Haslem, not James.
If anything should have been learned from the Eastern Conference finals this year, it is that James should be guarding his opponent’s best player for the final five minutes of play. This was the Heat’s strategy against the Bulls, and they were able to essentially neutralize NBA MVP Derrick Rose.
Recognizing this weakness, Mavs forward Tyson Chandler set a screen on Haslem, freeing Nowitzki for a wide-open three-point shot. Just like that, the Mavs were up three. Would a 6'8", 250-lb. LeBron James been able to shed that screen? Who knows?
After a timeout, a defensive breakdown by the Mavericks allowed Mario Chalmers an open three-pointer from the corner to tie the game.
At this point, Spoelstra’s talk in the huddle should have been very simple: “Okay guys, Dirk’s scored their last seven points, and we all know who’s going to get the ball on this possession. LeBron, you’re gonna man up on Dirk, but remember, you have a foul to give. So if he gets close to the paint, use it and we’ll take our chances on the inbound pass."
Instead, inexplicably, when the Heat came out of the huddle, LeBron took his place at the top of the key, guarding Jason Terry. Chris Bosh was charged with the responsibility of guarding the seven-foot German.
We all know what happened next: iso. Dirk drives. Dirk scores. Ball game. LeBron, the Heat’s best defender, was totally uninvolved on the final two defensive possessions despite the fact that the Mavs' offensive game plan was more predictable than the sun rising the next morning.
Dirk Nowitzki had 24 points last night. He did not have a dominant performance. Erik Spoelstra allowed him to steal one from the Heat at home.
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