Blueprint for Beating Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Playoffs

Sam Richmond@srichmond93Correspondent IMarch 21, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 04:  Ray Allen #34, Dwyane Wade #3, LeBron James #6 and Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat talk at half court during the fourth quarter of their 105-101 loss to the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on December 4, 2012 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Beating the Miami Heat just once is one of the more difficult tasks in sports right now.

I mean, they are currently in the midst of the second-longest winning in NBA history at 24 games.

So, asking a team to take down the Heat four times in a best of a seven series seems nearly impossible.

Still, though, if a strong playoff team is able to play their best basketball and excel in a few specific areas in which the Heat do have weaknesses, it's possible for Miami to exit the postseason without its second straight title.

Let's go over three things a playoff opponent must accomplish to send the daunting Heat packing.

1. Play stingy and physical defense  

The primary way to beat the Heat is to slow down their offense. It's an incredibly tough task as the Heat score 112.6 points per 100 possessions, good for second in the league. But the teams, such as the Indiana Pacers, who play with high-energy and make Miami work for every bucket have had relative success. 

Here's the eye-opening proof. In the Heat's 52 victories, they have averaged 106.7 points. In its 14 losses, Miami has only averaged 91.6 points. 

While it would seem the specific way to thwart the Heat's offensive attack is to key on stopping, or hindering, LeBron James, that hasn't necessarily been the case this season. 

James has a reached a point of excellence where he's basically going to get "his" every single night. He performs more or less the same in Heat wins as he does Heat losses. The same can't be said for Dwyane Wade.

If opponents slow down Wade offensively, they greatly improve their chances of coming away with a W. 

Take a look at the per game offensive splits for Wade.

Wade in Heat wins: 23.0 points on 16.6 attempts (54.7 percent shooting from the field), 5.3 assists and 1.4 offensive rebounds.

Wade in Heat losses: 16.8 points on 14.5 attempts (41.8 percent shooting), 3.9 assists and 1.0 offensive rebounds.

Playing tough defense on Wade by forcing him to settle for jumpers, which he's only just above average at converting, instead of attacking the rim, where he's elite at converting from. Wade makes 75 percent of his attempts at the rim, which is the best for any guard (minimum three makes per game), according to Hoopdata.

It's easier said than done to keep Wade and the Heat offense in check. But it can be done. The Pacers held the Heat to 77 points in a early 2013 game.

They were able to do this because with a big like Roy Hibbert, the Pacers are great at preventing teams from finishing at the rim, as opponents convert just 58.5 percent of attempts at the rim.

They also possess athletic and physical wings such as Paul George who can, relative to everyone else, stay with the Heat's dominant wings.

Take a look at the video below, which shows off the Pacers' defensive prowess, especially during the play starting at 0:42.

Still, the Heat's offense is so dynamic that the odds of preventing Miami's offense from doing what they want in four playoff games are very slim.

Not even the Pacers could make it three regular season games, as the Heat scored 105 in their most recent matchup, a Miami win. However, the Pacers have shown how teams must play defensively if you want a chance at winning a series against the Heat.

2. Excel at the three-point line

A common theme in Heat losses this season is that opponents are shooting at an absolutely absurd level from downtown.

In Heat wins, the opposition shoots on average 21.4 three-pointers and makes 7.1 of them (33.1 percent). To put that in perspective, if a team shot 33.1 percent from three-point land on a season, that would rank 27th.

However, in losses, things get ugly for Miami. Opponents are taking 23.3 long-balls and knocking down 10.0 of them (42.9 percent). If a team shot that well from beyond the arc in a season, they would be the league's top deep shooting team by a wide margin ( leader currently shoots 40.0 percent).

Those splits are pretty remarkable and at the same time, make quite a bit of sense. The Heat are such a tough opponent that it requires a simply ridiculous performance from beyond the arc to defeat them. 

Similar to the trouble of a competitor slowing down Miami's offense four times in a series, it might be asking a lot to shoot around 43 percent on three-pointers once in a series, let alone four times. 

For example, take the New York Knicks. At the beginning of the season, the Knicks were looking like a historically great three-point shooting team.

In New York's first two meetings with Miami, both taking place in 2012, they shot a combined 46.5 percent on three-points and won both games.

Below, watch the Knicks shred the Heat from outside.

But the Knicks couldn't sustain that level of long-range shooting as the season went along, especially against Miami, as the Heat held them to 27.6 percent from beyond the arc in the teams' next meeting, a Heat victory in March.

What needs to be noted also is that the Heat are playing much better defensively overall than they were in the beginning of the season.

As they are trying to round into the best shape possible for the postseason, the Heat have dedicated more effort on the defensive end in all aspects, including closing out on shooters.

February was opponents' worst three-point shooting month against Miami, and March is on-pace to finish even worse for Heat adversaries. It's not a coincidence that the Heat have put together their historic winning streak during those two months.

To keep up with the Heat offense, Miami opponents have to shoot spectacularly well from beyond the arc. However, what makes the Heat so difficult to topple is that sustaining that level against an average defense for four games is beyond tough. Accomplishing that when you're facing off against an elite defense that includes defenders such as James, Wade and Shane Battier, would be remarkable.

3. Dominate on the glass

It's not a secret that the Heat struggle rebounding the ball.

The Heat rank dead-last in team rebounds per game. Part of that is due to the Heat making such a high percentage of its shots that there are less opportunities for rebounds during its games than many others. But it's certainly not the only reason, as the Heat are undersized and lack top rebound-getters.

The Heat almost always get out-rebounded but it's how well they can hang in the rebounding battle that has affected results. In victories, the Heat on average only grab .9 fewer rebounds than its competitor. In losses, Miami has gotten beaten significantly worse on the glass, with opponents grabbing 4.5 more than the Heat on average. 

An example of a Heat loss in which rebounds were a big factor was a January game against the Chicago Bulls. Chicago slaughtered Miami inside, as they snatched 15 more rebounds on the offensive glass by itself and 20 more rebounds overall.

Check out the highlights from the game, which featured second-chance opportunity after second-chance opportunity for Chicago. 

But in Miami's next meeting with the Bulls, they were able to keep up with Chicago on the glass, only losing the battle by three. The Heat won by 19.

It should be noted that the Bulls also shot 20 percent on three-pointers in this game in which they held Miami to just 86 points, as it helps show us that there are two main ideas we should learn from this blueprint.

Idea 1: To beat Miami in a playoff series, an opponent will need to play four games at a level that seems statistically unsustainable. The Pacers, Knicks and Bulls all showed us they could excel greatly in a specific area against Miami for a game or two and win, but it didn't last. For example, it's extremely unlikely for the Knicks to be able to shoot 46.7 percent from downtown against the Heat in four separate games, but the Heat are talented enough that the Knicks would just about have to.

Idea 2: It would also take more than, say, the Knicks to shoot 46.7 percent on three-pointers to beat the Heat, as that most recent Bulls-Heat game, which Miami won, we looked at shows. Chicago held Miami to way under its season average in points, won the rebounding battle but shot just 20 percent on three-pointers. Beating the Heat in the playoffs will require across-the-board excellence four times. 

What's bad news for everyone else, though, is that the Heat just might be the only team capable of across-the-board excellence four times in a series.

Follow me on Twitter @srichmond93


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